I Played Professional/Collegiate Soccer so Why should I Plan a Session?
As a growing soccer nation, we are starting to realize the rewards of soccer experience with our youth coaches. Now we have a generation of parents who grew up playing the game, teaching it to the next generation. For many, they have the benefit of years of instruction, either professional or voluntary, but years nonetheless.
This is nothing new to other sports. Our youth baseball coaches for years have been replicating their time as youth; replicating practice models, ideas for instruction, teaching methods, etc. While there is no dearth of dads who “know the game” of baseball, if you ask professional coaches in the field they will tell you those volunteers are a real stumbling block to them. Sometimes overconfidence is a bad thing….Back to soccer. (The education opportunities and requirements in soccer, as compared to baseball, set the sport apart at the youth levels).
If you never played, if you always played, you need to plan your session in writing. Having a plan means the obvious – you planned. “Thinking and writing are inextricably bound together.” (USYSA). It is not enough to “plan it in your head.” You need to put pencil to paper – draw a diagram for your games. Write the questions you will ask. Make a list of the equipment that you will need (including cones, jerseys, goals, etc.) Lay out that equipment neatly prior to your session. Consider how it looks to a parent and players for the trainer to arrive after the players with no equipment? Consider the alternative — how might it look to the parents (and to the players) if, upon arrival, a session is laid out and you are there waiting on them? And this is from Sam Snow, tuck your shirts in and remove your sunglasses!
If you are a parent volunteer, you have an advantage of intimacy with your players that professional trainers do not necessarily enjoy – planning ahead, taking full advantage of that knowledge, will make your session that much better. Also, as you may lack the playing experience, writing and drawing out a session will help you visualize the activities you intend to use.
As a former professional or college athlete, planning ahead helps you to take advantage of all the prior experience, whether in games or practices sessions (and some of you can number the sessions in your life in the 1000s) in which you participated. Can you think of some training or experience that you had in soccer that would be helpful to the players in your session that day?
Here is what Justin Neese, a former collegiate player and holder of an A coaching license, has to say about the importance of lesson plans:
“To me, it is actually easier to have a lesson plan (or any plan) than to have none because a plan gives me a structure and I feel more able to vary/ improve when I have a solid plan to guide my overall thoughts and objectives.”
Is there a document to help me plan my sessions? YES! At US Youth Soccer’s website, coaches should subscribe to Coaches Connection. Once a member, you will have access to written lesson plans for all ages and all areas of practice. Here is a link to a great document teaching you how to plan a session, considering size, age, ability, fields, etc., that is wonderful along with a downloadable template for use in planning your session. PLEASE CHECK OUT THAT LINK. The presentation from USYS about how to plan a session (in writing) is fantastic.
How should I organize my activities? Lesson plans also help you build on a theme for the practice. Rather than just doing your favorite games over and over again, you can modify them to represent certain aspects of the game, be they passing, dribbling, shooting, etc. US Youth Soccer recommends building a session based on a topic that is reinforced throughout the session. For example, consider warming up with a game that utilizes skill and agility similar to dribbling. Then add the technical component (what can you teach the players about dribbling today?.) Reinforce your teaching point with a game, leading to a small-sided game, leading, ultimately, to a scrimmage. As an added bonus (and a topic for another day), can you think of a Law of the Game you can include in the session? Most important, teach the game. As Brendan Rodgers says, “It’s not about training players, it’s about educating. You train dogs, not footballers.” We need to be teaching the game.
Should I have a plan for a Day? Week? Season? Year? Yes. How should your sessions build from one week to another? One season to the next? Having a curriculum with a plan for a season, the next season, etc., that is communicated to your players and their families will build confidence in you as a trainer, as a club, and help parents understand what the big picture is. Sometimes our fans, teams, coaches, even trainers, can lose focus. The big picture may, for some, be the game this week. But that is not the message we should send our players, their parents, nor are they expectations we should place on our trainers.
Last Saturday, our boys’ team suffered a tough loss. In years passed, I may have expressed some of my frustration against the boys. I think it was because the game was more about me than it was about them. At the end, I told the boys to keep their spirits up – that this is a long journey and, while we strive to win (soccer is a competitive sport), it is not the main agenda right now. (This team is a U11 qualifying team for division 1). We are working on a picture that is years away – what are we doing today to paint that picture? I can tell you, three years from now, I doubt anyone will attach any importance to one or two or three games (or more) when they were 10 and 11.
As clubs, we need to communicate these ideas to our parents. Giving families written copies of the curriculum is a step in the right direction (we can address that topic later). Planning your session, in writing, is another way to communicate to our players, their parents, our trainers and other volunteers that we are interested in the “big picture.” At Gusher United, Head Technical Director Thomas Shenton recommends giving your written plan to the team manager each session. In any field of work, it is never a bad idea to be (and appear to be!) prepared.