The Future of Soccer Session Planning

I created this session planner based on my own beliefs on training session design. I view the coach as an artist who creates game representative environments, where players develop and improve. The training session does not have to be rigid, timed, loaded with pre-determined coaching points, or follow some small to large progressions, that end with goals and keepers. I prefer a training session that is flexible, one that can flow in the direction that feels right in the moment. If my team comes to training and the energy level is low, maybe I switch up my entire warm-up, making it really competitive or super physically demanding, just to wake the team-up. If the team is doing really well in one exercise, I might let them continue for twice the time I had planned, add in some conditions, and let it go. Maybe the team did well, so I skip the second part of the planned session and go a new direction. The important thing is that I have the option to go any direction, based upon the real-time feedback in that session, that is what flexibility is all about.

I intentionally left out objectives, time limits, grid sizes, and coaching points from the session planner. Instead, there is simply a place to write notes, and fill in your ideas the way you want. Each session is about an idea or bunch of ideas, but where exactly those ideas lead, is up to the coach, the team, and the environment. At the end of each session, there is a place to write observations, variations, and any new ideas that might have come about during the training. Each coaching situation is different and nothing ever stays the same, so it is important to consider the following when designing a training session – workload, current fatigue levels, time until the next match, confidence levels, and any other factors that may have an impact on the session.

My own training sessions revolve around representative game design. In simple terms this means, does it look and feel like soccer, does it involve real game cues, and does it involve all phases of the game. The closer my ideas are to whole versus separated things into parts, the better. There will always be the debate just how representative is enough, ultimately that is up to the coach. One example would be a rondo exercise, I view many rondos as a “whole” exercise, with all four phases of the game included, it is game representative with real cues and coupling. I am not saying that you can’t do some technical exercises in trainings, but in general, the game is about meaningful decision-making, and the best way to accomplish that in my opinion, is through game-based, game representative environments.

Color-Coded Session Planning

Below is the color-coded system I developed for my own training session design. It may help provide you with some initial structure for your session designs.

Color-Coded Session Planning Summary

The blue sessions are very flexible and do not have to relate directly to the game model. They will relate to general principles of play, but these sessions are an empty slate to create the environments you wish. The blue sessions can be high in complexity, taking players out of their comfort zones, forcing them to explore new movements, make different decisions, and perceive the environment with a new perspective based upon what is now possible or not possible. Constraints are often the tools used to create these unstable training “blue day” training environments. The red sessions are more tactical and focused on the game model for the next match. They most likely will cover things like a high-press, low-block, building out of the back versus the opponent for the weekend. The red days are more like phase of play days but can be combined with blue days. The green session is a fitness component. I would have a rough idea of how to add variability into your team’s fitness, how you will adjust over the weeks, months, and season. The yellow day is simply a match review day, confidence builder, fun, and energy day. Depending on your age level, number of trainings, and match schedule, the color-coded system can be adapted to fit your specific needs.


Enjoy the planner and be an artist. Be flexible and in the moment with your team. Don’t worry about time limits or what other people think a training session should look like. If you can create great learning environments, players will develop. In a sport where so many coaches preach about the need to develop creative players, how about the need to produce creative coaches who are encouraged to have original thoughts and opinions? I’m starting notice a generation of robots when it comes to soccer coaching, a profession that is now leaning more towards the domain of a math class, where a linear pathway is being taught. My problem is that soccer is not like math class with one correct answer, and a limited number of ways to get the answer. Scoring a goal can be done a million different ways, and to treat soccer like an academic subject is a slippery slope. I won’t even start with potentially how to measure the success of a coach either, because the game of soccer is unpredictable and chaotic. The story of what is successful and what is not would be too long a debate for my session planner. However, I will leave you with my interpretation of success in terms of session design – did the players make a lot of meaningful decisions in a game representative training, did they have to adapt to be successful, did they have enough success, was what they experienced easily transferable to the match, did they have fun and want to come back? And from the coaches perspective, did you get to step out of feeling like a robot in a classroom, did you step into a real-time feedback loop with your team, having the flexibility to go with them any place the session showed it needed to go, not having to force-feed some pre-planned coaching points and objectives, rather being allowed to flow with flexibility in the session. Be an Artist, have original thoughts, and act on your ideas, why should creativity and freedom only be for players? Be an artist.

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