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UK Coaching Team
Children Organising and Planning

What Does Great Coaching Look Like: Football

A case study providing practical examples of great coaching in football for other developing coaches to read and use as inspiration

Mark Humphrey and Alan Williams are FA Tesco Skills coaches based in Bedfordshire and Lancashire respectively and aim to develop better and more technically gifted football players but also to give every child the opportunity to be the best that they can be. Here are Mark and Alan’s top tips for other football coaches.

Mark Humphrey

In addition to coaching 5-11 year olds as part of the FA Tesco Skills Programme, Mark coaches a mixed-ability under-14s team (which was an under-7s team when he started working with that group of players),

Alan Williams

Coaches a mixed-ability local grass-roots team and, once a week, a group of young people with a range of disabilities including learning difficulties, Down’s Syndrome and cerebral palsy.

Coaching mixed ability 5-11 year olds

Alan observes that “The first question they always ask is, ‘When are we having a match’!” and with this in mind his sessions focus very much on game-like situations rather than drills where players are queuing to work with the ball.

Having said that, in the course of a session if Alan observes that players are struggling with an aspect – for example their touch – he will pull them out of the session and work with them as an individual or a small group. To achieve this requires him to have a second coach on hand able to run the ‘main session’.

Mark works on skills that are relevant not only to football such as agility, balance, and spatial awareness, and notes that ‘tag’ games are really effective ways of teaching these skills. With older players, he asks them to tuck a flag into their shorts and while dribbling a ball to capture other players’ flags without losing their own – this again teaches spatial awareness as well as close ball control.

Mark uses humour to build a relaxed relationship with young people, asking them at the start of his first session with them, “Who’s the best player in the world? Messi? No, it’s me!” – he comments, “You can bring across how approachable, friendly and smiley you are before you even teach them anything.”

  • Game situations: Players want to play matches - so let them!
  • Transferable skills: Tag games teach balance and spatial awareness
  • Coaching individuals: Work with players out of the group to develop indivudal development
  • Use of humour in sessions: A joke and a smile will help put players at ease - sessions need to be fun

Helping children find their own path

Alan gives children the opportunity to take a hand in the direction of sessions, within certain parameters; “I will ask them – sometimes prompting to make sure we go in the direction I’ve got planned – where we take an activity next. They might have a better idea than me! If it doesn’t work, we can always bring it back to the plan as long as I know where I want to take it.”

Both coaches see their role in the development pathway as providing information and giving players the tools to develop themselves.

Alan  says: “To advance up the pathway they need not just ability, but also parental backing and support from schools and without it they will struggle. For example, one excellent player I coach, I gave him information about the development centre and talked to the school, then it came through to his parents. But in the end one of his teachers had to agree to take him to the centre. My role was to highlight what’s out there.”

This also includes providing information about other opportunities beyond his own coaching. “One woman saw me coach and asked if she could bring her son along to one of my sessions. I said that was fine, but she lived a 12 mile drive away and there were 5 good local clubs on her doorstep so I gave her information about those.”

Mark builds relationships within the team by organising socials away from the sport, such as bowling or cinema trips; he comments that if you take them away from football and they really get on well then they’ll look out for each other and watch each other’s backs on the field.

Mark adds: “Once players get to 12-13 they’re quite switched on to what they need to improve. For younger ages you need to use a massive amount of praise – but also explain how 'this will help to do that'. If you praise a 5-8 year old but are specific in your praise they will come back over and over again. Tell them what they’re doing so well, not just 'Fantastic, well done'. Tell them what they are going to achieve and what will help them improve.”

  • Opportunities to explore: Give children the chance to find their own approaches
  • Provide information: Talk to schools and parents and give information about wider provision
  • Targeted praise: Explain exactly what was excellent and why
  • Team building: Socials bring players closer together

Children will try new stuff all day long if you given them a chance – I’ve seen children do things that I didn’t think were possible with a football! Tell them to see how many different ways they can find to turn with the outside of their foot and give them the opportunity to explore without any pressure or fear of failure. This gives them the chance to come up with solutions that are natural to them. 

Mark's view on giving children the opportunity to find their own way towards skills solutions

Long-term planning with session level flexibility

Mark and Alan both have annual plans for their sessions, broken down into sections (for example, 10 weeks spent on defending followed by 10 weeks on attacking) but also plans in more detail on a session to session basis – for example focusing on individual defending skills or defending as a unit.

Mark believes that for 18-20 delivery hours he spends coaching the FA Tesco Skills Programme, he will spend 6 planning; Alan believes that his planning time is even more extensive (15 hours planning for 22 hours of delivery). This includes reflection and sharing with other coaches. “That fine tuning – coaches suggesting to each other ‘why don’t you have a go at that’ is critical – we plan sessions the week before and spend half a day looking at what we’ve worked on the previous week.”

Mark views good observational skills as critical to success in sessions: “Plenty look but don’t see.” He supports other coaches in their development and believes that these observational skills can be taught. “I’d stand next to two coaches and tell them the learning focus (say receiving the pass and turning). If the session drifted away (eg, to dribbling  and shooting) I’d expect them to spot it and if they didn’t I’d have my concerns and I’d highlight it. With that support over time I would expect to see them develop those skills.”

Alan agrees, stating that understanding whether objectives have been met is crucial in planning the next session. “Reflection is massive – what’s the point in moving on to your next session if the last session isn’t finished?”

  • Annual Plans: Medium and short term plans
  • Work with other coaches: Share feedback and reflection on each others' sessions
  • Observation: Evaluate as you go –  is the session meeting objectives? Are the children learning?

Use your eyes more than your mouth. Watch the session and ask yourself – does it do exactly what it says on the tin? Does it meet your initial objectives?

One of Mark's session planning tips

Related Resources

  • What Does Great Coaching Look Like: Gymnastics

  • What Does Great Coaching Look Like: Golf

  • What Does Great Coaching Look Like: Rugby League


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