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In many ways, the Ministry of Football programme is about teaching children how to solve problems. These problems will be football-related, like How and Why to Dribble in a Game, but they may also be non-football related, like How to Find a Partner (for very young children) or perhaps How to Explain an Idea to Others.
The MoF Coaching Programme sets out what football learning we will focus on in a particular term or session (e.g a unit of work on Intelligent Defending). It is the Lead Coach's responsibility to plan, deliver and evaluate the programme of learning for their group in accordance with the concepts and topic of the Coaching Programme.
During the unit of work, each MoF group should work through a set of problems which are related to the unit or concept. These problems should be appropriate to the age and stage of the group, and will probably start off with something basic about understanding of the core vocabulary and individual techniques involved. From then the Lead Coach can move the group on to more complex problems as and when they are ready.
Each session will have a problem statement. For example, when we are working on Defending, a session may be based around the problem statement: 'How to defend when outnumbered'.
Each session will be planned and implemented as a 'problem to solve' rather than a set of outcomes to achieve. This is important as it encourages game-based session design, child creativity, and cognitive engagement in play and learning.
The idea is that the coach plans and delivers a session to explore the problem together. It is not envisaged that the problem is 'solved' for all children in one hour-long session, in fact it is very unlikely that this will happen. The Lead Coach will need to decide how many sessions to continue exploring a particular problem statement before moving on to the next problem statement in the Unit. (In reality, problem statements will probably have to be revised and revisited in later sessions, even after groups have moved on to more complex problems).
Identify and define the problem first, not the solution
Often football coaches deliver sessions which teach a solution, a stepover for example, usually in isolotion of any decision-making and outside of the game context. They then ask the children to play a game and see if they can use the stepover in the game, i.e. they ask the children to find a problem which the solution solves. This method of teaching is shown in the first table below:
At MoF, we believe it's better to define and explore the problem first, and then see what solutions there might be. This is shown in the second table below:
The Lead Coach needs to make sure that they set the context for the problem in the early part of the session, and also to revise what relevant earlier learning has taken place in previous sessions. Make sure that the group understands what the context of the problem is. This may take some imaginative practice design, or it may be that some conditions or challenges in small games could bring the problem out.
Linking sessions together to build a programme
Sessions on the MoF programme should not be 'stand-alone' sessions. The learning should build from week to week within the unit, and sessions should be linked together to form a recognisable syllabus within which children's learning is built and developed. It is the Lead Coach's responsibility to plan and deliver this programme and ensure the learning is progressive and is built on.
It is therefore a good idea to start each lesson with a recap of the previous week's (or weeks') learning. This does not have to be a sit-down lecture. A clever coach will be able to visit the previous learning within a game-based activity, through which they can quickly bring out previous learning, and introduce the next part of learning (identify and define the next Problem Statement).
Lead Coaches need to carefully consider where the group are in relation to the unit and Problem Statements, and need to judge when to move the group on and when they need more time to explore, digest and learn within a particular Problem Statement. This is the skill of the coach, and an example is given below.
Example table of Problem Statements
Let's look at some likely initial Problem Statements for the unit 'Intellgent Defending' for children:
- How to defend 1v1
- How to defend as a pair, 2v1
- How to defend when outnumbered, 1v2
- How to defend as a pair, 2v2
There will be certain coaching points and practice considerations included in each problem, although coaches should not see these as prescriptive or all-inclusive.
It is recommended that all Lead Coaches start the unit with the simplest Problem Statement (e.g. How to Defend 1v1) and assess where the children are at in relation to this to begin with. (For more able and/or older children, the first session may include an assessment in relation to two or three of the simpler Problem Statements). After the initial assessment, the Lead Coach can plan the next session.
It is not advised for the Lead Coach to plan all the term or unit's sessions in advance. The learning and progression needs to take into account the responses of the group. For example, to say in advance "the group will be spending 3 weeks on the first problem statement and then move on to the second etc", does not take account how they actually respond. A skilled coach will watch and observe the group as the week's progress and move them on at a pace they feel is appropriate.
Over the course of a term, it is expected that all groups should move to more complex and difficult Problem Statements, and into pair and perhaps team problems. However, it is not a race. Groups will move at different speeds. We might expect a group of 6-7 year old beginner/intermediate children to cover 1v1, 1v2, 2v1 and 2v2 Defending in a 10 week block of sessions (so the bulk of their learning may happen in 3v3 games), whereas we may expect a group of 9-11 year old advanced children to move to team defending and look at more complex problems like "How and Why to Set up to Counter Attack".