How to design a Women's World Cup coaching session

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Amy Price, FA women’s national coach developer, explains how to use the Women’s World Cup and computer game design to create engaging coaching sessions for young players.

Finding different ways to win has already played a crucial role at the 2019 Women’s World Cup.

Faced with varied defensive strategies, including the deep-lying block, a number of teams have had to adapt their attacking approach, often within games, to be successful.

Changing your strategy, in both attack and defence, is crucial at international tournaments. Having only a single strategy can lead to elimination. To be successful there is a necessity to pose a variety of threats. Developing this type of adaptable game plan is exactly what Phil Neville and the Lionesses will have been working on in their tournament preparation.

Finding different ways to win comes from having a deep understanding of the game. The ability to think flexibly and understand the options available at any moment in the game are characteristics of the best players. Being flexible involves planning ahead, and not just for the next fixture, but within a game itself. Successful teams spot patterns and adapt in the moment.

England's Beth Mead cuts into Argentina's box on the left whilst being chased by two defenders.
England used wide play, often through Beth Mead, to break through a resilient Argentinian defence.

Game understanding is an area of development that coaches can work on with young players. During the 2018 men’s World Cup I used the tournament theme to engage with the players I was working with at the time. As part of this approach, I integrated a number of computer game design principles into the practice sessions to help the players better understand the importance of strategy.

There are many similarities between a World Cup tournament and computer game design. Both challenges require the need to:

  • plan ahead and set problems
  • strategise and re-strategise as the game progresses 
  • identify the strengths and weaknesses of the people playing the game 
  • use the information gathered to gain advantages
  • be successful and win.

To work on the above we played lots of World Cup games at training. The focus for the players was on understanding what was happening in the game in order to outwit their opponent.

To do so, we allowed the players to pause the match at any stage of the game in order to strategise and re-strategise.

The opportunity for the players to ‘pause’ the game promoted the idea of planning ahead and planning the next move.

Two gamers play on the PlayStation 4 during the Every Gamer's Adventure Final.
Introducing the idea of ‘pausing’ the match – just like on a games console – allows players to be strategic with their planning. Image: Joel Ford/Getty Images.

For each game we gave the players four opportunities to pause the game. On a whiteboard I had four options that they could choose in order to help them win the game:

Cheat - use VAR to cancel out a goal scored by the opposition

Challenge - accept a challenge such as playing in a smaller space

Clue - ask the coach to help you

Change - change an aspect of the practice design to your advantage

Once a team has used one of the four options they couldn’t use it again. This meant the players had to discuss and strategise about how to use the options available to them.

The enforcement of a number of pauses made the players pay attention to what was actually happening. It encouraged them to observe and analyse the opposition during the action and begin to work out their own and the opposition’s strengths and weaknesses.

Winning at grassroots level isn’t the be all and end all, but I do think all coaches have a role to help young players develop ways of being successful and to be able to think strategically - this is one approach that might help.

Have a go and let me know how you get on @AmyPrice_10.

This is the first of a number of articles looking at the World Cup and practice design. Follow The Boot Room and @StGeorgesPark during the tournament for news of Amy’s next article which will explore the above ideas in more detail.

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