The Best Laid Plans

by Jeff Bookman - Former Head of International Youth Development, Chelsea FC

It has happened to all of us. You plan your team training session for a group of 12 and just when you get the warm up started, the 13th player who said he/she wasn’t coming suddenly arrives! Or worse still, you plan for your squad of 14 and for various reasons only 7 can make it. What do you do?  Well throwing your arms in the air or getting frustrated will not help in the slightest.  Been there!  For the more experienced coaches, other than a little bit of adaption, neither scenario will pose much of a problem. However, for the volunteer or fairly inexperienced coach, both situations are potential banana skins for a poor session and bad experience for the players.

Whilst all coaches are actively encouraged to develop their own style, those who are just starting out may be happy to follow some simple guidelines.

Organization & Improvisation

Being organized but being able to improvise is an important element for coaches at all levels. Having an understanding of the following pointers will almost certainly lead to a well constructed and enjoyable session both for you as a coach and for all the players.

Nothing will disrupt a session more for the players than a coach not being organized and prepared for the practice, even if goal posts move at the last moment – pardon the pun! 

Expect the Unexpected

Scenario 1:

You expect your 14 players but another coach at the club asks if 4 of his players can join your session because the parent due to take them to their practice cannot get them there due to a late change in circumstances. The space you have is 30 x 20 indoor gymnasium.

The following are some tips for when working with large groups (16 – 20 players)

• Divide into smaller groups – 18 is great to pair up players or put in groups of 3

• Where possible keep players in like-for-like ability groups

• Be ready to set each group a challenge appropriate to their ability. For example if using a passing exercise, the better players may be restricted to less touches.

• Play mini tournaments with teams on and off the field.  Those off can be used as “wall” players around the outside of the field. This keeps all players constantly involved

• When playing games spread the better players as evenly as possible around teams

Scenario 2:

You have your 12 players there but one gets injured in the first minute and has to sit out. So now you have an odd number. The following are some tips when working with odd numbers

• Use 1 player as a neutral player who plays for the team in possession (periodically rotate neutral player)

• Play overload games with 1 team having more players than the other (Give each team the opportunity to have to have the additional player)

• Use these games as problem-solving practices for the players to solve i.e. “you’re team have a one player advantage in the first half, what is your strategy going to be when in possession?” The other team will be a man down – What is their strategy? Then change to advantage over.

Scenario 3:

You plan for your group of 12 but at the last moment 5 players who go to the same school pullout because of a school issue. So you are left with not only a small group, but an odd number.

The following are some tips when working with smaller groups (4-7 players)

• Do technical work individually, in pairs or small groups

• Plan overload practices- 3 v 1, 4v 2 etc.

• Play mini-tournaments -1 v1, 2 v 2 – with some players on field & others resting

• Play problem solving games

For many this might be the most difficult scenario, as it could be more challenging for a coach to keep fewer players fully occupied for a whole session. The following is an example of some of the things you might consider.





7 players form a circle with 3 balls working simultaneously.

The players practice: -

• Passing directly

• Variety of dribbling skills with best foot & weaker foot

• Variety of turning with best foot and weaker foot

• Takes

• Give n go’s

• After passing receive a thrown serve for aerial control




• Players with a ball each form 3 groups of two and one player goes in goal

• Group 1 perform a dribbling skill an shoot, Group 2 play a give and go with group 1 and shoot, and Group 3 go 1v1 against group 2.

• Have two turns each and rotate positions

• Change goalkeepers


Group 1 shoots

Group 2 play 1v1 with group 1

Group 3 nominate after the 1v1 for one of the players to be a teammate, the other is the defender in a 2v1 game.




• Players in 2 teams numbering themselves 1-3

• A volunteer goalkeeper and the coach goes in goal

• Number 1’s start on the field and all other players are around outside as neutral wall players

• Play 30 second non-stop rounds to see the winner of each game

• When through all the players move on to 2v2 and then finally a 3v3 final game

• Rotate the goalkeepers

• Keep competition scores throughout





• One team has 4 players the other has 3

• Each team attack and defend 3 small goals

• The team with 4 must play one player behind the goal and that team can only score by dribbling through the end goals

• The other team of 3 can score by passing through the goals in the direction they are playing

• The player behind may intercept to stop the goal but cannot enter the field

• At half time change the roles and give the other team the extra player

For this game coaches facilitate and ask the players to answer the following tactical questions

- What is your shape when the opposition has the ball?

- What should the tempo of the game be when you have possession and why?

- What role does the player off the field have?

End with a free-play game.

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