In my 13 years as a grassroots soccer coach, I have watched and worked with many coaches who work at this level. Some have been beginners and others had been coaching youth soccer players for at least 2 years.
A common question I tend to ask grassroots coaches I support is how can use differentiation in your session? the response I tend to get is what is differentiation and how I use it?
Knowing how to differentiate in your sessions is an important skill for a youth soccer coach to learn and when mastered will take their coaching to a new level.
What is differentiation?
Differentiation is when you tailor your coaching to meet the needs of your players who will either find the practice too hard or too easy. I am sure you have all experienced situations where you have planned a coaching session that will be perfect for your players but for some reason 1 or 2 are not grasping the session.
In this situation, a coach has a couple of choices (a) continue with what you originally planned and hope they eventually pick it up or (b) slightly adjust the practice so that the players who were struggling get back on task. You can also have it go the other way where we have some high achievers finding the practice too easy and others seem to be getting along with it ok. Do we again (a) continue with what we originally planned or (b) find a way of pushing the high achievers whilst keeping the others at a level they can cope with?
Quite simply, having the ability to differentiate allows you to have a framework for effective coaching, that will give your players who are either more advanced or less able a different avenue to achieving your session objectives.
Why is it Important to differentiate?
When you can effectively differentiate in your sessions, you are better catering to the needs of your players. You won’t have situations where some players who are finding the session too easy are becoming bored or players who are struggling in the session becoming frustrated that they cannot perform the task you have set.
Differentiating allows every player the opportunity to have some success whilst still challenging your players.
How to Use Differentiation in Your Session!
It all begins in the planning process where you will write down how you can adapt the session for certain players if you need to. I believe this is why a lot of coaches fail to implement the method because they have not had an initial thought process on how they can use it.
My current number #1 tool for planning my soccer sessions right now is the academy soccer coach session planer. You can go and check it out by clicking here.
When you prepare your plan, think about how you can challenge those who are finding the task quite easy and those who are struggling to keep up with the rest. Here are some suggestions you could use.
In this example, the players are involved in a passing and receiving practice working in pairs (technique). The following challenges for players who find the current task too easy:
“Every time you receive the ball, look to move the ball into space with your first touch (touch move) and accelerate into space if you can. How many times can you do this in 1 minute.”
“Your challenge is everytime you pass the ball call out which side you are passing to e.g passing left or passing right.”
“What you are doing is ok but I think you can play quicker, so everything you have just done do it quickly”
The following are for players who find the current task difficult.
“Instead of trying to pass the ball with 1 touch can you now take at least three touches before you pass the ball.”
“I have noticed that when you pass the ball your partner is struggling to control the ball, so can you change the weight of our pass to make it easier for your teammate. Now let’s see how many times your teammate can successfully control your passes in 1 minute.
Expect to be regularly assessing the players after you have set the tasks. The advanced players may pick up the challenge quite quickly and you will have to give out encouragement to better what they did previously because most of the time that is all they need e.g “well done now do it quicker”.
The same will apply to players who are at a lower level compared to the rest of players. Regular praise when they execute the task well will give the players more confidence and keep them on track.
Throughout this process, you need to have the right manner and approach when you deliver information to your players for it to be effective. If your tone is not expressed with enthusiasm you may find it difficult to inspire your players to deliver the outcome you desire. Keep these points in mind and you will find it a lot easier to keep your players on task.
For me, once you begin to regularly implement this into your coaching you will see your players excel a lot quicker. Just think of all those times you may have been pulling your hair out trying to think of a way to keep your star player ‘john’ on the development path or that one player who is always behind the rest of the team a chance to catch up with the others.
Just by effectively adding this method you can take your level of coaching to new heights and you will be able to cater to the needs of every player on your team.
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Kurtis is the Director of Coaching at coaching company ‘Lets Play The Game Ltd’ and has over 12 years of coaching experience. He is also a head coach at a junior school and club level. Kurtis has experience in training and mentoring grassroots coaches in the West Midlands area. He holds a Diploma of Higher Education in Sports Coaching, FA Level 2 Badge Holder and is currently doing the FA youth module level 3. He has the Premier Skills Coach Education Award.