How to Build a Session from Scratch

The below is inspired by my recent chat with the Head of Coaching for the England FA, Ben Bartlett.


“How to Build a Session from Scratch”

First, we build the design. At Chelsea, Ben’s teams played a 1–4–4–2 and a 1–4–3–3 because those were the formations of the 1st team and the England National team. So, this would be the starting point for building the design of the session.

Next, we might reduce the numbers based on available players, repetition, or a particular sector/inter-sector of the team we are focused on. If you only have 14 players available for training, then you might choose a 7v7 and choose to maintain the “central spine”.

Instead of having a “themed practice” — a session dedicated to a particular theme, Ben spoke about “embedding your playing style into the design of the session” and “embodying your principles through all of the work that you do”

To develop his exercise design, he uses 4 main principles — the 4 D’s Direction — the goal of the game is to kick the ball into the opponent’s goal and prevent it from going in yours

Definition — the session should take place in the area of the pitch that the (inter)actions being trained are most likely to occur.

Decisions — the players should have decisions to make based on the communication with their teammates, the opponents, the space, the ball, and other context-specific information.

Difference — Decisions will present themselves in different ways to different players. And players will have different action possibilities. The LCB will potentially perceive different information and have different possibilities for actions than the RCB

Next, he will choose the pitch shape by using a simplified rule of thumb. 1. Big Pitch 2. Small Pitch 3. Narrow Pitch 4. Wide Pitch

Finally, Ben decides on what demands to place on the players. These essentially become his coaching points. He uses a simple framework of the 3 R’s.

  1. Restrict
  2. Relate
  3. Reward

Restrict — Example — you tell the players that they may take 1 touch, or 4 or more.

Pro’s — increases repetition, you make players do something more often

Con’s — reduces cognition as players are more likely to just follow the restrictions blindly

Relate — Example — you challenge the players to recognize the moments to take 1 touch and the moments to take 4 or more.

Pro’s — great for cognition and decision making as players have to perceive the moments for particular actions

Con’s — Not great for repetition

Reward — Example — the number of players you dribble past before you score equals the number of goals. You reward certain behaviors.

Pro’s/Con’s — basically a mix of both as it increases the repetition of specific behaviors without forcing players to behave in a particular way.

Putting it all together, this is a useful template for “building a session from scratch” It’s not meant to be copied, as @benbarts said, “this is my way of building the design of a session, but coaches can use this as a starting point to develop their own.”

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