Game/activities are organized into three separate categories. It is important for coaches to select game/activities from each category that are age group appropriate. The categories are:
- Body Awareness — activities that emphasize the use of body parts, motion, coordination; balance with and without the ball.
- Target Games — activities that involve solving the objective by going from “point A to B.” In contrast to Maze Games, these activities are more directionally defined and can be done both with and without the ball.
- Maze Games — activities in which the player has the opportunity to move in a 360° or circle environment with and without the ball. Even though the area is defined, it does not necessarily have a specific target or boundary to go to. These activities allow the players to make decisions while moving in all directions. There are times when the concepts of each of these three types of activities may be utilized in a single activity.
Drills versus Game/Activities
Drills are generally an absence of thought. An individual repeats the same movement or patterns exactly the same way each time. This approach with regard to youth soccer has several limitations. During a soccer game the environment is constantly changing, therefore activities must also reflect this ever changing competitive environment. Children are drawn to games and activities like opposite poles of a magnet, whereas drills repel them and decrease their interest. A game/activity approach creates an environment that allows technique, tactics, fitness and creativity to develop in harmony. Which do you think best fits the developmental needs of children?
Learning Through Game/Activities
Characteristics of Drills
- No Thought
- Age Inappropriate
Characteristics of Game/Activities
- Organized but unstructured
- Free Movement
- Decision Making
- Age Appropriate
The embedded method of teaching physical skills or games involves a brief introduction and demonstration, a warm-up and stretching period, organization of instructional groups, practicing and repeating specific sport techniques, intermittent verbal cues or demonstration, and concludes with “the game.” This approach, although efficient from an organizational perspective, may not be the most effective. What has been lacking are the opportunities for players to practice the various techniques in the context of the actual game.
Team sports present a dynamic and unpredictable environment. To isolate specific techniques is unwise since technique is useless without the dynamics of time, space, decision-making, and teammate/opponent movements.
Evolving Coaches, Evolving Players
In order to affect change on the players a shift in coaching methodology may need to take place. The development of creative, intuitive players is greatly impacted by coaching style and demands. When conducting training sessions, there needs to be a greater reliance on game oriented training that is player centered and enables players to explore and arrive at solutions while they play. This is in contrast to the “coach centered” training that has been the mainstay of coaching methodology over the years.
Game Centered Training Defined
“Game centered training” implies that the primary training environment is the game as opposed to training players in “drill” type environments. This is not to say that there is not a time for a more “direct” approach to coaching. At times, players need more guidance and direction as they are developing. However, if the goal is to develop creative players who have the abilities to solve problems, and interpret game situations by themselves, a “guided discovery” approach needs to be employed. This approach taps in to certain essentials that are always present within the team. Players want to play and enjoy playing the game first and foremost. Since the “game” is used in training, this allows for players to be comfortable with the pace, duration, and physical and mental demands that the game provides. The reason why the players play is because they enjoy the game. They have a passion for the game. This is where they find and express their joy and creativity.
- This is what the players actually face during competition. It is 100% realistic.
- Therefore, the players are more competent at transferring what they have learned in training to the game itself.
- Game Experience = 100% of Training Time
- Many “drills” are not realistic. Therefore, players find it difficult to transfer the things learned in “drill” environments to the game itself.
- Game Experience = ?% of Training Time
- This is not to say that “drills” that closely replicate one aspect of the game should not be used in training. Dynamic, demanding, “drill” environments, used at the beginning of the training times, often prepares the players to play the game as it breaks down the more complicated “picture” that the game provides in to manageable pieces. However, care must be given to making sure that the “drill” is active, and mirrors the demands found in the game.
Continuous Play in Training
- Reflects the real game.
- Demands rhythm. The players can not go “all out” for an entire 90-minute stretch. They need to know how to control the rhythm of the game so that they can last the entire time.
- Demands focus. Players must stay focused for lengths of time, just like they need to do during the game.
- In order to have continuous play during training, the coach must coach “in the flow” of the game, and not interrupt play with stoppages to make coaching points.
Feedback on the Field
- Coaching “in the flow” provides immediate feedback for the players.
- Feedback applies to the real game and is therefore directly beneficial to the players.
- Allows continuous play.