Coaching through games

Modified games are extremely useful to help players to develop both their skills and game understanding. In order to improve all players, coaches should ensure that they adopt a game-based approach to their coaching activities and actually coach through the game (focus on specifics, observe and analyse critically, correct errors, praise good practice and encourage learning) rather than manage the activity (e.g. commentating on play). This means providing specific feedback on both good practice and areas to develop, in relation to the aim set out at the start.

It is important that the focus or aim (e.g. tackle technique) is maintained throughout the session as the tendency can be for the coach to fix other faults. This can result in the key messages to the players being diluted through a focus on too much detail at once. Breaking a skill into manageable parts (key factors) can help players absorb points more easily. A number of key factors can be focused on over a session or number of sessions, but a coach should only look to focus on a maximum of two or three key factors at any one time. Once players are performing consistently well under pressure, the coach can then look to progress and challenge players.

Coaches should consider the following when coaching through games:

  • What is the main objective / purpose for the practice?
  • What skills and tactics do I want to develop within the game?
  • What modifications / progressions can I make to emphasise these skills and tactics?
  • What will be the main problem for the players to solve?
  • What are some key questions I can ask to encourage learning?
  • What progressions and regressions will I need to ensure every player develops?
  • How will I adapt the scoring system to reward successful achievement of the objective?
  • What are the boundaries and safety laws for the activity?

The Whole-Part-Whole method of structuring a session can be a very useful way in using both games and skill practices together. With this method, the coach can start with a game (whole) and if there is a particular area that requires more practice, the coach can then use a skill practice (part) to focus more on the technique. The coach can then put this back into a game or modified activity (whole) to challenge the players further through a more game-like environment.

To fully develop all players, every session should be progressive with the option to regress if necessary. If the players are not able to perform the activity at the desired level, the coach should not be afraid to go back a step and refocus on factors previously introduced. Some of the players will be more capable than others so there will be a need to differentiate between these players and set goals appropriate to individual ability.

It is very easy for players to execute skills and make decisions in unopposed conditions as there is little or no pressure on them to perform. This success however, brings about a false impression of their ability to deliver the same level of performance under match conditions. Most often, conditioning the game increases the pressure on players to perform. This will ultimately affect their ability to apply their skill during a match situation.

To challenge players with realistic training activities, coaches should be creative in the tasks they set for their players to encourage them to solve problems and make decisions. Consider the following tips when designing the activities and always relate what you are asking the players to do in relation to the outcome of the session:

  • Condition the opposition in attack or defence to put players in decision making situations – by altering number in attack/defence, placing conditions on what they can or cannot do and giving some players specific roles
  • Utilise scoring zones and systems – the position and numbers of areas that can be scored in as well as what is required to score – relate to objective
  • Alter the dimensions of playing area to maximise opportunity to practice (e.g. narrow for developing contact skills)
  • Allowing /disallowing some skills in certain zones (e.g. only 3 passes in the middle zone/ no kicking in own half etc.)