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Adapting activities to your team – vision and principles

In the introduction to this series, I raised some questions that coaches should consider in designing an activity:

  • Why are we teaching this?
  • What do we believe about what we are teaching?
  • What outcomes are we working toward and why?
  • How does what I’m teaching relate to those outcomes?

The answers require us to understand who we are and what we believe – our vision of the game and our principles of play. Here is the belief statement that I put together for UC Premier and which I use with my JV boys high school program (click image):

A statement of principles is based on our vision and should influence the objectives of our activities. I think the principles defined by the TOVO methodology match my vision and represent a vocabulary that I can use with players. I’ve adapted these principles into the session plan template that I use.

This article describes an application of TOVO to club and school high players (click image):

This article dives into a model for developing the “manage oneself” principle with younger players (click image):

Here is a diagram of the 3v1 activity shown in the series introduction:
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The first question is, “does this activity make sense with my team”. This requires us to understand our players’ maturity and ability and their needs at this point in their development track. For example, a “sharks and minnows” keep-away game might be appropriate as a technical development activity with U9s but not with U19s. On the other hand, if the U19s are in a run of tough results and we need to lighten the mood in a session, throwing them into a “sharks and minnows” game – which should be fun – may be an excellent psychosocial activity. So, we need to know our team and our players.

Having decided on an activity, we need to think about the ideal “end picture” – how we want the activity to look and feel when it is executed by the players in front of us. I’ve highlighted “in front of us” because the picture should look very different when performed by high school players versus being executed by U11s. With the high school players, I would expect crisp passes, quality touches, and feints to draw and misdirect the defender and the anticipation of ball movement by the 3rd man and the defender.

With the U11s, the touch and pass quality will likely be lower, the timing of the passes may be early or late, the player on the ball may need more time to sort out a decision, and the movements between the outside spaces may be direct rather than angled or curved. We may see the same sorts of issues with the high school players, but – with more experience in the game – the high school players should require less instruction on the basic ideas. It should be a more technically-focused activity with the high school players.

It’s essential that we understand our vision of the activity, reflect on our players, and enter into the activity with a game plan – what do we hope to see, what sorts of instruction do we expect to provide, and what techniques will we use to deliver messages and to whom.

We also will need to think about the assignment of players to groups. The activity requires 4 players. Should we “ability group” players – assign players into groups or similar to ability level? Or, should we mix groups? With younger players, ability grouping may make sense – allowing us to pay a little more attention to players that require more help and letting stronger players advance together. With older players, mixing the groups may make a bit more sense – letting the stronger players help their teammates through communication and an increasing level of play.

Another choice, particularly with older teams, is to “functionally group” – put midfielders in one group, backs in a different group, and so on. The intent would be to support the interpersonal on-field relationships. We may also start with one grouping, then mix as players settle in and to keep the execution of the activity from getting stale.

Ultimately, the answer to the question of grouping is “it depends.”

In the next article in the series, we’ll talk about the details of our 3v1 and some adjustments that we may want to consider when working with our team.