PLANNING THE GAME - SEASON PLANNING: OVERVIEW & KEY ELEMENTS

CREATING A SEASON PLAN

Creating and implementing an effective season plan requires vision, foresight, flexibility and willingness to adjust as the season goes along. But it is important General and specific planning can help you to get the most out of your group of athletes.

The depth of planning and detail in your planning depends on the amount of time you have to dedicate to the team, and also the age group, athletic and technical ability, and level of commitment that can be expected/required for the team. Adjust planning accordingly to your situation.

 

1.  Goal-setting:

 TEAM Goals: It is valuable and important to have a direction for team. A team’s goals may be obvious and specific (“winning the League/Tournament”), or not-so-obvious (“establishing a strong presence in the defensive circle”).

Team goals for a season should provide focus, direction, and possibly motivation for a team. It is worth putting some thought into the kind of goals that are set, and how they are set. It is valuable to have specific measurable goals (for example,  “Win our Division”, or “Finish in the top 3 teams in our League”). However, these goals also can be limiting. What happens after the team wins the Division? Do the players then take their foot off the gas when they go into playoffs? On the opposite front, just as goals should set a challenge for the team to aspire to, it is important to set goals that are within reach. Unrealistic goals can become irrelevant if players feel that the goals are not attainable.

Depending on the level (and personality/culture) of the team, there is value in creating goals that are less measurable, but can be equally important. An example of this might be: “train at game-like intensity in practice sessions.” Although this cannot be measured statistically, it may still be a critical goal for a team that has not trained at a high tempo in the past..

The goal-setting exercise should focus on creating team goals that are clear. specific, and realistically attainable. It is effective for the coaches to set goals in collaboration with the players. Players will be more likely to work towards achieving goals if they have been involved in the goal-setting process. A simple exercise for this in a team meeting: ask players to meet in groups of 3-4 and write down the goals they think are most important. Then put all of the goals up on a board. Try to narrow down the list to a small number (5 or fewer). Keeping the list short will allow the team to focus attention on the goals. Some goals may be grouped together, or put under a heading.

 

INDIVIDUAL Goals:

For a team to be successful, each player should understand their role, and also set individual goals to attain through the season that will benefit the team. Ask each player to set individual goals for herself for the season, and then meet with her to discuss and clarify. The player’s goals should be compatible with your expectations and goals for her, and this should be clearly described and written down so that the coach and player understand.

If possible, goals should be evaluated midway through the season, and re-adjusted if necessary. The      goals can then provide a guideline for an evaluation after the season is complete.

 

POSITIONAL Focus

The team can also be split into smaller groups by position, and goals can be set within lines       (goalkeepers, backs, midfielders, forwards). The defensive unit may have goals that apply specifically    to them: “efficient defensive communication”, or “less than 2 goals allowed per game”. It is not essential for these groups to set goals, but meeting in positional groups on a regular basis to evaluate             and discuss play can be powerful, as these smaller groups of players will develop stronger     connections and will be more likely to work well on and off the field.

Theme: Although this is not specifically included in goal-setting, it can be valuable for a team to come    up with a word or phrase that is used as a theme for the season. This should be something that the team identifies with for this specific season, and can be put up on a wall poster, on a t-shirt, etc. The word/phrase can be serious or funny, but should have a unifying effect for the group.

 

2.  Tactical Development through Stages of the Season:

Depending on the length and type of season/league, the season can be separated into four stages. 

   Preseason

   Early Season

   Mid-Season

   Late-Season/Playoffs 

All of the tactical areas of the game cannot be covered comprehensively during preseason, there is not   usually enough time. So the coach must prioritise and decide which critical areas must be covered  first, and which areas can be developed through the season. These decisions will depend on the age of the team, and also the prior experience the team has playing together (previous seasons). But as a  general rule, the following are key priorities to be covered to start the season:

 Team Structure/Formation, General Playing Style

 Outletting Patterns

 Pressing Structure and Movements

 Defensive Structure inside 23m and Circle

 Attacking Penalty Corners

 Defending Penalty Corners

 Free Hits inside attacking 23m - set plays

 Defending Free Hits inside defensive 23m

 Penalty Strokes

 

Areas to be developed through the season:

 Midfield movement and ball development

 Attacking circle penetration and running patterns for forwards

 Attacking circle positioning and principles

 Advancing Outletting Patterns

 Advancing Pressing Structure and Movements

 Endline Play (Attacking and Defending)

 Further Development of Set Plays (Attacking and Defending Penalty Corners, Free Hits inside attacking 23m

 Shootout skills (Shooters and GKs)

 

Training Focus in the Season - Fundamentals

While working on tactical development throughout the season, it is also important to work on developing and refining fundamental skills. The amount of time spent on fundamentals should be   greater with younger athletes, but it is an area that should not be overlooked at advanced stages. This can be incorporated into training sessions if time permits, or players should be encouraged to take extra time to work on skills on their own time. Even with elite athletes, the repetition and refinement of fundamental skills is important technically and also to build confidence.

 

Stages related to Team Development: “Form, Storm, Norm, Perform”

Psychologist Bruce Tuckman created this theory of four stages in group development, which can effectively be applied to teams.

FORM: The initial stage for a team, as the individuals get to know each other, and know each other in new/different positions roles. For example, a team may have lost a strong leader the previous year, and needs another player to step up into a new leadership role which is uncomfortable for him.

STORM: Growing pains as a team works through challenges of dynamics of playing time issues, working together in new positions, individual/team conflicts.

NORM: Players find their roles on the team, and the team begins to work effectively together on-field and develop team unity.

PERFORM: The team performs at a high level, develops group strengths and a strong, powerful team style of play and identity.

 

This is a basic overview of the four stages, but it is helpful for coaches (and potentially for players also) to understand these steps, and that this is a normal progression and process for groups and teams.

 

This development model is also valuable to help coaches know when to introduce new concepts and when to challenge players tactically, physically and psychologically. 

   

Positional Considerations and Injuries

With the development of a more fluid and high-tempo game in recent years, it is important to have depth in substitutions for each position. More rotation is required on the forward and midfield lines than in the backfield, but it is still critical to make sure a number of players are able to play each position. Players should also be encouraged to understand roles in different positions on the field, and train in those positions.

Set Plays: penalty corners and other set plays require specialty skills, and there should be several players who practice and are adept at each skill, in case of substitution or injury.

Injuries are likely to play a part in every season, and preparing well can help to mitigate some of the impact. Even when the team is healthy and you have a strong, reliable line-up, it is important to rotate players through every position in training (and games if possible), so the players are ready to react to losing a player to injury in any position.

 

Other Key Considerations:

 Schedule: Target Games. There will likely be some games in a season schedule that will be comfortable wins or losses. There are also key games that will determine the success of the team’s season. It is the coach’s responsibility to identify these games, and either discuss the importance of the games openly with the team, or to create a program that prepares the team to have the best chance of success in those games.

 Maintaining Fitness/Conditioning throughout season, avoid over-training and under-training, to peak for late season/playoffs. Awareness and adjustments for fitness of those playing more game-time than others.

 Psychological Considerations: recognize that psychological pressure/intensity can only be held at a very high level for limited periods. Be aware of the team’s response to pressure and when it needs to be released.

 

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