Not very realistic though is it Mate!

What I like about writing this blog is that the responses I get from Coaches can set me off on a train of thought that I don’t think I would have considered otherwise. Many discussions I have had with Coaches have included a comment about whether the exercise or game we are discussing is ‘realistic’ or not hence the title.

It is clear from these discussions that I don’t have a clear definition so I thought I need to define for myself what elements need to go into a game or exercise to make it realistic. This is something that I have not had the chance to test so I would appreciate Coaches who disagree or agree with what follows to get in touch. This is my 1st attempt to define it.

These are in no particular order just as they came to mind.


I think all of us if asked to describe football would say it was a game between two teams somewhere in the description. Therefore if you remove one team you are changing a basic requirement for it to be called football.

Opposition players dictate what is a good passing option, what is good positioning plus they also reduce the amount of time you have to complete any action. As a new Coach when talking to more senior Coaches about the best way to develop players for senior football I would hear the same phrase almost every time. They would say they needed a player who could still play under pressure. Opposition players provide the pressure they were talking about.

Without opposition players most of the variables of football and so decision making are removed therefore I would say that opposition is essential to make the exercise realistic.


This sounds very obvious but if there is direction then the ball can move backwards, sideways or forwards. This simple distinction has huge ramifications though for player’s decision making.

In the two diagrams below with direction a pass forwards between two defenders to a player in space is the best option without direction the pass to the player with the least risk in space becomes the best option.

Passing OptionPassing Option 2

Another point is that players positioning is completely changed if there is no direction. If your team is out of possession and there is no goal/area/target player to defend you will position yourself entirely differently from when there is.

Clearly if something as fundamental as the value of a passing option or positioning is affected then I would have to consider what benefits I got from a game without direction as the realism has been compromised. This is not to say that an exercise without direction isn’t beneficial simply saying it isn’t realistic.

Way to Score

Again if most of us were to describe football than I think somewhere we would say a team wins by scoring more goals than the opposition. Therefore scoring is important for both sides.

I prefer both teams to have a way to score. I am not fond of simply winning the ball being a way for the defending team to score. If the defending team has to say at a minimum complete 3 passes, play to a target or run the ball into an area if they win the ball then this means we have the 4 main moments a game so the players have to react to what moment the game is in. Therefore increasing the realism.

Four Main Moments

BP = Your team has Ball Possession.

BP>BPO  = Your team has just lost the ball.

BPO = The other team has Ball Possession.

BPO>BP = Your team has just won the ball.

Another point is that winning the ball then giving it back to the opposition to start again is demoralising and not something you want your defenders to get into the habit of doing.

I would say there has to be a way to score for an exercise to be realistic.


I am debating with myself still if an element of offside or offside needs to be in a game to make it realistic. I am leaning towards yes because again it affects what is a good passing option plus positioning of all players but I would like to hear from other Coaches on that one.

Like I said at the start this is my 1st attempt to define what makes an exercise or game at training realistic so I need to debate it, hear other views, see what needs to added or taken away and think longer on it before I can have faith in my definition.

Look forward to hearing from you

Please leave a comment or email me

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Thank you to all the Coaches who retweet my blog it is very much appreciated.

Till next time


Did I really used to say that ?

As Coaches I think we all have our favourite little phrases that we use often with our players. I would like to share with you the continuing evolution of one of my phrases. I am going to go right back to when I started so please forgive some of the now obvious mistakes.

You may not agree but I think players rarely make poor decisions when they play. More often they make the best decision they can based on the limited information they took in. If, at training, I stop a game and recreate the situation then ask a player to look at everything and decide what to do invariably they come up with better decisions than the one they made.

I feel the problem is often more about the gathering of the relevant information rather than the decision making itself. Of course what I am talking about is a player simply looking around them and making a decision based on what they see and how much time they have to do it.

This blog is about the evolution of phrases I have used to get players to take in as much information as possible when they play.

I am embarrassed to say I started with the old favourite ‘stop ball watching’ but like many before me and since I neglected to actually tell the players what to I wanted them to do or even what I meant by ‘ball watching’. Thankfully no players ever took this literally and never looked at the ball.

Next I moved on to ‘check your shoulder’ and this time I did explain this was so you could see what was behind you and the only change involved there for a while was I changed it to ‘check your shoulders’.

Then I changed it to ‘Scan’ because I felt players needed to know more than just what was behind them and for me scan sounds like a word that means take in a 360 degree view.

The next change was asking the players to ‘Scan & Plan’ because I wanted them to realise they were scanning about them so they could make a decision on what to do next. I still use this phrase but I have now given it some more detail.

First detail I added was what the players should look for when they scan. I was at a coaching conference and the guest coach mentioned he likes players to look for 4 things. It struck me I had been asking players to scan/check shoulders/not ball watch for years but never made it clear or defined in my mind what I wanted them to look for. Yes another one of those moments. My coaching seems to be littered with them.

The four things I now ask them to scan for are

1 – Ball

2 – Opposition

3 – Teammates/Target

4 – Space

Next while watching either a Dick Bate or John Allpress video on YouTube (sorry not sure who it was) I realised I wasn’t giving any guidance on when to scan so I borrowed this

Scan when you think the ball is coming near you

Scan when you know the ball is coming to you

& if you can scan when it is on its way

A more recent addition was about the plan part when I realised that I only referred to what decision the players could make when the ball got to them. This meant I was completely ignoring a vital part of receiving the ball the players positioning themselves to their advantage before the ball arrived.

The latest detail is that I now ask players to Scan & Plan when their team is not in possession just as much as when their team is in possession. Previously it was something that was heavily weighted towards when their team was in possession.

I would love to hear from other Coaches about how I can further evolve my coaching about players scanning and planning or about phrases they use to get players to look around them.

Thank you to all the Coaches who retweet my blog it is very much appreciated.

Look forward to hearing from you

Please leave a comment or email me

Follow me on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

Till next time

What’s a good 1st Touch

I do have lots of sympathy for the novice coaches I meet at the club I work at because all the mistakes I see them make I can remember making most of them myself. I feel if circumstances had been different for me that maybe I would still be making those same mistakes and be totally unaware that I am making them.

Importantly I do understand that I am still making mistakes that I am unaware of. This is the main reason I do this blog to improve as a coach. I am a firm believer in the saying ‘the more you learn the more you realise you don’t know’.

I was at a non-football seminar a number of years ago and the Presenter was challenging everyone to be better and in one part he said ‘If you can’t define it then how can you teach it’. It didn’t hit me straight away because quite simply he was throwing out loads of info and content but that comment stuck with me.

A few weeks later when I was writing a session plan working on 1st Touch I realised that if one of the players asked me to define a good 1st Touch I wouldn’t be able to tell them. I would be floundering around talking about getting the ball under control or keeping the ball close unless you needed to take a big touch into space or taking it away from defenders except when you wanted to take the defender on.

It was quite a moment as I then realised how many sessions I must have done on this topic and been totally unaware I am not even able to define what I am teaching in a simple statement. I can tell you at that moment I felt very much like those novice coaches I meet.

I have thought about this a lot and I have refined it to this statement

‘A good 1st Touch sets up whatever you want to do next’

For me the statement covers 1st time passes plus it covers players who have not made a decision beyond simply getting the ball under control as that was what they wanted to do next then make a decision on what else they can do.

It also covers a 1st Touch like this

It would be fantastic to hear from other Coaches whether they think that statement is true for all types of 1st Touches or whether they have a different statement that works for them.

As a little exercise has anyone got a simple statement that describes a good Throw-in.

Look forward to hearing from you

Please leave a comment or email me

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Till next time

Session Plans

It constantly amazes me how my session plans change over time. I will look back at old plans and marvel at how different they look. Without realising it I will have tweaked the format to such an extent that at first glance the plan isn’t recognisable as being one of mine.

I have no idea when I started including it in my plans or what triggered me to start including it but the single most helpful part of my plan is to write down four behaviours I want to see if the players are doing the topic of the session correctly. It helps me be more specific when I am writing out the session plan plus it helps me when I am conducting and evaluating the session.

For example the last session I did was a technical session for 11/12 year olds about striking the ball with the specific topic being ‘Passing Inbetween Defenders’.

I listed what I wanted to see the players do as –

1 – Players positioning themselves to create passing lanes inbetween defenders.

2 – Evidence they had planned ahead i.e 1st time passes inbetween defence or adjusting position.

3 – Using both feet to pass inbetween.

4 – Disguising 1st Touch to allow inbetween pass to happen.


Part of the introduction was a 5 v 2 with the teams beginning to move into

the next grid after completing five passes.

Now this blog is not about this session but it is about Session Plans. Like I said I cannot remember when I started writing out the four behaviours but it would feel completely strange for me not to spend some time in the planning stage visualising what I wanted to see the players do then including that in my plan. However I can remember not doing it which I now find incredible.

Do you have something that you write in each Session Plan that you can’t imagine completing a plan without it? If so please share it with the coaches who read this blog.

As always would love to hear from as many coaches as possible so we can all improve as a result of the feedback.

Look forward to hearing from you

Please leave a comment or email me

Follow me on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

Till next time