See why academic research recommends the games approach
The following ‘Traditional Formats’ all have fundamental drawbacks:
a) Fixed practices (commonly ‘drills’) repeat technique to refine and reproduce consistently, but control players’ response by limiting options. Skills are broken-down into small steps using a progressive sequence from simple to complex , without regard for the complexities of the game environment. Whilst drills are necessary in the army, soccer has more room for expression and individuality.
b) Variable practices extend ‘drills’ by offering alternative directions to adapt technique in, rather than in response to an opponent. Both fixed and variable practices have potential for competition, but this is often limited to 1v1’s/2v2’s.
c.1) Integrated practices: full/small-sided matches. Whilst full competition is engaging, it’s a large step forward from variable practices as players move abruptly from no/limited pressure to full pressure.
c.2) Functional Practices and Phases of Play are used by more experienced coaches to isolate match scenarios towards one main goal. The team defending this goal has little incentive to score so unrealistically retains defensive shape when in possession.
The Stop/Start Approach
The ‘Coaches in Game’ format coaches team play by identifying a ’fault’ before 1) freezing play, 2) asking questions and correcting the fault, 3) demonstrating the ‘correct’ way, 4) rehearsing the ‘correct’ way and 5) restarting play . Whilst painting an accurate picture of specific situations, it removes players’ responsibility, and encourages dependence on the coach.
Coaching “fixed” solutions limits the tools in each player’s armory, leaving them vulnerable to unique or nuanced scenarios. They might know the ‘correct’ way but can’t adapt when this doesn’t work. E.g. the coach tells their ‘Wing Back’ to always guide their opponent towards the touchline. However, if the opposition winger always outpaces them or only threatens from crosses they must adapt.
Instead, guide players to adapt to unique situations by experimenting with different scenarios to discover solutions themselves. Experimentation allows players to understand why it won't work and when there are exceptions, so understanding is more complete, rather than just a remembered rule.
The 'Games Approach'
The ‘Games Approach’ allows experimentation through small-sided games with various conditions, triggering techniques and skills under realistic pressure . First developed in Europe through Deleplace  and Mahlo , The ‘Games Approach’ was highlighted in the U.K. when Bunker & Thorpe  proposed the ‘Teaching Games for Understanding’ model. Several Game-Based Approaches have since emerged, all with slight variations .
“Game Sense”  took a considerable step forward by encouraging coaches to become facilitators by asking questions that stimulate tactical thinking, rather than just dictating [15, 16, 18]. As facilitator, the coach guides players to find personal solutions to game situations they meet. Questions aren’t asked to find correct answers, but to stimulate thinking as there is no single solution .
Light  suggested the coach encourage players to take risks, be creative and engage in active learning. Ideally the coach facilitates by using questioning to promote player dialogue and reflection [6, 20, 31], allowing players to be actively involved in their learning through problem solving , where they draw on prior experience and knowledge to make sense of learning experiences . The coach can nudge players in a more fruitful direction when they’re way off the mark.
The modern approach to facilitation prompts players to discuss and debate aspects of the game before returning to the game to act upon points of discussion . Initially players are dependent on the coach and struggle to think of new ideas. ‘Figure 2’ helps stimulate players to problem solve independently.
‘Progressive Games’ assist independence by subtly guiding players, whilst empowering them to discover solutions through trial and error. The ‘Games Approach’ focuses on a particular skill/tactic within a realistic environment so that players become comfortable responding to the opposition, rather than a command.
Several studies identified the design of games as vital [8, 13, 28, 29, 30, 34]. Yet seemingly logical ‘conditions’ often have an opposite effect to the intention. E.g. whilst the intention of the “Maximum 2-touch” condition is to speed up play, players often respond by stopping the ball, so not to rush their second touch. The resultant static ball slows down and makes play predictable. Instead, the ‘Progressive Game’ “Changing Directional Focus” (Figure 4) guides players to speed up play organically by instantly rewarding fast passing.
Allow players personalized challenge. Some games e.g. ‘Greed’ (Figure 7) have layers of challenge so that when players succeed, they meet a higher challenge. However, some games are enhanced by players adapting their personal challenge.
Result-based personalization should be avoided though (e.g. First to 5 goals, player ‘A’ has a 3 goal head start). As each player’s challenge within each play is unchanged, the weaker player is over challenged whilst the stronger player is under challenged. It’s sometimes beneficial to compete against much stronger players, but when overdone, players will prioritize 'safe' options to avoid failure.
Games encourage experimentation to solve unique game problems. To maximize this, subtly guide players by occasionally offering alternatives, rather than dictating. Use drinks breaks to discuss new solutions so players have time to consider the problem. It’s important they sometimes try out bad/risky solutions so learning is organic, rather than copied.
Comparison can demotivate players who regularly lose. Many players see success as ‘winning’, which is less realistic when better opponents are also improving. Instead, measure success based on progress rather than comparison.
A variety of different games, cater for different learning styles and give players opportunity to relate skills to unique situations. Learning is more permanent when players develop understanding through a fuller range of experiences.
e) Active Involvement
High intensity games improve fitness without players realizing they're working so hard. To maximize involvement and intensity:
· Use games rather than drills. Games contain more incentives, so players work harder,
· Prioritize high intensity, competitive games,
· Set up a warm up game that players join in with on arrival to maximize activity.
· Always have the next game already set up so players can start quickly,
· Have recurring games each session to reduce explaining time and maintain intensity,
· Initially have shorter length games to maintain a high intensity. Once players can maintain
the intensity, gradually increase game length to extend.
· Have drinks close by and limit length of breaks to challenge recovery (initially have
slightly longer breaks to build success) and expect players to jog to and from drinks break.
· Play smaller-sided games to increase ball-touches and maximize intensity,
· Limit stopping the practice to coach. Instead, use drinks breaks for feedback,
· Place spare balls spread around the perimeter to restart games immediately,
· Coach holds extra balls in their hands, to restart play.
Use competition effectively to maximize realism and engagement by:
· Emphasizing all player's responsibility to improve rather than beat each other,
· Assist players to set personal conditions as the main challenge, alongside their
opponent (see ‘Adaptations’ section for each game),
· Coaching players to feedback to each other after each 1v1/2v2 challenge to highlight
process, over the result. This includes both praise and advice,
· Creating an environment where competition is prioritized over counting,
· Avoiding recording or announcing scores and prioritizing games without counting.
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