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The training session

Planning a training session

Planning a training session

How to structure a training session

It is important a coach takes time to plan each training session.  Training sessions should be developed from two or three goals that have been identified for that session. The elements of a training session that all coaches should include are:

  • session introduction
  • warm up
  • games, skill and fitness activities
  • cool down
  • review

Gathering information and setting goals

Before planning a training session, coaches should gather information about the participants, and set goals. If you are working with a new group, the type of information you might need includes:

  • previous experience in the sport
  • level of development, both with the technical and tactical skills of the sport as well as their level of physical fitness
  • why they like to play the sport and what motivates them
  • goals and aspirations in the sport
  • any illness, injury or medical condition that might restrict their ability to participate.

Goals should be established for the season as well as each training session. Goals help to guide the program and provide a reference point to monitor progress throughout the season.

Tips for planning training activities

Session content:

  • Over-plan rather than under-plan. It is easier to omit drills than to add unplanned drills.
  • The session must have variety of activities to ensure the participants stay active and enthusiastic. Look for new ideas and adapt old favourites or games form other sports.

Appropriate activities:

  • Avoid activities that require inactivity or drills that eliminate participants. It is likely that the participants to be first eliminated will be the less skilled, who are the ones that need most practice.
  • Use more groups with a small number of participants rather than a few groups containing large numbers.
  • The activities must be appropriate for the participant’s ability and age.
  • Even younger participants are capable of working independently in small groups. Develop activity station cards that explain the drill to be practised.


  • Plan so that activities flow from one to the next smoothly. Have equipment close at hand and develop routines so that participants know what to do next.


  • Ensure enough time for participants to practice and experiment with activities. Practice in small sided games is beneficial as it allows skills as well as technique to develop.

Conducting a training session

During the session

  • Briefly introduce the session, explain what is going to happen and establish a few basic rules.
  • Get things moving quickly.
  • Spend the first few minutes on the warm-up - make sure this becomes a habit and fun to complete.
  • Ensure that you allow plenty of time for game play and select a range of games that will develop skills, using questions and challenges to assist the participants to learn.
  • Use skill demonstrations at key points to assist participants to understand techniques that may assist them to perform better.  Ensure that techniques are shown in the context of how they will be performed in a match, and not in isolation.
  • Making mistakes is a natural part of the learning process.  Provide lots of opportunities to practice and learn to master a skill.

After the session

  • Conclude the session properly. Include a slower game activity, or a skiw walk if the session has been particularly strenous.
  • Encourage stretching at the end of the session as it can be beneficial for developing flexibility, as well as reducing muscle soreness.
  • Talk to the players as they cool down and revise the key points of the session through questioning, provide lots of praise.
  • Remind partipants of the time and venue of the next practice session or competition.
  • Distribute any flyers, information or other items that you may have for them.
  • Evaluate the session by asking yourself:
    • Was it fun?
    • Did the players enjoy themselves?
    • What might be done to improve the session?
    • Did the players participate enough?

The warm up and cool down

Warm-up and cool-down activities should be incorporated into training and competition routines. The warm-up prepares the body for activity, as well as helping to prevent injury to muscles, which can be more susceptible to injury when cold. The cool-down helps the body clear lactic acid that builds up during any activity. Less lactic acid means less soreness and stiffness the next day!

What is the ideal warm-up?

The ideal warm-up will depend on the sport, the level of competition and the age of the participants. The warm-up should incorporate the muscle groups and activities that are required during training or competition. The intensity of the warm-up should begin at a low level gradually building to the level of intensity required during training or competition.

For most athletes, 5 to 10 minutes is enough. However in cold weather the duration of the warm-up should be increased.

The warm-up aims to:

  • prepare the body and mind for the activity
  • increase the body's core temperature
  • increase heart rate
  • increase breathing rate.

What about the cool-down?

Too many coaches neglect the cool-down at the end of a session. It is just as important, especially after vigorous exercise because the body needs time to slow down and it is an important step in aiding recovery. The cool down should occur immediately after training activities and should last 5 to10 minutes.

The cool-down can be the same sort of exercise as the warm-up but with low intensity body movement such as jogging or walking substituted for running. Stretching after activity helps to ensure maximum flexibility, relax the muscles, return them to their resting length and helps develop long-term attitudes to maintaining healthy lifestyles.


Stretching activities can be included in the warm-up and cool down. There is now less emphasis on static-stretching during the warm-up, so stretches should move the muscle groups through the full range of movement required in the activity being performed (active stretching).

Static stretching is still appropriate during the cool-down and can be used to improve flexibility.

Some rules when stretching:

  • warm-up the body  prior to stretching
  • stretch before and after exercise (active stretching during the warm up, static stretching during the cool down)
  • stretch all muscle groups that will be involved in the activity
  • stretch gently and slowly
  • never bounce or stretch rapidly
  • stretch gently to the point of mild discomfort, never pain
  • do not hold your breath when stretching; breathing should be slow and easy.
  • do not make stretches competitive.

Demonstrating a skill

Everybody has heard the old saying that a picture paints a thousand words. Demonstrating a new skill is an important component of coaching.

Tips for demonstrating a skill

  • Make sure all the participants can see the demonstration.  Be aware of distractions such as the sun, traffic or other groups.
  • The coach doesn't always have to do the demonstration. Other options include one of the players who you know can perform the skills, or a picture, diagram or video may help.
  • Ensure that the skill is demonstrated in the context of the game situation, so that participants understand ‘why’ as well as ‘how’ it is done.
  • Highlight the main points of the skill. Keep explanations simple and brief. Try not to emphasise more than two or three key points at a time.
  • Avoid pointing out things 'not to do' as this will only overload the players.
  • You can break the skill into separate components for the purpose of the demonstration, but ensure you demonstrate the complete skill at normal speed first and at the end.
  • Let the participants practice. New information stays with people for only a short period of time unless they are able to try the skill.
  • Verbal instructions are sometimes unclear - accompany verbal instructions with a complimentary visual.
  • Always show the correct skill last. If you are showing a player the difference between what they are doing and what you want them to do, demonstrate the correct skill after you have shown them their current method.

Organising a group

Establishing Routines

By establishing routines and giving the responsibility for routines to the participants the coach can devote more time to nurturing the sport skill development of the players. 

Coaches should:

  • establish set-up and put away systems for the equipment and facility that participants can assist with. These must be supervised by the coach.
  • use consistent warm-up and warm-down routines.
  • set up areas and equipment in advance for specific elements of the program.
  • ask more experienced participants to help the less experienced ones.
  • have a consistent routine for moving between coach instruction and activity to reduce management time. If the players know where to go, how quickly they need to be there and what behaviour is expected of them on arrival, then more time can be devoted to activity.


Coaches should position themselves so that they can observe all participants. To maintain a formation, particularly when introduced for the first time, it is recommended that coaches use markers to define the formation. Care should be taken that the markers don’t hinder performance by distracting the participant or causing an injury.

Engaging the participant

The following strategies can be used to engage participants:

  • Voice and expression – by varying voice quality and volume to suit the situation coaches can gain the participants attention, and add qualities such as excitement, concern and annoyance.
  • Eye contact - by maintaining eye contact, the coach can personalise things, give the impression of confidence, and add expression to the message.
  • Signal for attention - some coaches use a whistle and others use a variety of commands Whatever the method, it should be loud, different and gain attention. Ironically it is possible to gain attention by being quiet. This usually happens when players are expecting noise and it doesn’t happen.
  • Ask questions- using questioning and discussion techniques shifts the focus from the coach to the participant. The participant takes on some responsibility and becomes more involved in the learning process.
  • Praise and compliment - sincere and equitable praise and compliments to the group and individuals provides incentive and motivation to the participants.
  • Quality instructions - Combining brief clear instructions with demonstrations enables the coach to maintain the interest of participants. One of the most difficult things for many coaches is to limit instructions to one or two key points and then return to the activity.
  • Increase participation - long lines of participants waiting for a turn, and ‘adult’ games with large playing areas and large numbers of players on each team, greatly reduces the opportunities for players to be actively involved and the level of enjoyment for participants.

Sports nutrition

People who are active and eat a variety of nutritious food tend to be healthier, live longer and are at less risk of developing lifestyle illnesses such as heart disease or diabetes. For balanced, healthy eating a coach should encourage participants and their families to:

  • eat from the core food groups each day:

    • breads, cereals and other grain foods

    • vegetables

    • fruit

    • dairy - milk, yoghurt and cheese

    • meat, fish, poultry, eggs and legumes

    • fats - oils, butter

  • eat plenty of plant foods (vegetables, legumes, fruit, bread, cereal, rice and pasta), moderate amounts of animal foods (milk, yoghurt, cheese, meat, fish, poultry and eggs), and small amounts of the extra foods (including oils, butter and margarines).

  • choose varieties of foods from within each of the food groups.

  • remember that breakfast (including cereal, toast, fruit and dairy) is important and a great start to the day.

  • fuel up for training and competition by eating plenty of carbohydrate foods, such as pasta, rice, bread and cereals.

  • choose low-salt foods and use salt sparingly.

  • drink plenty of fluid, coaches should help participants to, follow a fluid replacement routine, or drink before, during and after training and competition. Fluid should be increased during hot or humid weather.

  • encourage set times for meals and limit the number of snacks to three per day.

  • avoid eating in front of the television and do not use food as a reward or comfort.

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Quick numbers

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