A design for life

I have a six-step process to my own session planning, which I have tried and tweaked over many years.

I use it to help make planning a little quicker and find it works for me, regardless of player gender or age. The most important thing is to make things specific to your players/environments.

Before you start, though – consider your philosophy. Whatever you stand for as a coach should be reflected in your session plans and how they are delivered.

If you truly are the next Pep Guardiola, then having your players running through cones for 40 of the 60 available minutes does little to support this.

As someone who has predominantly worked in the Foundation Phase (ages 5-11) and Youth Development Phase (ages 12-16), my coaching philosophies favour small-sided games, players making key decisions, lots of problems to be solved and the use of match- based scenarios to add realism and fun.

Depending on where you coach, you may have to have some flexibility with your practice design. It might be that your club, school or organisation has its own coaching syllabus, but where possible try to let your philosophy shine through.



I tend to prefer a ‘whole-part-whole’ approach to session design, which I find aids the planning process and avoids having to find or design seven or eight individual practices each week, as well as giving consistency to players.

The ‘whole’ will often be a small- sided game or match scenario to let players explore the topic(s) in a realistic environment.

The ‘part’ then breaks down the session topic and allows players to work on more individualised techniques, likely in smaller groups and/or with less opposition. A ‘part’ practice might be a finishing exercise that allows lots of repetition of shooting for all players, then letting the players go back into a game to finish (the final ‘whole’).



Stick to no more than three clear objectives each week. These might be the same for four or five weeks as players adapt and learn new ideas.

Outline your objectives with the players and discuss them with the group whenever possible. This serves to aid your review at the end, helps players to understand what they are learning and helps you – and they – reflect on what has been achieved.

Here are some examples of objectives, based on different age groups, for a session focused on ‘defending as a team’:

Ages 5-11: When you tackle, try to win the ball back or show what good teamwork looks like.

Ages 12-16: Show and/or tell your coach what ‘defending as a unit means’.

Ages 17+: Within the games, organise yourselves into defensive units to play against a team who play counter-attacking football.



Here is where you decide whether you intend to focus on passing, playing out from the back, defending set pieces or whatever you feel your team needs.

Note how this step comes after the objectives are set. Without objectives, there is little point designing practices or laying out the cones. The objectives determine what your practices may look like and what interventions you will need.



The FA uses its own four corner model – technical, physical, psychological and social – but you may have your own terms for each, so coaches should adapt as they please.

We often know roughly what the four corners are asking of us. But how often do we plan for these, other than the technical (e.g. shooting practice) or physical (e.g laps of pitch) corners?

Add the corners to your planning template and consider how each practices will achieve what is outlined in each corner.

I always add the names of the players who need support or stretching in each of the areas too, which helps me consider their needs and what questions or challenges I may have for them.

If the theme that week is passing, then maybe player X and Y need help, but player A is likely to need a challenge to test their social skills and would benefit from leading a team talk.



We all intervene – too often if research is to be believed – but rarely do I see coaches plan what they are going to say and when they think it might occur.

We want some spontaneity, of course, and you need to coach what you see at the time. I am not suggesting you plan these interventions to the minute, but maybe have an idea where you intend to lead, where the players can take charge (half-time team talk) or where you think some 1:1 time with a player may benefit – such as supporting a goalkeeper when coaching playing out from the back.



There are so many great ways to give your players some challenges. Why not throw in a game-based scenario based on a score from a previous game? I have even used the Sky Sports Score Centre app to play out matches in real time with goals in the ‘real’ game leading to changes within our own version of the match.

You will also find lots of great content online, with companies selling matchplay cards (see ‘The Coaching Lab’ or ‘The Magic Academy’ for good examples).

If you would like to get your hands on some versions of these cards I created then email me on and I will be happy to share these with you.

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