Planning a session that caters to the needs of a team is a challenge. There is no one size fits all approach to player development, yet when planning sessions we often treat them as such and plan solely for the team. While some techniques/concepts/principles of play may need to be developed across the board, there will always be players striving to keep up or forging ahead. As a result it's imperative that coaches find ways to differentiate their sessions to also meet the needs of individuals.

In this three part series, we'll take a look at different ways to differentiate sessions for different types of players, starting with those that are 'striving to keep up'. First though, a quick look at what it means to differentiate within your session.


What Is Differentiation?

Differentiation is the ability to adapt your session to meet the needs of the players at their current level. This firstly requires observation and potentially testing players within your session to see 'who knows what' or 'which players are capable of what' etc. Then it's a matter of figuring out which coaching points are appropriate for the entire group and which are honed in on specific individuals.

 I particularly like this diagram from the 'English FA' in their coaching magazine,  The Boot Room  (Edition 12) in relation to differentiation.

I particularly like this diagram from the 'English FA' in their coaching magazine, The Boot Room (Edition 12) in relation to differentiation.


Players Striving To Keep Up

If you've constructed a session that is challenging to your players, you can expect players to struggle at times and be striving to keep up. While you'll likely want to give them time to explore and figure it out themselves, there may also be times where players need further assistance. For those that are striving to keep up, simplify.

Simplify The Instruction

  • Is there a way that you can break the information down into smaller parts
  • Are you using coaches terminology. Is it possible to use simpler terms whilst explaining what you're looking for?
  • Try using analogies to paint a better picture
    • When whipping a cross in, imagine there's a bit of string attached to your toes. Pull your toes up whilst striking the outside of the ball to whip it in...
  • Would showing them one on one help them to see it and have an aha! moment

Simplify The Challenge

Let's imagine you're playing a shooting activity where you've only got one touch in the box. For a player that's striving to keep up, consider allowing them an extra touch in the box to control before finishing. Also consider how you can sell this to the player and the group: "David, you're now Hazard and allowed a dribblers bonus touch".

Three Minute Game. 1 touch finish. Winner stays on. Losers serve.

David (striving to keep up) becomes Hazard for his team and is allowed a bonus touch.

Simplify The Technique

For a player that's striving to keep up, you might want to consider giving them ample time to get repetitions and learn by doing. However, there comes a time when an individual may need the challenge regressed in order to get some success first. In the example below, the activity doesn't need to change, but the coach is able to simplify the technique to help our striver to get some success before building them back up to the topic of the day. Instead of the 'Ronaldo Chop', our striver works on an exaggerated inside cut. This allows them to potentially get success as well as understand where and when to use the move.

The game starts on eye contact with the other team. Yellow and blue both drive out and perform the 'Ronaldo Chop' before finishing in the red gate on the opposite side.

Key Takeaways

  • Coaches should plan sessions for individuals as well as the team as a whole
  • Within your session there may be players that are striving to keep up
  • Consider simplifying the instructions, challenge or technique itself

Written by: Dean Atkins