In this article we're going to look at many ideas and concepts around training and practice design. You'll likely know of many of them already, and maybe you'll pick up one or two new ones.
The session diagrams below were made using Sport Session Planner. If you'd like to know more about how SSP and BFCN can be of use to you and your session planning, click here.
Work to Rest Ratio
The work:rest ratio is the comparison between how much time a participant spends working compared to how much time they spend resting.
In the above exercise, which is a standard 1v1, the work to rest ratio is at 1:0. There is no rest because the players are not taking turns, and the practice is continuous. However, if you were to add in mandatory breaks, then that would change the ratio. For instance, when coaches let players play, then stop the exercise and talk about it. "You're going to play for three minutes, then we're going to talk for one minute about what you noticed" would be a work:rest ratio of 3:1, meaning three minutes of work, followed by one minute of rest.
The greens are now taking it in turns to play. It's still a 1v1, but with one player waiting their turn. If the red is permanent, their work to rest ratio is still 1:0, and if the greens are taking turns, their work to rest ratio is 1:1. If we were to rotate the players three ways, with two turns each before skipping a turn, the ratio would now become 2:1.
Now the greens have two players waiting, and one playing, meaning there is more rest than work. One turn playing, two turns resting, makes a work to rest ratio of 1:2.
The work to rest ratio is really important to get right in your sessions. There are a lot of factors to consider, such as energy levels, the macro-cycle, where the players are in their preparation for the game, and if they are not professional players, what else have they been doing that day or week? A recovery or a preparation session would likely have a higher proportion of rest, and the ratio would be managed well for players that are coming back from injury. Likewise, intensity has to be monitored. A 1v1 drill is incredibly physically demanding, and will soon lose realism if the players become too tired and begin to execute actions that are atypical to the game of football. If the drill has been going on for too long, the defender may not track back when beaten, making the exercise far too easy. If it's too easy, players disengage, and learning will struggle to transfer. And if you're the attacker, practicing dribbling against tired defenders that are not putting the work in, are you really improving?
This is where we consider quality versus quantity. How tired do you want them or need them to be during the exercise? Where are the players in their preparation or recovery for the game? How much can you push them? Would you prefer them to have lots of goes, or a few high value goes?
Ball to Player Ratio
This ratio considers the amount of balls and players involved in the exercise. A full game, as we know, only has one ball. Yet in practices, we often include multiple balls.
Plenty of technical exercises involve a ball each. Every player has a ball and completes the tasks individually, such as performing skills or dribbling through gates. The above picture has a ball to player ratio of 1:1.
Now in pairs, passing through gates, another staple of youth football, there is a ball between two, taking the ratio to 1:2. It's the same if it were a 1v1 drill and if it were a working in pairs drill.
Moving into a 2v1 drill there is one ball between three players, becoming a ratio of 1:3. There are nine players and three balls overall, but because the balls don't interact across the exercises, the ratio stays 1:3.
Taking it into a 3v1 rondo, the ball to player ratio is now 1:4.
In this exercise, we've done something a little different. We've taken a regular 5v5 small sided game, but we've thrown in two balls. This makes the ball to player ratio 2:10. Coaches utilise this on occasions when they sacrifice a little realism for a higher amount of repetitions. It can be a useful tool for raising engagement, adding different conditions, or just doing something fun. What we've done here is make the two balls different colours. The possibilities are endless. Can your team possess both balls when scoring? This works on shielding, dribbling, and combination play, while also affecting the reverse of those topics (Remember that in a dynamic game, if your session is designed right, you'll be working on the reverse of your learning objectives too. More on that later). Maybe the balls are weighted with different rewards? The yellow is worth one goal, and the blue is worth four. Think of how that will affect the behaviour of the players, and also how that might include some of the weaker players in different ways. Or maybe one ball is for right-footed goals and the other for left?
Coach to Player Ratio
The coach to player ratio concerns the number of coaches in relation to the number of players involved in the session. With younger players, you should probably stick to one coach to a maximum of twelve players. As they become teenagers, you can get away with one coach to sixteen players. But is that optimal? Are all the players seen? Can you connect with and provide enough feedback to all of the players? Can you manage behaviour effectively on your own?
We're not always lucky to be a team of coaches, but when we are, how do we manage and assign roles? Does one lead the group while the other tends to individuals? Does the assistant coach stick with just a small group that need extra work? Do the two coaches work opposite each other, with one coaching the attacking team and the other with the defending team?
In both the podcast and Q&A session, Paul Barry spoke about the importance of storytelling. That's precisely what these scenarios are doing. It's a fantastic tool that I was first introduced to on the youth modules. As coaches, we have to view ourselves as session architects. We are creating problems for the players to solve. Games have moments, and the dynamics of those games shift all the time. How might you play if you were winning compared to losing? What if a trophy is on the line? How would you play in the face of adversity? These scenarios are all preparation for when the real situation comes. It's all too easy just to play a game at the end. Sometimes, that's the right thing to do. And when it's not, consider a scenario.
When I did the youth modules, it was around 2010/2011. Mourinho was at Inter and Guardiola was at Barcelona. As coaches and football fanatics, it was easy for us to understand the instructions of the tutor when half of us were given red bibs and told to play like Barcelona, while the other half of us were put in blue and assigned Inter. Your players may differ in their football knowledge, and may need more prompts than simply names, unlike when I was in Mexico City, and had the U14 girls play as Real Madrid v Barcelona. The players even took on the playing personalities of the Real and Barca stars, which was testament to their footballing knowledge.
Maybe you need to be more inventive at times, particularly if the players are cynical. You'll know your players better than anyone, and will be able to adjust and tweak these as necessary.
These can be used as rewards and punishments. Inflictions are designed to inhibit or limit a team or group in a specific way. Perhaps the player who behaves or performs the best gets to draw a card to inflict something against their opponent. Maybe you draw two at random, brandishing one each to either team, playing for ten minutes, and then seeing how the teams cope. It might be that you as the coach will choose inflictions that are relevant to your learning objectives.
The inflictions force the players to have to adapt to problems and work on other parts of their game. If they cannot communicate audibly, for example, those on the ball will have to scan more, and those away from the ball will have to communicate their intentions via runs and positioning. A goalkeeper that can only hold the ball for two seconds will either be looking to start counter attacks, or play more with their feet. Both will have a knock-on effect to the rest of the team, and so how will those players react? It has players thinking about the game on a deeper level.
Rules present a way to either limit or challenge players in different ways. They can be topic related, or just pure fun, which is always a good enough reason. One potential drawback of rules is that they may be too limiting at times. When designing our sessions, we have to ensure that we do not encourage unrealistic behaviour. This is why it is often better to challenge rather than limit. For instance, limiting a team to four passes before scoring will prevent goals being scored quickly from counters and restarts. But instead, if we challenge, it rewards a desired outcome. If we're working on a possession topic, four passes before scoring makes the goal count triple will incentivise a more measured possession approach. It doesn't prevent players from recognising a good opportunity to counter, but it does encourage them to play safer and more patient, if that is what you would like to see from the session.
We hear the word overload used in football a lot, but what does it mean? Do your players know? When do they occur, and how valuable are they? And what's an underload? To be consistent, I always say the attacking team number first, regardless of whether that is my team. If the attacking team has two players approaching one defender, it is a 2v1. Likewise, whether it is over or under, always refers to the attacking team (the team in possession). 2v1 is an overload, whereas 1v2 is an underload. 1v2 means one attacker versus two defenders. You may choose to do something different in your environment. It is important to standardise terminology, and to make your communication succinct, so you're all on the same page. Big confusing words aren't helpful, but neither is using ten words to describe an idea when you could use one. "Situation where we have more players than the opposition" versus "overload."
Superiority can be gained in three ways; numbers, quality, positions.