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Sparring Partners - Michael Thomas and Lewis Craig

Sparring Partners - using a boxing term to help describe and develop interventions in coaching

Co-written by Michael Thomas and Lewis Craig

‘Sparring Partner


a boxer who spars with and otherwise serves to train a boxer who is preparing for a bout.’

Competition can help set the tone for the session and can switch the mentality of players very quickly within each practice. It can bring your planned session to life!

Ask yourself 2 questions when planning competition within sessions

What are those players good at? And what makes them good at it?

What do they NEED in order to be challenged and stretched?

Players can compliment and test each other to help improve. This all comes down to careful planning from the coach. Players and individuals want to be tested, so I makes sense to play them against an opponent that will challenge them. Playing a small midfielder against a bigger opponent will help them practice how they are going to outplay them 1v1 technically and tactically and get success.

Players need a a good ‘sparring partner’ - A good finisher needs a good goalkeeper or a great 1v1 defender in order to challenge a stretch. This can then be planned in a way to match up strengths against weaknesses dependent on each players key attributes. Coaches then can be clever in the planning phase. What benefits do we gain from matching a forward who likes to cut inside on his or her left foot against a right foot dominant, aggressive defender? This helps gives the forward more repetition of potentially exposing both sides of the defender. However, if we then place the defender in the left channel of the pitch and changed their ‘sparring partner’ to our old skool pacey, out and out ring winger who loves getting to the byline, suddenly we are develop the weaker part of our defenders’ game. Can they now develop the same ability and confidence to match their left foot defending on the outside with their very strong right side defending?

This method can be a real intricate way of planning to stretch and develop individuals. When done correctly and implemented with consistency, the returns can be staggering as you measure the progress up against direct opposition in a session or over a period of time. Plan this effectively and give it a try. Then watch and observe the four corners returns that continually identify themselves over and over…

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