How to get the best out of a Player?

Over the last 6 – 12 months my knee has got progressively more painful. I was thinking the worst as I could do so little without pain. I booked myself in to see a Sports Physio thinking I was going to get told I needed an operation. Fortunately for me it turned out that I needed nothing more than a few glute strengthening exercises to bring everything back into balance and my knee should be fine.

I was amazed how the Physio was able to isolate certain muscles and I simply either couldn’t do the exercise she wanted or move smoothly through it. It really convinced me that she was right.

So I left a very relieved man and was told to come back 3 weeks later to see how I was going. The results were rapid and within 2 weeks the knee pain was thankfully becoming a memory. I was doing the exercises every day and really feeling I was benefitting from it. At the next appointment I honestly thought she would tell me I was fine and that there was no need to come back again. I thought this until she put me on a different machine from the first appointment.  With my right leg it felt like I must be doing it wrong because it was so easy then with my left leg it felt like someone had just attached one of the cables to the wall.

I think I might have gone too hard as driving home from the appointment my leg shook every time I pressed the clutch in. It was funny as first but I just couldn’t stop it and it turned driving away from traffic lights into a quick breakdancing routine. I was determined to do all the exercises she gave me and forced myself over the next three weeks to do them even when I was really tired and just didn’t feel like it.

Finally I am coming to the point of this blog. I went to this week’s appointment feeling I had done everything I could do to strengthen my glutes in the previous three weeks (even throwing in an extra exercise session on a few days). After about 10 mins she turns to me and says

“I can tell you have done your exercises. You are looking way stronger”.

 I was absolutely buzzing and immediately starting thinking that I would do an extra set of exercises every day before my next appointment and was focusing even harder on making sure I did the exercise I was doing correctly.

It took a couple of minutes to realise that I was so invigorated because she had simply given me some praise for my efforts. For a long time now in my coaching I have been a believer in praise rather than constant correction but after feeling the effects of some praise firsthand like that I doubt anyone could convince me it isn’t the right way to go.

I had a similar experience a few years ago on a slightly different coaching point. I wanted to be taught how to do something to see what it was like to be a learner again and I chose learning how to ride a motorbike (mainly because I want to buy an old Italian Lambretta Scooter). My instructor could easily be described as very ‘rough and ready’ but a brilliant teacher. During my second lesson I was concentrating on changing gears so much I left the clutch in when I twisted the throttle back. I quickly realised what I had done and released the clutch. He never said a word.

At the end of the session I said I thought it was great how he didn’t tell me I had left the clutch in that time and how he responded could be applied to so many coaching situations just slightly less colourfully

Mate did I have to tell you with the engine roaring so f—–g loud plus would you have heard me with all that f—–g noise

Again I was on the receiving end of tactics I use in my own coaching. I knew I had made a mistake just like lots of the players I coach do and I didn’t need to be told it because it was so obvious.

If someone like myself in my late 40’s can be buzzing after getting praised or can be glad that a mistake wasn’t pointed out to them then surely the young players we coach will experience these emotions far stronger. It has certainly reaffirmed some of the ways I coach.

Have to finish now as I want to get back to doing my strengthening exercises. By the way it has only been 3 days but I have done the exercises twice a day since the last appointment.

Look forward to hearing from you

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Till next time


Of course it’ll work. I’ve been coaching for years

I have mentioned before about how I am often amazed how much the format of my session plans change over time without me even realising it. This week quite by accident I found the reason for a change in the format that I had completely forgotten about.

I was flicking through the book ‘How Children Succeed’ by Paul Tough which I read a while ago. I happened to open the chapter about Chess players and it triggered a hazy memory.

This chapter contained a study about something called ‘Confirmation Bias’. I had never heard of ‘Confirmation Bias’ before or since to be honest. It is about our natural tendency to prove our own ideas are right.


In the 60’s a psychologist called Peter Cathcart came up with a simple test for this. The subjects in the test were given a series of 3 numbers and told that they followed a rule and they had to figure out the rule by giving another set of 3 numbers.

The subjects were given a series of 3 numbers like this


and told to come up with another series that followed the same rule. Most people came up with something similar to this


They were told that was correct then told they had to give another series before giving an answer as to what the rule was. Most people gave something like


They were told they were correct again. Most people then gave the rule as being ‘ascending even numbers’ or ‘even numbers ascending in 2’s’ which was wrong. The rule was any ascending numbers so they could have given 1-2-3 or 12-27-35 and still been right. All the series they gave were correct but they never tried to find a way to prove themselves wrong only to confirm their initial theory.

I remembered finding that really interesting but got a bit caught up in rereading the whole chapter and forgot about the hazy memory it triggered. However the next time I wrote a session plan I saw what this had triggered in me previously. For a while now after I write out each exercise I have a space on the plan where I try to find two things that can go wrong with it and what action I can take to keep the exercise flowing if this happens or if I need to tweak the initial exercise conditions.

This has helped me hugely in my planning because I definitely was the type of coach who could only see an exercise going exactly as planned and then had to think on my feet in the actual session if it didn’t work out.

Hope this helps you out. I would love to hear from other Coaches who have added something to their session plans that helps them.

Look forward to hearing from you

Please leave a comment or email me

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Till next time

What it feels like to be out of your Comfort Zone

In April I wrote a blog called ‘So what did you learn today?’  /  Mark Carter from the Ministry of Footy @MinistryOfFooty (well worth following) asked me the following questions

Can the players plan for their own learning rather than the Coach planning it?

What would a session look like if each learner brought their own set of learning objectives?

It really set me thinking and I told him I would try to include a session in my training cycle were the players individually came to the session with their own learning objective and that I didn’t set a ‘topic’ we were all going to work on. Last week I did a session like this.


How was I going to allow the players to choose a topic individually? I thought that for the first time to make the choice easier for the players I would reduce their options but in future I will certainly allow players completely free choice. I gave the players the choice of the last 4 topics we had worked on

1st Touch – Setting up your next action so can do it with 2nd Touch

Striking the ball – Passing inbetween opposition players

Running with the ball – To create space for team mates

1 v 1 – Get past an opponent

I told the players at the last session before that it was up to them what they learnt at the next session and gave them the four choices for them to think about for the next session. Two days before the actual session I emailed all the parents the list of topics and asked them to remind the players so all came prepared.

I told the players that they didn’t have to tell me what they were going to work on.

Planning the Session

My approach I decided that I was going to be hands off and allow the players to work through the session themselves without over loading the players or myself as I tried to grasp whether it was beneficial or not.

Here are some of the issues with planning the session I had

– I couldn’t place a condition on a game that affected what the individual players did when they received the ball i.e. maximum 2-Touches because I needed to allow players to practice all topics. I decided to place conditions on the way goals were scored i.e a goal had to be scored from the left/centre/right of the goal before a goal could be scored from the same area twice.

– I had to make the pitch big enough to allow players to find space to run with the ball or 1 v 1 but not too big that 1st Touches were rarely under pressure as players found space too easily. I settled on making the pitch wider but not longer.

– How many players per side to play. Have to be enough to allow passes to be played inbetween opposition players, had to be enough to allow players lots of opportunities to go 1 v 1 but not too many players that space became an issue. I decided on 2 games of 4 v 4 but in the end 2 players didn’t show up so I switched to a 7 v 7.

I was never going to play with any less than 4-a-side because I wanted goals with GKs for the conditions I placed and if there are only 2 outfield players this reduces the opportunity for the players to get meaningful practice if they choose 1st Touch or striking the ball.

The Session

I asked all the players when they arrived not to tell me what their topic was but whether they had chosen a topic to work on. I gave all the players at the start of the session a challenge to work on their topic they had chosen so much that it was obvious what topic they were working on without needing to tell me.

My first impression was (and I am not saying this deliberately to get positive feedback that this is how learning occurs) that I am way out of my comfort zone here. After about 10 mins I was thinking I have no idea what to do next and felt that I hadn’t planned enough for how I was to coach the session. Being ‘hands off’ wasn’t really enough and I felt under prepared and my mind was racing for what to do. It took approx. another 10 mins before I realised I was just flapping about because it was different so started to watch the players (like I had planned) to see what benefits I could see.

My next impression was that it was very much like I have read many times about dividing the players up into groups at training basically the players could be simply divided up like this.

3 Groups

Something I have never considered before was that during a session players move within these groups and in both directions. There were definitely players who moved from the centre group downwards to just playing because they could with the way I ran the session and players who probably came poorly prepared and started just playing but focused more so moved through the groups as the session progressed.

On reflection next time I will ask the players to tell me what their topic is so I can assist them in working on it rather than leaving it all up to them. I think though that the session was beneficial structured this way because the majority of the group really took ownership of improving themselves which is fundamentally what it was about and I got to flap about in private without affecting the group and then observe the session.

Next time I will try to balance the ownership of the player’s own learning with me assisting the players.

One last note I asked the players did they want more sessions like this and I was genuinely surprised at how enthusiastic they were to have another one at the end of the next cycle.

As always I need to hear other Coach’s opinions so we can all improve.

Thank you to everyone who engages with the blog it is really appreciated.

Look forward to hearing from you

Please leave a comment or email me

Follow me on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

Till next time