One of the challenges of coaching during the Spring season is the fact that with many of the players, you have been together all year long. The Fall went by quickly, and we had to endure all of the rain and increasingly cold weather. Then, it seemed as if we were indoors forever! Now, the players are getting used to playing on “bumpy” fields again!
As a coach, we need to be able to “jump start” the season, and keep things fresh so that the players don’t get burned-out and lose interest in what they are doing.
Towards that end, I have included below some training ideas that will help keep things moving along. They are appropriate for any age level. The common theme is that these ideas challenge the players, often times asking them to compete or solve problems. Thus, their interest is hopefully grabbed and training becomes productive.
A simple but effective way to make any session competitive is to allow for a mini-tournament during training. I have found this to be most successful when playing small sided games (1vs1 -> 4vs4). The idea here is to play as many games as possible during the practice time. Line the mini-fields up along the side-line. When a team wins a game… they “move up the ladder”. When they lose… they move down. This way, each player/team is trying to get up to the top of the ladder, and ultimately be the champion. Playing in small sided games also has the benefit of providing repetitions for the player’s technique, it does not allow a player to hide. Keep the games short (45 seconds – 1 minute for 1v1 games… 5 minutes for 4v4 games). The coaches role is to organize the players, making sure that they play in the right game and move the right “direction” between games. The coach also encourages players and facilitates each player trying to come up with their own solutions to the game.
There is nothing that stifles enthusiasm like boring technique work. On the other hand, I have found that players enjoy skill work when it is the context of a game and under the pressure of time, and a challenging skill demand. One way that I have found to be successful is to set goals for the players and then see if they can obtain the goal.
A simple organization towards that end is to pair up players and ask them to work together to complete a task. Put the players in an 8 yd x 8yd square and ask them to complete an appropriate skill challenge without the ball leaving the square. For example, the 1st player tosses the ball to the 2nd player’s head. She heads it back to the 1st player’s head, who then heads it back to the 2nd player. If the 2nd player is able to catch the ball, they have successfully completed the task. They then move on to the next square and try to complete the task again. Line up four squares in a row. If the team makes it to the end of the row, they get a point. If at any time along the way, they do not complete the task successfully, they must sprint back to the beginning and start the process over again.
Time each challenge with a goal in mind. For example, “Players must get 3 points in 90 seconds or they have to do 2 push-ups!”
Make each challenge different, and appropriate to the age group. For example, with 10 year olds I might have one player toss the ball, let it bounce, have the second player volley the ball back to the server, who catches it without letting it hit the ground. With 16 year olds, I would have them serve it by “lightly punting” the ball to his teammate, who volleys it out of the air back to the first player, who then has to volley it back to the second player, who then catches it! Make it appropriately challenging.
Everyone is going at the same time, so the field will look like a big grid, with each pair of players in their own row. I have found that the players really enjoy this. You can even ask them to come up with their own sequence for added interest.
Training with Other Teams:
There is great benefit to training alongside another team. The positive peer pressure acts towards your advantage as the players often want to show the other team that they can play well. It is also just enough different from the normal routine that it often will add a spark.
This is particularly helpful during the Spring as many players miss training due to other sport commitments.
Put the players together and have a ladder tournament, but have them be sure to mix the teams up so that they have to play with someone from the other team.
This is great if they are not from the same age group as well. The younger players have the challenge of playing with bigger, stronger, faster players… while the older ones benefit from learning how to make the game easy for someone on their team that perhaps is not as developed as they are (making the passes extra sharp, getting in an easy spot to receive a pass).
3 Way Scrimmages… Win and You Stay:
One of my favorite things to do as a player was to play in 3-way competitions. I think it came from playing on the playground so often. Do you remember those days? When too many kids showed up to play on two teams, we used to make three teams, and then play games up to 2 goals. If you won, you stayed on the field and played the team that was sitting out. There was something about this environment that made it amazingly appealing! Perhaps it was the challenge of seeing how long you can stay on… or, to see if you could knock off the reigning champions!
Make it an even better training environment by having the players that are “off” become “bumpers” around the outside of the game. In other words, they play on the sidelines. The players on the field can use these players to pass to. The “bumper” players pass back to the team that passed to them. It is particularly interesting to use these players on the end line as finding those players with a pass usually leads to a direct scoring opportunity.
This way, everyone remains involved. There is added incentive for the players on the outside to make good passes that will lead to goals, thus allowing them to get back on the field quicker.
It is best to play the game to 2 goals. First one to 2 wins. Or… if a team doesn’t score in 4-5 minutes, they are off. This works best playing 4 vs 4 –> 6 vs 6.
This is a great way to hand the practice over to the players. It is really a scrimmage with a little bit of a “twist”.
Each team goes out to play, but the coach allows the PLAYERS to pick their system and where each player plays. If the team has seven field players to choose from, they may play a 3-2-2.. or a 2-3-2… or whatever.
The catch is that after the first 5 minute game, they are not allowed to pick the same system for the next game. This provides a good challenge for the players as they have to do a lot of thinking about the game, and think of how they are going to adapt their system to fit the need of the moment. It also gets them to think about how the team is organized, and how to play in that organization.
These are just a few ideas of how to keep training times motivating, engaging, and fun. If you have any other ideas about how to keep things interesting, please share in the comments below!