Players, who graduate from Premier League Youth Academies that gain professional contracts at the age of 16, are likely to have spent 10 years playing the sport, made up of around 15 hours per week, 700 a year and over 7000 hours in practice activities, with the aim of improving performance. Are coaches providing their players with the quality coaching and practice activities necessary to make best use of the 7000 hours that players invest in their own development?  This article will look at strategies coaches can use to ensure they are making the best use of their practice time.

Demonstrations:

Did you ever wonder why players do not execute the skills that you just demonstrated for them? It is often believed that demonstrations are the best means of getting a message across to players so that can achieve the outcome the coach desires. The reason that a demonstration is not useful to a player in football is that most actions on a football pitch are goal directed. In other words the player has multiple options to choose from and multiple decisions to make before they carry out a football action. A demonstration forces the player to adopt a movement pattern that may not be the best solution to the problem and constrains the player’s discovery of solutions.

Coaches should guide players on the goal of the action and allow players to discover their own movement pattern to fit the situation. This does not constrain the learner’s discovery of solutions to problems faced. Another option is to have players observe a player who is also learning. It has been shown that viewing a learning model leads to better eventual performance compared to those who view an expert model (McCullagh & Caird, 1990). This occurs due to the player who is viewing the learning model, being able to detect the errors in the learner and correct these errors in their own movement.

Blocked Practice v Random practice:

Traditionally it was believed that players should practice skills in an isolated manner before it is brought into a game situation. This has led to players not being exposed to decision making exercises for the majority of training sessions. Ford, Yates and Williams (2010) found that coaches in Premier League Academies had their players engage 65% of their time in isolated drill type activities compared to 35% in games based activities. This imbalance does not lead to the development of game intelligence, as variability is required in practice in order to deal with the variety of situations that players are exposed to on the pitch.

In order for training effects to transfer to the match situation players should be exposed to training situations where they must vary their actions just as they would in a match. While this may be detrimental to performance in training it will lead to better performance in game situations.

Feedback:

Coaches provide feedback to players in order to support them in improving their next attempt at an exercise. This helps the learner to improve and can increase their motivation to continue to practice the exercise. The traditional approach has been for a coach to provide lots of feedback to the player with the idea that the more information a player receives from the coach the more they will learn. However there are various types of feedback that a player can rely on when seeking to improve their next attempt at an exercise.

When a player executes an action there is natural feedback that is available as a result of the action. This is intrinsic feedback, which enables the player to self correct their own technique. When a player executes a pass in a training session they can see where the pass ended up. This is their intrinsic feedback. If the coach was to give verbal feedback to the player on the action this would be extrinsic feedback. Extrinsic feedback is dependent on the coach and does not promote the learner in relying on their own self corrective process.

If the coach gives extrinsic feedback every time a player executes an action in training, the player may well learn to improve the execution of their actions in training due to the support of the coach. However in the match situation when they are not constantly receiving feedback from the coach, their execution of skills is likely to drop in standard. This is because the player will become dependent on the extrinsic feedback of the coach.

To prevent learners relying on extrinsic feedback, feedback can be provided (1) after a number of attempts, (2) when performance standards fall outside a certain range of performance, (3) or it can be provided in a question and answer style format. As the player improves in standard the precision of feedback should become more detailed in order to support the learner in improving.

Conclusion

The role of the coach is to ensure that the practice and instructional strategies used are of the most benefit to the learner in improving their skills. Hopefully some of this information can support coaches in ensuring they are making the most of the practice time they have with players.

ReferencesShow all

Ford, P. R., Yates, I., & Williams, A. M. (2010). An analysis of the practice activities and instructional behaviours used by youth soccer coaches during practice: Exploring the link between practice and application. Journal of Sports Sciences, 28(5), 483-495.

Williams, A. M & Hodges, N. J. (2005). Practice, instruction and skill acquisition in soccer: Challenging tradition, Journal of Sports Sciences, 23, 637-650.

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