Planning your Coaching: A focus on Youth Participant Development
Andy Abraham, Sergio Lorenzo Jimenez Saiz, Steve Mckeown, Gareth Morgan, Bob Muir, Julian North, Kevin
There is very little in life that doesn’t need some sort of plan to facilitate the achievement of a goal,
be it writing a shopping list, looking at a map to plan a route, or even putting a post code into a satellite
navigation system! In essence planning is our attempt to predict the future so that when the future arrives
we are prepared for it. At its simplest planning is waking up and deciding what to have for breakfast at its
most complex planning is preparing the allocation of resources to look after an aging population in 30 years
time. Planning in coaching sits somewhere between these two time frames, but even in coaching there are
varying time frames. The plan could be for a single coaching session, it could be for a 10 week programme
or it could be a 4 – 8 year talent development programme. What is known though is that the planning
becomes more complex based on two factors: the number of variables that have to be accounted for and
how far into the future that planning is required to predict.
Unfortunately, experience and research would tell us that planning is something that people either don’t
readily engage in, or if they do, they don’t do it particularly well. This lack of planning is not altogether
surprising for two reasons. Firstly, evidence examining human learning and development suggests that
humans have a preference to ‘do’ first and ‘think’ later or if at all (Kahneman & Klein, 2009). Secondly,
planning is difficult, time consuming, inefficient (at least in the short term) and often
unrewarded/unrecognised in the allocation of time and effort for either paid or unpaid coaches. For both
reasons planning often has little cultural value. Yet, despite this lack of value, research has consistently
shown that the capacity to plan and rationalise through coaching practice is a determining factor of
coaching expertise and effectiveness (Abraham, Collins, & Martindale, 2006; Jones, Housner, & Kornspan,
1995; Lyle, 2010; Martindale & Collins, 2005; Schempp, McCullick, & Sannen Mason, 2006). Indeed,
engaging in planning is crucial in the development of a coach since it encourages deep thinking, raises
expectations of both coach and player and provides a template from which thoughtful reflection can occur
post delivery (Abraham & Collins, 2011). Given such importance the goal for this chapter is to offer ideas as
to why coaches should engage in planning and (given the comment about doing first thinking later) perhaps
more importantly what they can plan for and how they can do it.
Because planning is so complex however, one chapter cannot do the whole process justice. In order to
overcome this issue, at least to some extent the focus of the chapter will be planning for the development
of young people. Young people represent the population that the majority of coaches will work with, yet is
the population that has received least planning attention in academic books. Furthermore, the term
‘participant’ will be used as the catch all term that might otherwise be; athlete, child, player etc.
2. The Jargon Of Planning and Its Relevance.
As identified, the importance of planning has been acknowledged for a good number of years. Much of this
work has been completed in the area of the physical preparation of athletes, particularly in physical sports
such as athletics (see Bompa & Haff, 2009). This work introduced many ideas and jargon into the realm of
planning some of which will be used in this chapter. Because there is so much jargon it is useful to spend
some time identifying it and exploring its meaning as shown in table 1:
Stress Response Cylce
A conceptual basis to physical and psychological system development
dependent on placing the ’system’ under stress. The key idea is that stress will
unbalance the ‘system’ but that the system will then compensation and super-
compensate, however if this super-compensation isn’t built on then the system
will return to its old state. See Fig 1.
Planning ideas for the achievement of goals are put in place for extended
periods of time. The longest time frame is know as the macro cycle. The length
of a macro cycle is often dependent on the sport, the frequency and
importance of competition goals or stage of athlete development. Olympic
sports will often have 4 year cycles (or even longer). Elite sport teams may only
have annual or bi annual cycles. Talent development programmes may have up
to 6 year plans.
Macro cycles are often broken into meso cycles. These cycles will represent
meaningful planning stages (or phases – see below) with aligned goals in the
achievement of the overall goal of the Macro cycle
In a similar fashion, meso cycles are broken into micro cycles
This phase provides balanced, all round physical conditioning incorporating
strength, endurance, speed, flexibility and other factors of fitness.
This phase concentrates on sport specific fitness and exercises, which are more
specific to the demands of the sport.
This phase may contain one, a few or a season worth of competitions. The
main aim is to prepare for competition and maintain fitness.
This phase is used to facilitate biological regeneration, psychological rest and
relaxation as well as to maintain an acceptable level of general physical
Volume of Training
The amount of time devoted to training
on a certain aspect of performance. A
term that is derived from physical
conditioning literature but can be applied
to all types of training.
These three terms are often
employed within the same
planning literature as they are
seen as being co-varying. I.e. a
certain part of a plan may have
high volume, intensity and
frequency. However, this training
may be too much ‘stress’ over an
extended period so one of more
of them may drop, i.e. high
volume, medium intensity, low
frequency. Decisions as to which is
done and when is based on
knowing the participant and goals
being worked towards.
Intensity of Training
The amount of effort applied to training a
certain aspect of performance. Again a
term is derived from physical
conditioning but can be applied to all
types of training
Frequency of Training
How often training on a certain aspect of
performance occurs. Also a term is
derived from physical conditioning but
can be applied to all types of training.
Table 1: A glossary of common planning jargon.
Figure 1. Stress Response model. The top figure represents a single stress response cycle. The lower figure
represents the ‘ideal’ outcome of continuous stress response cycles over a longer period of time. Over
time, as stress responses build on top of progress made from previous responses performance should show
an improvement – especially if the stressor (as it should be!) linked to the performance improvement
Since this chapter has a focus on the development of young participants, particular attention will be placed
on the use of Macro Meso and Micro and not the different ‘phases’ or ‘training loads’ identified. This is not
to downplay the importance of these phases and loads, they have been used with good effect in planning
for Olympic athletes. However, given the focus of this chapter the ‘phase’ and ‘training’ terminology and
aligned methodology lack relevance for the majority of young participants for two reasons. Firstly,
consideration of training load becomes a major issue when participants are engaged in large amounts of
training, i.e. 20 hours plus a week. Most (but not all, e.g. swimming) young participants, even those
engaged in talent programmes are unlikely to be engaged in this level of training. Secondly, competition
often has different priorities at youth level than at elite level. Later in this chapter the role of competition is
discussed when planning for young participants, however the overriding philosophy is one of using
competition for the sake of development and not winning
. The methodology of phases is aligned with
‘peaking’ for competition (Bompa & Haff, 2009) and has more to do with elite and emerging elite athletes
than it does with young developing participants. Such a ‘philosophy’ could be classed in the ‘that’s ok in
principle but doesn’t happen in practice’ bracket. Culturally, youth sport is often very strongly judged
through who has the most ‘winningnest’ team or athlete. However, and as is suggested later, in order to
have the impact that they desire coaches need to be able to develop the culture that they believe is
required in order to achieve their goals. Planning for changing mindsets is often as important as planning
for performance change.
A disclaimer here is that winning does become important for some at early stages of their athletic careers.
Coaches who find themselves in these situations should therefore extend their reading to account for this.
Furthermore, young participants do have additional mental and physical load through school, social life and
playing other sports. Peak loads in these other areas of life should be considered in planning.
Further jargon will be introduced in the rest of this chapter, this is inevitable simply because jargon is
developed to summarise complex ideas – and planning is complex. However, this jargon will always be
accompanied with explanatory notes.
3. Thinking, Thinking Tools and Planning
It was mentioned earlier that people have a preference to do first and (maybe) think later. There are
actually sound biological/evolutionary reasons for this phenomenon. Much of life requires people to make
quick decisions to the extent that slow thoughtful decisions may not be useful in achieving immediate
moment to moment goals. In effect, quick and intuitive decisions are useful because they are efficient in
getting on with life. Issues arise however when people continue to make intuitive decisions when in fact
slower more deliberative decisions should have been made, as summarised by Myers (2010) and then
Intuition is adaptive. It enables us to drive on automatic. It feeds our creativity. But sometimes it
leads us into ill-fated investments, fuels overconfident predictions, and even takes us into war.
Awareness that intuition’s vision could use some correction in realms from sports to business,
commends disciplined training of the mind. (p.376)
Planning seems to be an important component for changing many behaviours….. it is useful to plan
how you will think and act. Plans are prescriptive descriptions about what to do and they prevent
habitual responses that may not work. (p.21)
The coaching connection is that coaching sessions often require coaches to be intuitive in their practice, the
question is what is driving this intuitive practice? Coaches will often refer to the importance of experience
in being able to make good decisions – but this statement actually lacks some crucial definition. Lots of
people can have experience but only some seem to have expertise (Nash, Martindale, Collins, &
This is not to say that winning is a ‘bad thing’. Learning how to win may well be a valid goal to work on. It is when
winning is at the expense of development that problems will occur.
Martindale, 2012). One defining factor is the deliberateness of that experience, “the disciplined training of
the mind” and it is this deliberateness that planning (and reflecting for that matter) can offer.
However, saying deliberate planning is important is one thing, engaging in deliberate planning is another.
Deliberate planning requires coaches to think, but think about what? Schempp et al. (2006) identify that
novice coaches plan around simple heuristics such as maintain control and fill time. Alternatively, more
expert coaches plan around thoroughly understanding the nature of the performance and development
problems facing them before progressing into developing a plan of action to solve the problems. But even
this explanation is quite nebulous and lacking in definition. Planning is a complex process that does require
a lot of thinking but knowing what to think about is crucial. In order to facilitate this thinking nine thinking
tools and 5 planning templates are offered in the rest of this chapter to facilitate the planning process.
3.1. Nested Goals and Planning
The Macro, Meso and Micro terms introduced earlier identify that short term cycles of development should
be connected to medium term cycles which are in turn connected to longer term cycles of development. In
coaching terms this would mean that a single coaching session should always have a connection to the
longer term goal being worked towards. This sort of approach should prevent irrelevant fire fighting of
micro issues that can distract coaches away from the longer term goal
. Abraham and Collins (2011) termed
this approach as Nested Goal Setting and Planning where short term goals should be nested within medium
and then long term goals. Subsequently planning should also follow this route. However, they expanded
beyond the usual approach of performance goals setting to examine what sort of goals should be set and
how the plans would then reflect the type decision that would then be taken.
They identified that goal setting and planning decisions at the Macro are typically strategic and political in
nature. That is they are more likely to be about achieving long term targets, typically with long timeframes
attached to them, often impacted on by internal and external key stakeholders.
Meso goal setting and planning then becomes socio-motivational and tactical in nature, that is, this level
focuses on creating optimal environments for the achievement of goals. As such annual planning with in-
built meso cycles for participant development would be a typical Meso goal setting and planning activity to
engage in. However, planning for the engagement of those who will impact on motivational and learning
environment such as parents or other coaches may also be useful.
Finally at the micro level, goals and planning would be far more pedagogical and session (or sessions) based
in nature. Often with greater focus on individual development or performance improvement, this level of
goal setting and planning very much becomes about the public face coaching.
One further distinction was made by Abraham and Collins (2011), the type of thinking also changes with the
stage of planning. They argue that the Macro and Meso level of goal setting should predominantly be
where deliberate thinking and problem solving should occur. Completing this level of thought, they argue,
should set coaches up for engaging both efficient and accurate intuitive decision making in micro situations.
Furthermore, well thought through macro and meso plans also offer a template against which reflections
on progress and development can be made. This should allow for meaningful as opposed to knee jerk
adaptations to plans to be made when, inevitably, progress doesn’t occur as expected. An exemplar nested
diagram is shown in Figure 2.
This does not mean that plans should be cast in stone and be inflexible – this is addressed later in the chapter.
Figure 2. An exemplar nested plan for a U12 academy football team. NB some boxes have deliberately been
left empty to encourage the reader to think how they might continue (or start) the process for themselves.
3.2. Constructive Alignment
Educational psychologist, John Biggs (2003) developed the concept of constructive alignment as a method
to develop and achieve specific learning objectives in adult education. This process offers greater
pedagogical insight (as opposed to strategic and political) to the development of learning programmes. The
process of constructive alignment begins with the question ‘what d0 coaches want their participants to be
able to know and do as a result of coaching?’. The intended learning objectives that arise from an analysis
of participants’ needs relative to the sporting context become the basis for designing long-, medium-, and
short-term plans that will enable these objectives to be achieved and provide a key reference point from
which coaches can monitor and adjust the effectiveness of their plans, delivery and reflections. While Biggs
developed the concept for adult learners the concept is transferable to the development of young people.
As a planning tool constructive alignment can be used to develop programmes from both a macro/meso
level or from a sessional micro/meso level. For example figure 3 displays an approach to think through and
create programme level development outcomes and what the aligned required support will need to be.
The principle of constructive alignment from figure 3 focuses firstly on creating development outcomes
(box 2) that
are meaningful to the participant, typically defined by their own developmental needs.
meet important standards relative to the programme that they are in
meet the level of learning required to be evidenced in order to be recognised by key stakeholders
external to the immediate coaching environment (i.e. funders, managers, parents).
Secondly, constructive alignment relies on there being a learning environment that allows the learner to
construct their learning in order to achieve learning outcomes. This second requirement is reflected in
boxes 3 – 6.
Finally, as displayed in Box 1, coach decisions about learning outcomes and learning environments should
be made against a set of external standards in order to quality assure the course development process.
Figure 3. A schematic process to develop a Constructively Aligned Programme.
Whereas figure 3 looks at constructive alignment from a top down Macro perspective, the principle can
also be used from a bottom up micro sessional perspective in order to inform practice. Understanding of
how each coaching interaction is nested within the long-, medium- and short-term objectives enables
coaches’ to make more informed adjustments from predetermined plans based on observations,
evaluations and reactions to ‘goings on’ (Abraham & Collins, 2011; Jones and Wallace, 2006). At the micro
level of constructive alignment (see figure 4) the coach’s primary task is to engage participants in practices
that facilitate their progress towards the objectives of a session that align with the goals of the Meso cycle
We therefore suggest that good coaches deliberately plan manipulate and ‘align’
practice structure (i.e. focus on single or multiple skills; opposed or unopposed practice; blocked,
variable or random practice; drill, conditioned or small sided game, etc.),
coach behavioural strategies (i.e. timing and type of feedback; open or closed questioning;
demonstrations; and hustles and instructional prompts, etc.)
to maximise the opportunities for
participants to engage, learn and achieve the
objectives of the session and progress towards achieving the meso and ultimately macro goals of
(Biggs & Tang, 2011; B Muir, Morgan, Abraham, & Morley, 2011).
[Generic + Specific]
Age Group W
Age Group X
Age Group Y
Age Group Z
What Will Be
•Participant Development Research
•Government Sport and/or PE Policy
•Club or NGB Policy
•Goals of Programme
Figure 4. A summary the required alignment to consistently achieve session objectives that align with
micro, meso and ultimately macro cycle objectives (Bob Muir, 2012).
The concept of constructive alignment at this more micro provides a useful framework of questions to
consider when planning delivery programmes:
What are the long-, medium-, short-term learning objectives and how can they be broken down into
macro-, meso-, and micro-cycles?
What will participant engagement look like when the objectives have been achieved (e.g. different
components of performance relating to technical/tactical, movement, physical, psychological, and
What methods of assessment can be used to generate feedback and measure progress against the
How will feedback be used to make decisions regarding the focus of the programme and prioritization
of time, space, and resources in relation to the different components of performance?
How will each micro-cycle (e.g. training session, competition, review session) contribute to the
objectives of the meso-cycle?
The overall concept of constructive alignment provides a framework to guide coaches’ planning and
promote connections between factors that impact on the development of macro and micro goals and their
achievement. Indeed, coaches who spend time considering these factors are more likely to be attentive to
participants’ and stakeholders’ needs and clearer with programme development, delivery and refinement
through more deliberate planning and reflecting leading to better informed intuitive practice.
3.3. Who, What, How and Why
While the concepts of nested planning and constructive alignment offer mechanisms to support thinking
about planning, they don’t necessarily help with what coaches should think about. This is filled with
concept of who, what and how as identified in figure 5. Focusing more explicitly on the meso and micro
elements of nested planning the who what how model identifies that coaches can structure their coaching
decisions by considering what the needs and wants are of the participant (who), what the sport specific
demands are for that participant (what) and what coaching behaviours, practice and task designs should be
employed in order to facilitate the development of the participant.
Figure 5. Summary model of the interaction between Who What and How when making goal and planning
decisions. Adapted from Abraham and Collins (2011) and Muir et al. (2011)
There are too many theories and research that could be unpacked from each of these boxes for one
chapter – in fact the majority of the content of this book could be tied to one or more of these concepts.
Consequently, and in keeping with the longer term planning focus of this chapter so far, the focus will be on
the what and who elements, and how these might be unpacked to structure thinking about setting goals
and planning. In so doing we draw on the major review of participant development completed by (Bailey et
al., 2010) and the subsequent papers that have come from this review, i.e. (Collins et al., 2012; MacNamara
et al., 2011). This work offers three broad conceptual views that usefully tie in with the what and who of
coaching and can therefore offer structure to the planning process. These broad concepts are captured in
3.3.1. The Who
The first and broadest basis of this work suggests that the development of all people is a bio-psycho-social
process. Furthermore, that during the development of young people the influence of these three areas will
vary with development. For example within the bio, the neuromuscular skeletal system develops at
different rates and this impinges on the child’s all- round development. During adolescence there are major
shifts in social influencers on children from parents to peers. During peak learning and pressure moments
children’s capacity to cope and even excel will draw heavily on their psycho-behavioural and psycho-social
skills (Bailey et al., 2010; Collins et al., 2012; MacNamara, Button, & Collins, 2010). As such this conceptual
overview provides a structure that can guide thinking about, understanding of and planning for the who –
especially if this thinking is guided by appropriate background reading in these areas.
The second core concept offered by Collins et al. (2012) offers an overview understanding about why
people (the who) may choose to take part in sport. The importance of this understanding is crucial in
allowing coaches to recognise motivation of their participants and match their coaching accordingly.
Indeed, it allows coaches make judgements about whether there is sufficient alignment of participant
motivation to their own reasons for coaching.
Figure 6. An integrated view to support thinking about Who and What when developing coaching
curriculum. Adapted from Bailey et al. (2010) and Collins et al. (2012)
Within their model they identify that initial involvement in sport is about developing a baseline of skills
built around getting a sense of ownership and connection with not just one sport but a number of sports.
From a motivation point of view this has been described as children engaging with a situational motivation
and progressing to an ownership based on improved knowledge and understanding developed through
play and/or structured play (Chen & Hancock, 2006; Côté, Baker, & Abernethy, 2003). Progressing from this
stage, Collins et al. (2012) argue that if participants engage in sport they do so for one of three broad
reasons; Participation for Personal Wellbeing (PPW), Personal Referenced Excellence (PRE) and Elite
Referenced Excellence (ERE). There is of course a fourth group, those who have no motivation to take part
in sport at all. This chapter only focuses on PPW, PRE and ERE. Collins et al. (2012) define these different
motivation states as follows:
…we suggest that excellence can be usefully considered in terms of a continuum across three
different ‘worlds’. The first two worlds lie mainly in competitive sport, from club competitor to
world class performer. These are as follows:
(1) Elite Referenced Excellence (ERE) Excellence in the form of high-level sporting performance
where achievement is measured against others with the ultimate goal of winning at the highest
(2) Personal Referenced Excellence (PRE) Excellence in the form of participation and personal
performance, where achievement is more personally referenced by, say, completing a marathon or
improving one’s personal best.
(3) Participation for Personal Well-being (PPW) Taking part in physical activity to satisfy needs other
than personal progression. Typical motivations for PPW might include the improvement of one’s
social life (e.g. making and keeping friends), the enhancement of one’s social identity (by being a
member of a high status group or club), personal renewal (through activity which is fulfilling) and
the maintenance of aspects of self-concept (staying in good shape). (p. 228-229)
There are two points of clarification offered within model however, firstly that motivation is context
dependent. In other words a participant could have a PPW approach to one sport, a PRE to another and an
ERE to yet another. Furthermore, motivation can change over time, that is, a participant may start with a
PPW motivation in a sport but finds a connection with the sport and thus changes their approach to a PRE
and maybe even an ERE and eventually return to a PPW approach. In other words there is a fluidity within
participant’s motivation, perhaps even within the same sport. Finally, all three broad reasons fit with Deci
and Ryan's (2008) view that people have three fundamental needs; for autonomy, for relatedness and for
competence since all three can (should) be met in each world.
The third core concept refers more broadly to the what i.e. the content that can actually be taught
to/learned by the participant (who). Five broad areas of what could be taught to participants are suggested;
Technical/Tactical skills, Movement Skills, Physical Skills, Psycho-behavioural skills, Lifestyle and Social Skills.
In essence these five areas offer a starting point from which annual learning and performance goals can
evolve and curriculum be developed. Interestingly, despite each area having a substantial research and
applied knowledge base aligned with them, developing coaching content and/or filling time are often some
of the biggest problems faced by coaches, especially novice coaches. Despite often having played the sport
that they coach for many years, coaches can often struggle to develop a coherent curriculum for their
participants. The source of this problem goes back to the preference of humans to work on intuition rather
than well thought out plans. Coaches often prefer to intuitively recreate drills they have been exposed to
rather than critically considering who they are coaching what they want to coach and how to most
effectively do that. As such coaches often have poorly developed performance models of what their sport
requires and how that changes across years of development. Just as 10 year old children wouldn’t be
expected to be taught maths designed for 15 year old and vice versa, the same is also true for sport.
Consequently, for many coaches developing a greater understanding of the demands of their sport and
how these relate to and change with developing participants is crucial in developing long terms plans.
3.3.2. Understanding the What
There isn’t enough scope within this chapter to unpack the ‘what’ of every sport for every participant at
every stage of their development. However, there are a number of conceptual ideas that can guide thinking
and further exploration of content by coaches in each of the five areas.
The most common terminology used with movement skills is Fundamental Movement Skills (FMS). FMS
have been described as the ‘building blocks’ that enable young and more mature participants to
successfully take part in the vast majority of sports and games (Payne and Issacs, 1995). Stodden et al.
(2008) argues that without this repertoire of movement competences, a child’s opportunity to engage in a
wide range of physical activities throughout their life is limited. Therefore, a young person’s coach needs to
ensure that children are given sufficient opportunity to acquire and develop these movement competences
such that they can then be transferred and applied to a range of sporting activities and contexts.
Recognised motor development models, such as those devised by Gallahue and Ozmun (2006) and
Haywood and Getchell (2005) classify FMS in to Stability, Object control and Locomotor skills (SOL).
Stability skills involve axial movements (i.e. movements around the x, y and z axis that create three
dimensional movements) where some degree of gaining and maintaining equilibrium is required in
relation to the external forces such as gravity or being pushed/pulled. Typical skills would
encompass twisting, turning, pivoting, stretching, bending, pulling and pushing.
Object controls skills involve fine and gross motor manipulation and include throwing, catching,
bouncing, kicking, volleying and striking.
Locomotor skills refers to a movement that transfers the body from one fixed point to another and
covers walking, running, jumping, hopping, skipping and jumping.
Both models, and others like them, describe when these SOL skills should be acquired, linked, then applied,
to enable progression from fundamental into more specialised and sport specific functional skills. In theory
a person should be able to refine and perform more complex movement skills as one progresses from early,
to intermediate and then in to the later stages of movement development. For example, Burton and Millar
(1998) identify that basic skills such as running, throwing, twisting could be practiced in isolation for early
learners, in simple combination such as a zig zag run, running and pick up a ball etc, to more complex
specialized and functional combinations such as one player supporting another rugby player running with a
ball, taking a pass and running again.
The decision a coach needs to make is how does SOL relate to their sport and how can the development of
fundamental movement skills fits with their sport? How these movement skills can facilitate the
development of participants who have a full repertoire of skill?
An aligned view on skill development comes from those who have an integrated view on the role of
strength and fitness. The first part of this aligned view is recognising that improving the physical
development of children and adolescents is an important factor in increasing sport participation and
performance. However, recent research in youth strength and conditioning (Faigenbaum, Lloyd, & Myer,
2013; Lloyd et al., 2013) has highlighted the importance of not treating children like ‘miniature adults’ in
the development of such skills.
To support coaches in making appropriate judgements about developing physical skills in a
developmentally appropriate manner a new model has recently been developed. Termed the Youth
Physical Development (YPD) model (see Lloyd & Oliver, 2012 for more information), it was developed to be
used by strength and conditioning coaches and sports coaches to support a long term approach for
improving physical development between the ages of 2 to 21 years. The YPD model focuses on the
qualities of fundamental movement skills, sport-specific skills, mobility, agility, speed, power, strength,
hypertrophy, endurance and metabolic conditioning with an emphasis placed on certain qualities at
particular ages and stages of development. For example, between 5 and 11 years of age, it is recommended
boys work on Fundamental Movement Skills, Mobility, Power, Agility, Speed and Strength; whereas
between 12 and 15 years of age, Sport Specific Skills, Agility, Speed, Power, Strength and Hypertrophy are
the focus for physical development. For example, simply asking children to hop on one leg will create
overload and therefore some physical adaptation. Equally, the capacity of a 12 year old girl to complete a
20 metre lofted pass in football is dependent on her capacity to generate the force through the kick to
complete the outcome. Engaging in relevant strength, power, and mobility development can all facilitate
the successful execution of a skill that is being developed.
While there are obvious links therefore between physical development and movement and or technical
skills, it remains essential to consider the individual(s) a coach is working with when planning accordingly. A
number of factors, such as maturation status, gender, training age and the ability of youth participants all
need to be considered in the ‘who’ aspect of coaching, with the ability of an individual or group ultimately
determining what is planned and programmed. For example, adolescent athletes that cannot demonstrate
the fundamental movement skills required to further develop physical characteristics should not proceed
with this process until competency is demonstrated (e.g., the ability to perform a body weight squat prior
to weight training to develop lower body strength). This approach is illustrated in Figure 1, which outlines
the physical performance pyramid. Athletes must be able to demonstrate prerequisites in the fundamental
movement skills of stability (e.g., balance, landing mechanics, stability based exercises), locomotor (e.g.,
running and jumping technique) and mobility (where range of motion is required for sports and activities)
before proceeding to more advanced physical development training. Therefore, this should be the focus for
coaches working with young people, regardless of age and stage. Once these skills have been demonstrated
athletes can then concentrate to more strength based work due to its relationship with all other physical
variables such as speed, power, agility and work capacity. For example, if an adolescent athlete has missed
the FMS development stage (in which the body weight squat squat should form part of this phase as a
lower body stability exercise), or has failed to continue to undertake FMS activities into adolescence (and
has decreased mobility and stability due to growth and maturational processes) then this athlete should
focus on mastering technical competency and mobility in the body weight squat prior to loading the
movement for strength development. This is therefore where a coach must plan and focus the attentions
according to the individual(s) they are working with to optimise long term physical development.
Figure 7. Physical Performance Pyramid
There is some irony that for most coaches this is the most important knowledge base required for creating
ideas that can be used to create goals and curriculum, yet is often the knowledge base that coaches lack
the most (Abraham et al., 2006; Schempp et al., 2006). It is equally ironic therefore that is the section that
this chapter can least deal with, simply because there are just too many sports to examine. There are,
however some generic ideas that can be used to help coaches think about the problem.
Drawing on the work presented related to FMS, coaches can examine the demands of their sport by
considering what the requisite Stability, Object Control and Locomoter skills actually are, and how these
change over time as young people get better. The SOL concept with the associated change from basic to
linked, to complex and specialised skills can either be used to critique ideas offered in sport specific text
books or even in creating an checklist against which young participants can observed. Beyond this there is a
growing range of sport specific research, typically within the biomechanics and motor control domain, that
can offer more in depth views on technical requirements.
In a similar fashion, the tactical elements of sport are also difficult to unpack simply because they are so
diverse in nature. But again there are some generic concepts that can be used to encourage critical
thinking. The first step is to consider what tactics even are. Typically, many will see this as simple ideas such
as formations or strategies, however, there is a more fundamental point to tactics if they are viewed
through a decision making lens. In short they are the structure that guide decisions taken to achieve the
goal of the sport. Consequently, a key question that all coaches need to ask themselves is what is the goal
of my sport? The next questions would be what are the things that will help participants achieve that goal
and what are the things that will hinder the participants achieving that goal. Finally, all of these questions
should be put into the context of the age and stage of the participants being coached.
In keeping with this approach, research has consistently shown that sport intelligence is one of the defining
differences between expert, sub expert and competent and novice performers (MacMahon & McPherson,
2009). Returning to the earlier comment regarding not teaching maths for 15 years olds to 12 year olds, the
same is also true in sport. Too often young participants are treated like young adults when tactics are
taught. Sports, can be incredibly complex and dynamic environments. Coping with this level of complexity
is, unsurprisingly, difficult for young participants unless the problems that they are trying to solve become
easier and are adhered too (i.e. coaches don’t try to fire fight every small problem that comes along). There
is a trend in team sports to move to smaller sided games, since this not only reduces the number of
problems that have to be solved, it also increases the opportunity to solve them. Therefore, progressing
from the ‘what is the goal of my sport’ questions coaches need to decide what the problems are that face
the young participants need to overcome, in what order to present them to their young participants and
the knowledge that they will require to solve the problems. Furthermore, they need to question whether all
of their participants share the same ideas about how to solve the problems and have the same capacity to
answer them (i.e. consider the who!). In other words, do they have a shared mental model of what they are
trying to achieve and how they are trying to achieve it (Richards, Collins, & Mascarenhas, 2012)?
Finally, the intrinsically linked skill of accurate perception should be considered. While, tactics offer
guidance to the way sport based problems can be addressed, participant capacity to use tactics is
fundamentally tied to their ability to perceive the correct information. Perceptual skills are the essential
first stage of decision making, so while teaching participants to see, hear, feel etc the correct information is
unusual, having clear ideas about what should be perceived is important and should be planned for.
Psycho-behavioural development can be taken to reflect the operationalisation of psychological skills (such
as goal setting, focus and distraction control etc.) to self-regulate observable learning and performance
behaviours. As such, it relates to people exhibiting psychological skills through behavioural outcomes. The
importance of psycho-behavioural development can probably be traced back to the work of Orlick (1988),
with Collins and colleagues (Abbott & Collins, 2004; Martindale, Collins & Abraham, 2007; MacNamara,
Button & Collins, 2010a, b) amongst those that have subsequently identified the essential role that psycho-
behavioural skills play in participants learning and performance in sport, music and education settings
Typically ‘psychology’-based work has been seen as something that should be done within a classroom
environment, away from the practice context but this does little to facilitate the improvement of
psychological skills in practice. Indeed, while coaches are often quick to command their players to “relax!”,
“focus!”, and “talk!” during practice and competitive situations, the ‘teaching’ of such skills is rarely
conducted within realistic contexts (if done at all). Indeed many coaches simply hope that their
participants are made of tougher stuff while bemoaning them as being ‘weak’ or lacking focus when they
don’t handle challenging moments well. This situation is perhaps best summarized by Pain and Harwood
(2004) who found that coaches did not want time spent on developing participants’ psychological
attributes to impinge upon ‘coaching time’ (perceiving them to be separate areas).
In contrast we contest that psycho-behavioural content must be embedded into a coaching
programme/curriculum. The fulfilment of a participant’s potential is so dependent on the acquisition and
implementation of a broad set of psychological skills, anything less than embedding puts that fulfilment at
risk. The deliberate integration of psycho-behavioural skills into and across a core coaching programme
provides a basis for the development of these skills throughout the year and therefore increasing the
likelihood of them being practised. For example, introducing and consistently promoting the requirement
for participants to ‘think through and mentally practice’ how a drill will work and to ask questions on
anything that needs clarity could usefully promote imagery, focus, goal setting, quality practice skills.
Furthermore, it also gives greater meaning to the skills when they are practiced, thereby enhancing transfer
of these skills across sessions and into competitive settings (Holliday et al., 2008; Weinberg & Williams,
2006). The alternative, doing this work in isolation, only promotes the suggestion that it is surplus to the
The actual psycho-behavioural skills that we suggest here are drawn from the work of MacNamara, Button,
& Collins (2010b). Reflecting their work with a range of elite performers who described their talent journey
and the role of psycho-behavioural skills in their journey ten core skills, with aligned sub skills were
identified. Table 2 offers real world application of these skills within a professional club academy setting.
Broadly, the red skills are introduced at U9s, the green skills are introduced at U12s and the blues skills are
introduced at U16s level. Once introduced however they should continue to be developed even once age
transitions have been made.
Aligned Attributes And
Commitment to the
Motivation to succeed
Motivated to gain recognition and praise from others
Continually striving to improve
Desire to fulfill potential as a driving force
Willing to work outside of comfort zone to achieve excellence
Not willing to accept second best
Not willing to accept failure
100% committed to the pursuit of excellence
Persevered in the face of obstacles
Showed a robustness during difficult times
Takes responsibility for own development
Pursuit of excellence as a
Decisions made taking the pursuit of excellence into account
Willing to give up other activities to achieve in chosen domain
Works independently without the supervision of others Willing to make
sacrifices to achieve goals
Ability to adhere to performance plans
Vision of what it
takes to develop
Willing to push oneself
Understood the importance of working hard in the activity
Step out of comfort zone
importance of looking
components of talent
Understand that bigger does not mean better
Goal setting for training /
practice and competition
Realistic goals set for competition
Process and outcome goals set for competition
Engages in goal setting process with coach
Ability to independently set goals for training / practice
Ability to modify goals when needed
Focus and distraction
Focus on task relevant
Ability to focus on task relevant cues
Ability to block out distracters in the environment
Ability to organize appropriate training environments
Belief can excel
Confident in ability to succeed
Confident to seek out performance and development opportunities
Maintains self-belief even during difficult periods
Engaged in requisite amounts of quality practice
Understands the importance of quality practice
Understands the importance of rest and recuperation
Ability to organize practice / training appropriately
Coping with pressure
Ability to prioritize
Ability to recognize what has to be accomplished within certain timeframes
Ability to balance competing commitments
Ability to regulate
Ability to cope with frustration
Ability to stay confident in pressure situations
Ability to regulate arousal in pressure situations
Ability to cope with the expectations of others
Plans in advance
Able to adapt to the demands of the situation
Willing to change plans if necessary
Ability to accurately recognize weaknesses and work on them
Understanding of the underlying factors affecting good and bad
Is self-critical regardless of performance outcomes
Ability to maintain realistic expectations
Ability to interact with fellow performers and support staff
Ability to fit into new environments
Imagery for skill
Imagery used for skill development
Table 2. Psycho- Behavioural Skills and Subskills. Red skills introduced and developed 9-12 years. Green
Skills introduced and developed 12-14 years. Blue skills introduced and developed 14 onwards. Adapted
from MacNamara et al. (2010b, p82-85)
Selecting psycho-behavioural attributes
The selection of relevant psychological attributes to focus upon should consider two things:
(1) the psychological demands of various aspects of the sport being played
(2) the players’ age and stage of development.
As with all of the 5 areas, in order to identify the psychological demands, coaches must first of all establish
the philosophy of their sport that best suits their beliefs and clarify their understanding of their
club/ngb/school’s views on this. Doing so facilitates the completion of a comprehensive review of the
psychological skills required to optimally develop in and through the sport. Such knowledge is crucial so as
to establish the psycho-behavioural skill work to be done is work that is
(i) Introducing psycho-behavioural skill development to the learner for the first time,
(ii) Developing and building upon some initial foundations, or
(iii) Refining some psycho-behavioural skill work that has been relatively well developed
For example, if seeking to do some goal setting with a group of individuals who have never been exposed to
goal setting before, it will be necessary to educate the participants on the benefits of setting targets, and
perhaps initiating the setting of a small number of targets, before proceeding onto more sophisticated
levels of goal setting. Progressing this further towards the ‘refinement’ stage, it might be more appropriate
for coaches to create mechanisms that simply support the participants’ autonomous selection, monitoring
and evaluation of their own goals, relative to their short-, medium-, and long-term objectives.
Social and Life Skills
Improved social skills are often a goal for coaches, but equally often improved social skills lack any distinct
definition and their development is left to chance. At their best, social skills are those that allow us to
engage with and flourish in everyday society. They are the attitudes and beliefs that either prevent us from
or cause us to engage in anti-social behaviour. There are some coaches who are employed to use sport for
broader social good, i.e. working with children who are at risk of offending or working with children who
have suffered emotional trauma. However, going to this level of depth regarding social skills is beyond the
scope of this chapter. However, there are good reasons for coaches to develop the social skills of their
participant. From a purely selfish point of view, young participants who ‘behave’ within coaching sessions
allow sessions to retain focus on learning objectives rather than behaviour management. Indeed effective
teachers will often spend the first few weeks working with a new class setting the expectations of good
classroom behaviour (Fink & Siedentop, 1989). Beyond this initial need for compliance however, there are
many tangible and positive reasons for working on social skills. The main one is that young participants are
more able to engage in everyday life and are therefore more likely to be happy. As such within coaching
environments young participants are more likely to engage well together, support each other and solve
their own problems and cooperate.
There is no obvious agreed set of social skills within the research literature, however there are a number of
views from various authors that allow for an overview. For example within the UK national curriculum the
Department for Education identifies; Personal identities, Healthy lifestyles, Risk, Relationships and Diversity
as being key social domains for learning and development (Education, 2014a). Further definition can be
garnered from both research and applied articles however (Jones & Harcourt, 2013; Jurevičienė1,
Kaffemanienė1, & Ruškus, 2012; Shapiro, 2004; Weinberg & Gould, 2003). This definition has been captured
in table 3. In contrast to the work of Macnamara et al referred to earlier, the information included in table
Imagery for performance
Imagery used to prepare for performances
Imagery used as a source of confidence during performance preparation
Imagery to review
Imagery used to review practice
Imagery used to correct errors
3 is a summary of the work of others. This is no obvious indication as to what should be done and when.
Some guidance is offered in the national curriculum work from the UK department of education (Education,
2014b) but even here there is no direct evidence referred to. Consequently, when it comes to planning for
the social development of participants coaches will need to decide how much emphasis they place on
explicit planning of social skills (given that there is some crossover between social skills and psycho
behavioural skills) and which skills are chosen to focus on.
Main Social Skill Themes
Ability to Adapt To
Skills of Social Cognition
Social problem solving
Being able to function in non-familial social contexts
Thinking beyond selfish needs - what is best for all involved?
Ability to Regulate Emotions
Empathy perspective taking
Being able to persist with challenging tasks
Recognising own strengths and weaknesses
Effective Language Skills
Being Part of Group
Successful play entry behaviours
Engagement in complex play
Being able to develop positive relationships with peers and
Awareness of differences
Being able to listen and be attentive to learning experiences
Making eye contact
Tone of voice
Giving and accepting compliments
Offering constructive opinion
Understanding Social Values
Recognising difference between aggression and assertiveness
Playing to the rules
Table 3. A tabulated summary of the work concerning social skills and their development by Jones and
Harcourt (2013), Jurevičienė1 et al. (2012), Shapiro (2004) and Weinberg and Gould (2003)
Spiral Curriculum – Learning Takes Time, There No Rush
Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither was a great or even an average athlete. Anderson (1982) estimates
that it takes 100 hours of learning activity to create a significant shift in cognitive knowledge and
understanding. Ericsson et al. (1993) originally estimated that about a decade of deliberate practice and
learning was required to achieve expert performing status. In short, learning and development takes a long
time. Unfortunately a combination of treating young participants like mini adults, and coaches feeling the
need to show quick results means this issue gets lost. The point of unpacking the 5 broad areas of
Movement, Physical, Technical/Tactical, Psycho-behaviorual and Social skills is to show just how much
content there is that could be delivered and taught to young participants.
As was stated in both the ideas about nested planning and constructive alignment creating a clear
understanding of what the goals of coaching programmes are is crucial to developing a curriculum and
assessments for that curriculum. Further to these ideas, therefore, is understanding that achieving these
goals will require the participants to go through an extended period of learning and it is understanding how
learning works that can support the development of curriculum. Constructivist researchers such as Biggs
and Tang (2011) talk about how learning is cumulative, that learning is best when it builds on what is
already known. Similarly, cognitive researchers such as Hambrick (2003) would suggest that one of the best
predictors of what makes someone more knowledgeable than someone else is prior knowledge. In other
words both theorists suggest that knowledge and understanding begets knowledge and understanding.
Two further learning ideas fall out of this theoretical insight, firstly learners are unlikely to exhaust all the
learning opportunities from a coaching session or series of sessions at the first attempt. Secondly, that if
learning ideas are revisited, then the participant may well be in a better position to take more from the
learning opportunity second or even third time around simply because they know more.
The core conclusion from this work is that coaching curriculum should be revisited on an on-going and
planned for basis, but with additional expectations being placed on the learner when the revisiting occurs.
This approach has been termed spiral curriculum by Bruner (1963) who stated that
The way you get ahead with learning is to translate an idea into those non-rigrous forms that can
be understood. Then one can, with their (participants) aid, become more precise and powerful…
This is most of what is meant when we speak of “spiral curriculum”. (p.530)
Figure 8. Schematic view of spiral curriculum.
Against this definition, figure 8, indeed all of the figures and the sections of this whole chapter, are
designed in the spirit of spiral curriculum. Figure 8 is a concept deigned to offer a way in to thinking about
planning. There are even probably enough ideas included in this chapter to have a decent stab at planning a
long term programme or a number of linked coaching sessions. However, they will work far better if
coaches become more precise and powerful with their understanding through further reading, critical
conversations with other coaches, observations of other practice etc.
3.4. The Who Revisited
As described earlier, a participant’s development will be fundamentally underpinned by Bio-Psycho-Social
developments. While each of the 5 areas described within the ‘what’ offer useful insight and structure for
thinking about the goals and curriculum for any plan, coaches must avoid the mistake of treating all of their
participants as being the same with curriculum being equally relevant to each participant. Our experience is
that most coaches will immediately agree with this challenge, since it is ‘obvious’ and ‘common sense’.
However, as stated earlier intuition generally takes people down the road of treating participants as being
the same way until participants stop being the same. At this point blame is often attached to those who
veer away from engaging in or developing through the curriculum being delivered. Obviously, it is
impossible to totally individualise curriculum with bigger groups, nor is it actually useful to try and do so
since it would take too much time and lose focus. However, some attempt should be made to match the
curriculum designed to individual bio-psycho-social needs of the participant. Monitoring growth,
maturation (psychological and biological), motivation, achievement, curiosity, prior learning, what creates
meaning for the participant, response to training and competition, social happenings – i.e. exams, point in
school calendar, relationships etc. should allow all coaches to adapt plans to meet the need of individual
participants. Furthermore, where there are more extreme changes for some individuals, the bio-psycho-
social view can be used as a starting point for understanding what is going on. The constant challenge for
the practising coach therefore, is how to plan for a mixed ability group where participants can be of roughly
the same age but are significantly different in their stage of development.
4. Creating the Right Environment and Making Best Use of Competition
Thus far this chapter has focused a lot on aligning goals and planning around the who and what. However,
as emphasised in discussing figure 4 and 5, coaches should also consider and plan for How they are
choosing to engage their participants from a behaviour and task/practice design point of view. This is
crucial, for the development of;
relationships with their participants (see chapter: )
the expectations/perceptions that those participants enter the coaching environment with (see
an effective skill acquisition environment (see chapter: )
Clearly no coach can be in total control of these issues (it takes two to tango and often there are more than
2 dancers!) but some thoughtful consideration and planning can help. Given the scope of this chapter none
of these issues can be unpacked in detail, furthermore these topics are considered in more depth in other
chapters of this book. In keeping with this chapter however, there are some useful concepts that can guide
For example, in planning for meaningful relationships coaches can consider how they are letting their
participants (or parents, other coaches) know that they care for, respect and trust them (Abraham, Manley,
& Morgan, 2012; Sagar & Jowett, 2012). People’s willingness to respect another person is based on their
perception of the personal attributes of that person, specifically how trustworthy, hard working and
knowledgeable they are. Consequently a coach that displays these attributes as well as being caring,
displaying equality in their behaviour (Langdon, 2007) and having shared goals
are more likely to form
In more depth, being trustworthy is dependent on being predictable, as stated by Dirks (2000) trust is “an
expectation or belief that one can rely on another person’s actions or words” (page 1004). As long as
participants can trust something then they will form expectations that will influence their behaviour.
Coaches who want their programmes to reflect the needs of participants who have a PPW approach then
the programmes and coach behaviour needs to reflect this. Similarly if coaches want to have a programme
based around a growth and excellence (i.e. PRE and ERE) mind-set (Collins et al., 2012; Olson & Dweck,
2008) then that is the preach that needs to be practiced and therefore planned for.
Taking on board the ideas in the 3 worlds continuum that if coaches don’t share the same goals they may want to
consider if they are in the right coaching environment.
One area where a coach’s capacity to be predictable is in competition, since this is where a coach’s
capability is most on public show (Leary & Kowalski, 1990). It is therefore worth considering the options
that competition offers so that a clear view can be taken and focused on by the coach. Competition plays
some role in most young participant’s lives and has been identified as being crucial in the development of
sport expertise (Baker et al., 2003, Holt & Dunn, 2004). Recently, through improvements of our
understanding of learning and development the role of competition in development has become more
obvious. From understanding how competition provides a template for understanding the requirements of
training, i.e. requisite mental skills (Birrer & Morgan, 2010; MacNamara et al., 2010b), to recognizing how
the naturalistic setting of competition should influence pedagogical approaches in practice (Passos, Araújo,
Davids, & Shuttleworth, 2008; Richards, Collins, & Mascarenhas, 2012b). As such understanding the role of
competition in a young participant’s development becomes crucial, not least since today, children as young
as five or six years old can find themselves engaged in competition. Furthermore, at 17 (or even younger
for ‘early specialization’ sports), a player may already be engaged in international competition.
Rather than assuming that competition is simply about winning the critically aware coaches recognize that
competition offers up numerous opportunities (Abraham, Collins, & Martindale, 2006; Grecic & Collins,
2013). Competition may be an ideal time to assess; check ranking, the development of an athlete, the
effectiveness of a particular part of your coaching and training through evidence of retention and transfer.
It can be used as a motivational tool; the prize for the participant who is training and developing well, the
time for the participant to demonstrate competence and ownership of their development, the opportunity
for the participant to evaluate their own progress against other competitors. It can be used a focusing tool;
children will often focus more when there is greater meaning to what they are doing (Moylett & Stewart,
2012). Competition can often offer this meaning, as defined through self-determination and situational
motivation theory (Chen & Hancock, 2006), for numerous reasons, such as
less intervention from a coach (greater ownership)
more game like (opportunity to test competence)
actually feel part of a team (relatedness)
more interesting/different challenge simply because there are different players (situational motivation)
Finally, and encompassing all of the previous ideas, competition may simply be seen as learning and
development tool; it is a task or practice to be undertaken by the participant just like any other practice or
task used in a training session. Indeed, in examining the development of expert performance Baker, Côté,
and Abernethy (2003) demonstrated that in addition to deliberate practice, the best athletes accumulated
more hours of competition.
In short, competition offers numerous opportunities to coaches to enhance the development of their
athletes. However, the skill is capturing this opportunity within a coherent programme of development,
and this requires planning. Too often this big picture is missed and competition becomes the focus for
setting week to week or session to session goals – otherwise known as firefighting. Typically this simply
results in an unfocused programme where quick changes in performance are taken as evidence for learning
and little true development actually occurs (Abraham & Collins, 2011; Schmidt & Bjork, 1992).
While it is important to think philosophically about what role competition will play within a coaching plan, it
is also important to think operationally and logistically. When are the competitions, how many of them are
there, can they be ranked in terms of importance or amount of challenge that they pose? The key point
here that coaches should carefully consider how they can most effective use of competition time by
returning to the question of; what are the nested goals of the programme and plan.
5. Summarising Key Points So Far
Up to this point we have talk largely about the importance of planning and offered some tools to guide
thinking about goal setting and planning;
• Considered thoughtful planning can overcome and then guide intuitive practice in the moment of
• There is a lot of jargon used within the field of planning, some of which is useful to coaches of young
participants, some of which isn’t. However an awareness of all jargon will probably be useful to aid
• Planning requires thinking but thinking is difficult in complex environments such as coaching.
Consequently a range of thinking tools has been offered.
• Nested Planning identifies the need for coaches to be aware of macro long term strategic and political
goals within their setting. They should try to contribute to these goals. They should use these goals to
then map out how a meso time frame (a year, for example) of this long term plan which in can be use
to map out how a micro set of session would be developed.
• Constructive Alignment identifies that well defined goals/learning outcomes should be developed for
both long term macro/meso programmes, with aligned ideas for measuring progress and methods of
delivery. This alignment should then be carried through into more meso/micro programmes of session
• The Bio-Psycho-Social model offers a way of thinking about and understanding the behaviour and
development of participants (the who).
• 3 Worlds offers a view on why participants may be engaging in a given sport at a given moment. These
reasons are PPW, PRE or ERE. Participants’ reasons for engaging are fluid meaning that reasons for
engagement can change over time, within a sport and from sport to sport.
• 5 Skill Domains offers a view that skill development demands, goals and curriculum (the what) can be
drawn from any of Movement, Physical, Tech/Tact, Psycho-behavioural, Social and Life skills. The
precise nature of the goals and curriculum should be based on the goals identified in nested and
constructively aligned planning and be relevant to the needs of the participant
• Spiral Curriculum recognises that learning is not linear but, rather, is cumulative, interconnected and
evolving. Simply because a topic has been taught it does not mean that it has been learned. Indeed
even if there is a comprehension and effective performance of a skill or idea, it does not mean that this
skill has been integrated within a participant’s other skills. As such, in planning for skill development
should revisit and build from previous ideas.
• Careful thought is required about creating the best coaching environment, from the development of
strong and respectful relationships to the optimal use of competition. Typically for young participants,
competition will not necessarily be about winning but about what can be learned, even if that means
learning how to win or learn from defeat.
6. The Mechanics of Planning
Ssshhhh, say it quietly, but there is no golden goose that lays the perfect planning template. In our time
working with coaches and being coaches we have seen plans that range from extremely detailed multi page
booklets to a piece of A4 paper with a table drawn in pen. The reason why there isn’t a perfect template is
in keeping with the rest of this chapter, a plan committed to paper or computer programme is an output, it
is the planning process of thinking and decision making that defines the quality of goals and plans. Indeed
from this point of view the paper copy or computer file is little more than an aide memoire to help coaches
remember what they were thinking when they engaged in a planning process. However, there can be more
to a template than acting simply as an aide memoire. As identified in previous summary section, there are a
number of key concepts that can drive thinking about goal setting and planning, and a strong template can
act as much as a aide memoire for what coaches should think about as much as what they were thinking
about. As such the remainder of this chapter will focus on offering some templates and supporting ideas to
help coaches plan drawing on the major concepts presented in this chapter.
Just to be clear though, these are templates developed for a largely unspecified context and coaching is
fundamentally driven by the context that it is situated in (Jones & Wallace, 2006). As such our preference
would be that coaches use the templates presented as a starting point to develop their own templates to
match the demand of their own context.
Nested Goal Setting and Constructively Aligned Programme Outcomes for a 4 year Programme:
Theoretical Expectations and
Programme Outcomes (suggest
no more than 6)
Expected Key Performance
Indicators (KPI) to Feedback to
stakeholders (e.g. Programme
funders, managers, parents)
This template is designed to encourage coaches to think about the broad picture of what they are trying to
achieve in the long term using the terminology of programme outcomes. The first box strongly recognises
that there will be strategic and political imperative that have to be worked to. However, coaches should
also have a strong view on this and this should come from theory. Such views would be informed by the
likely motivations and capabilities of the participants in the programme drawing on evidence bio-psycho-
social and/or the three worlds theoretical ideas.
The suggested aligned six programme outcomes is rather arbitrary and there is relatively little evidence to
support this suggestion. However, the best assumption is twofold. Firstly it encourages people to formulate
a coherent view on what a coaching programme is trying to do, thus allowing for structured and coherent
thinking about how to best achieve these outcomes. The second reason is probably more strategic, fewer
programme outcomes allows for an easier and concise ‘sell’ when presenting them to key stakeholders
such as parents, participants and/or managers. The creation of well-defined programme outcomes sets
platform from which aligned expected KPIs and developments in participant capabilities can be mapped.
This table strongly aligns with the need for nested thinking and constructive alignment presented in figures
2 and 3.
Assessing Status and Measuring Progress
Data Collected, Collection Method,
Environment and Time of Collection
Output and Link to Programme
Following the constructive alignment concept, coaches will need to monitor progress through the use of
some form/s of assessment system. This provides both information about progress and, if the systems have
meaning for the participant, crucial motivation to the participant about where to direct their efforts and
how well they are developing. As such this will not be a quick process, planning to develop valid and
meaningful assessments will require critical and innovative thought.
Annual Goal Setting For Team and/or Individual with aligned
Meso Cycle 1
Meso Cycle 2
Meso Cycle 3
Meso Cycle 4
Continuing with the flow of constructive alignment presented in figure 3, this template meso cycles of goals
with the need to plan aligned required learning activities and allocate effort. The allocation of effort is
designed to encourage coaches to think about where the emphasis of development (and probably
competition) for that meso cycle lies. It may be evenly spread across the five areas or more focused in just
one or two – the answer to this will come from considerations about how the coaching curriculum and
participant development interact in order to achieve the programme outcomes. As such the ‘Goal’ box is
designed to encourage coaches to accurately define the goals that are being worked towards while also
considering how these will link to past and future goals in a spiral curriculum. Finally, the required learning
activities box encourages coaches to think about what type task or practice and coach behaviour is going to
be required to facilitate the required participant engagement in keeping with figure 4. Clearly only a limited
amount of detail can be added here but this can encourage coaches to consider that learning activities do
not just have to be used once and there should be some level of continuation in practice design. This
consideration should also account for when any of the previously considered assessment/analysis methods
will be used to monitor progress.
Meso – Micro Planning Template
Meso Cycle 1
statement(s) from 5 goals)
This planning template provides a further level of detail at a meso – micro level. We suggest here that the
explicit goals of the meso plan maybe better served as being recorded as weekly objectives here. There
would be no reason why the same objective may even cross more than one week – especially in recognition
of our earlier comment about learning taking a long time. This is the first time that resources have been
explicitly added. Consideration of resource can be a reality check on the level of development expected
against the resources available to support that development
. Note that ‘Homework’ is an explicit resource
available to all coaches but, in our experience, infrequently used by coaches. Competition focus in included
in keeping with the idea that coaches should actively consider how they can make best use of upcoming
competitions in meeting short term objectives and longer term goals. Finally, there is a reminder that
coaches may want to consider how they can make use of any support available, for example asking a parent
to film a competition for use at a later debrief.
The final planning template is an individual session planner. This represents the final template in a
constructively aligned, nested planning approach. Here team and individual objectives are aligned with
meso goals. These goals should then lead to the formulation of practice and task designs, alongside
suggested coaching approaches and even the vocabulary that may be chosen.
there would be nothing to stop coaches considering how resources could be planned for earlier in the cycle if this
was thought useful
Meso Block Goals
TEAM Session Objectives
INDIVIDUAL PARTCIPANT Session Objectives
Progress Review & Action Plan
7. Health Warning And Conclusions
Planning is not an exact science, nor is this chapter anywhere near a complete source of planning ideas. In
fact many of the ideas offer only a conceptual level of insight to the how, what and why of planning (in fact
the rest of this books offers ideas that could be considered within any planning activity). When thinking
about the use of planning to enable and inform participant and performer development and coaching, it is
important for coaches to be aware of a range of participant and performer possibilities which impact on its
Session Structure & Organisation
Key Coaching Methods & Vocab
coverage and efficacy. For example, it is useful to draw on two typical yet contrasting images of talent
development. One is of a naturally gifted athlete who would succeed in their chosen sport regardless of
the effort put in and resources made available to them. For example, pundits often make comments such
as ‘Messi’s a natural talent’ implying that with these natural gifts Lionel Messi’s performance success was
inevitable. The other is of the master coach working miracles with individuals and teams whom no-one else
gave a chance, or who have been deprived of success for many years. In the first image, the coach has a
limited role, accompanying the athlete on his/her path to glory. Success is inevitable - so why bother too
much with planning? In the second image, the coach’s knowledge and expertise reigns supreme. Planning
is used as a means of structuring and implementing this knowledge, providing a kind of formalised
guarantor of long term performer success.
The problem with these images is that they have very little basis in reality, or research for that matter!
Instead, the research suggests that talent development is a more complex set of interactions between
genetics, time devoted to training and practice, psychological enablers, and access to social resources such
as coaching and support from the family. Many ingredients come together to produce the high performing
athlete or indeed the poorly performing participant. These ingredients may be different for different
participants, and come together in different times and places. In this complex interaction there are
influences, not determinates; there are possibilities, not guarantees (North, 2013).
There are no easy answers but the following seems important. By simply having knowledge of the complex
and multidimensional qualities of participant development and coaching, coaches can recognise that their
role is important whilst repositioning themselves from ‘controllers’ to ‘guiders/influencers’ working with
the resources available to them and doing the best they can. Planning should be seen as one means of
assimilating information, guiding action, and minimising risk in these complex coaching environments. It
should also be seen as a means of focusing self-reflection. Why didn’t the planning work? What could be
done better next time? There are no guarantees in participant development and coaching but effective
planning could be seen as one tool to structure coaching, minimise risks, and encourage reflection on what
worked and what did not.
8. Some Comment From Coaches
In the process of putting this chapter together we sent it to a number of experienced coaches and coach
educators to get their feedback on the chapter. Where possible we used their feedback in editing this
chapter. However, many of their comments deserve some stand alone reproduction as critical comment
that may help other coaches engage in some critical thinking about the contents of this chapter:
Motivation can change over time, we’ve had some success with allowing kids to temporarily drop
out of ERE/PRE groups into PPW group at times when ‘life has got tough’, for example at exam
time. So instead of having to ‘perform’ they can just enjoy sport for a period of time and then
switch back into Performance when other commitments subside. Coaches should consider how
their planning and competition impacts on parents’ capacity to support their kids through the
sport. I don’t see many, if any, kids in Triathlon whose parents aren’t professional services or
‘middle class’, can coaches plan for those kind of barriers? Coaches should draw on the contents of
this book to consider why and how they plan for talent selection, hopefully coaches would see that
this doc helps propose there is a much wider issue than current Personal Best. Also coaches should
consider how to plan for talent selection issues when they don’t have control over the selection
process / criteria.
Tony Jolly, Head Coach Manchester Triathlon, Coach Educator for British Triathlon.
One observation I have made of many coaches and especially coaches of 12 to 18 year olds is they
often don't take the big picture into account. Considering the physical and mental stress loads in
general life, from something as simple as walking to school, engaging in other sports and staying up
late to understanding academic and social stressors, these are all crucial in monitoring and
adapting coaching plans.
Coaches should be wary of planning for and introducing mental skills, wherever possible recognize
the skills that children already possess and develop in other areas of life. Children and teenagers
often struggle to put things into perspective. If a coach suddenly starts to focus on mental skills in a
way that the child doesn’t recognize then the consequence could be that the child internalizes this
to be a bigger problem that it actually is.
I would emphasise that in general most teenagers that are not in academies are still choosing what
they are good at in sport and therefore planning for flexibility is key for this type of teenager. Their
long term goal is more likely to be what sports or sports could I do.
Sue Jolly (No relation to Tony Jolly). Sport Learning Consultant, Mountain Bike Coach
I really enjoyed reading this chapter as unlike most books I have read it is clearly understandable
and written in common sense plain English. The issue of experience and expertise is an interesting
issue, people with expertise are those who are deliberate planners but coaches’ expertise also
depends on the quality and versatility of their experiences. I think you need both assets to be able
to plan training/development programmes/career paths successfully – you need the experience of
going a down a variety of roads in your own career with an athlete and then you need expertise to
make sense of what you have experienced. Therefore experience and expertise must work together
as Ericsson et al (1993) said it take many hours of learning and deliberate practice (experience) to
achieve expert status.
Sue Ringrose, Head Coach, New Farm Equestrian; Coach Educator British Eventing.
I think the chapter highlights key considerations and brings to life the requirement for alignment
between planning processes in order to influence real-world coaching practice. From experience
this is especially important within Talent Development Environments, but equally with younger
groups of children in multi-skill activities where 'ages and stages' of participants are wide-ranging.
Also, youth participant development, across any ‘performance level’ and regardless of the intended
outcomes of a coaching programme (participation/talent development), at some stage the focus
turns to the needs of individuals within a group. This requires in-depth planning i.e. not only broad
consideration of the way general-outcomes can be supported but also how associated learning
opportunities can be afforded to individuals in the group. This individualization may either
differentiate complexity of intended-outcomes and/or address different aspects of participant
development across bio-psycho-social domains for participants. Planning can accelerate participant
development, as well as preparing coaches for what may come within coaching practice so that
they are equipped to deal with emerging needs of the performer.
Andy Rock, AASE Scheme Manager and Academy Coach, Leeds Rugby and Otley Grammar School
Some ideas I would offer in addition to those included in the chapter are:
Booking facilities and building resources require planning since both play a large part while
working with young people.
Don’t assume that movement skills are completed when participants get beyond the FMS
stage. Working on advanced SOL skills is important for participants to facilitate the
development of sport specific techniques.
There are major benefits in planning for subtle challenges (even losing) to create speed-
bumps that are specific to a mental strength area for the athletes developing within a
sport. However, developing a meaningful speed bump for an athlete requires a lot of
preparation and cooperation
Offering formative feedback on current coaching topics within a meso cycle help you
identify with current learning outcomes as opposed to what you want it to look like at the
end of the plan.
Identify what athletes arrive at your programme knowing and looking like while considering
what they need to know about in the next environment on their journey.
Stewart Wilkinson, England Rugby League Performance Coach; Lecturer in Sport Coaching and
Performance, University of Central Lancashire
I enjoyed reading the chapter, you have incorporated certain areas into the planning process that
often get overlooked. Of course, mainly that ‘the participant comes first’ or decides what happens
next. It is delivered in a nice ‘humanistic’ and honest manner which coaches will find engaging too.
LTAD is analysed in a balanced manner which takes into account early, mid and late specialisation
and the main issue of competition structure. I would also encourage coaches to consider the issues
of windows of bio-psycho social issues of trainability when planning for individuals as they mature
(Balyi, Way, & Higgs, 2013), and shift from sampling a number of sports to specializing in a few to
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