In the coaching community we are sometimes susceptible to thinking better coaching is a lot about finding better exercises. There is, of course, far more to coaching, and to delivering an effective and engaging session, than just organising and supervising exercises.

However, they are important and I will offer some ideas from my experiences on how to tailor exercises suitable for the topics and players you are coaching.

Exercise Design

The type of exercises a coach decides to use will depend on their coaching philosophy which will have been defined by their own experiences and research. My personal coaching philosophy utilises a training methodology based around modified game situations (discussed previously here) and I aim to integrate the findings from research on learning to enhance players’ development (discussed previously here).

I like this type of training because game situations place demands on the interacting technical, tactical, physical and psychological aspects simultaneously, as occurs in a match. Plus its enjoyable, which is the key reason futsal exists and is essential to creating an environment that promotes learning.

With this type of training a coach’s guidance and corrections are still vital but most of the players’ learning comes from experiencing situations and improving through the process of adaption to the demands these situations place on them. An approach that has been referred to as ‘letting the game be the teacher’.

This, therefore, requires exercises that are designed appropriately. One requirement is the exercises cause the specific game situations you have chosen to focus on to be continuously repeated. This is so the players go through the loop of evaluation of the situation, decision, outcome and then feedback enough times to be able to work out the solutions that are most effective.

This quantity of repetition through this loop in a specific phase of play that you want to improve the players in wouldn’t occur frequently enough in a full match. This is one of the reasons exercises are used in sessions (for an untrained coach a session of only full matches can be a good option as you know the players are learning relevant skills).

If the coach anticipates that the players may not discover or consider the appropriate solutions, they may want to design the exercise to guide or nudge the players into executing them. Through experiencing these solutions multiple times, the aim is the knowledge and visual pictures become ingrained and stored for future use.

Finding Exercises

You can find exercises from various sources or you can design your own from scratch. There is a continuum between these two where the middle point would be using other coaches’ exercises for inspiration but heavily modifying them to your groups’ needs.

Using other coaches’ exercises can provide fresh ideas and a way to benefit from the knowledge of those more experienced, especially useful for beginner futsal coaches.

However, using a strictly ‘copy and paste’ method should be implemented with very careful consideration as the exercises were not tailored to the unique needs of your group. Every coach has experienced how the same exercise can transpire very differently with two distinct groups. An ‘off-the-shelf’ exercise can provide some inspiration but will often need to be modified to your group’s requirements and context.

Designing your own exercises allows you to better recreate the specific situation you want your players to practise and to do this accounting for the individual characteristics of your training group. With a new exercise it requires visualising how the players will carry out the exercise and thinking how players might ‘game’ it to score points that may not be appropriate to the aspect you’re trying to work on. This is one of the risks of new exercises but once you put them into action, you will gain feedback and can refine the exercise to improve its effectiveness.

Below I have put some basic principles when designing or adjusting exercises including how to manipulate the constraints (the rules such as playing areas or zones, how points are scored, goals used, player numbers etc.) in order to; Control the outcomes, avoid working on areas that aren’t in your objectives and to challenge your players appropriately. These can be used both during the planning and implementation of exercises.


10) To adjust difficulty

a)To reduce the difficulty for the attack, increase the size of the area being used and vice versa if you want to increase the difficulty. The opposite is true if you want to decrease or increase the difficulty for the defence.
b) Reduce the number of players as it reduces the number of variables they have to consider. For example, to work on team defence; Instead of starting with 4v4 plus goalkeepers, first work on how they defend 1v1 or 2v2 (e.g. working on the first line in a zonal defence) then 3v3 and finally 4v4. To keep all players involved you can duplicate the exercise if space allows.
c) To reduce the difficulty for the attack create or increase the attacking numerical overload (e.g.  floaters or jokers who can go anywhere or play on the edge of the court) and vice versa. Do the opposite in relation to defence.
d) To reduce difficulty have the players go in waves, rather than continuous play, so the players are setup and organised when the next wave starts.

9) To work on positional attack/defence instead of counter attacks

When the defending team wins possession they must first pass to their goalkeeper before scoring. This allows the team that lost the ball to get in position. Alternatively, every outfield player of the team in possession must touch the ball before scoring which gives the defence time to get back in position.

8) To work on counter attacking instead of positional attack/defence

a) Introduce a maximum pass limit or time limit before the attacking team must score.
b) Allow the attacking team to score in the goals on both sides/directions.
c) If it is an attacking overload situation, have recovering defenders so slow play is punished with the loss of the numerical advantage

7) To work on open play and not set plays

Ball always starts from goalkeeper when the ball goes out of play. Also good for when you want to keep the intensity of the exercise high or are working on counter attacks.

6) To work on set plays in real game situations

Every time the ball goes out restart with a corner, kick-in or free kick depending on your aim. Restrict touches and size of court to increase the number of times the ball goes out of play.

5) To increase the variability as is present in a real game

a) If you are working on an exercise with set start positions, vary them. For example, in 2v1 counter attacking exercises we often start with an attacker on each wing and a defender in the middle. However, 2v1 situations in real matches occur with a great variety of player positions. The maximum variety, with the exception of a normal match, you can achieve is through exercises that are real matches where through some rule the situation you want to create will happen in an almost random moment. For 2v1s a game of 2v2 in half court but when the coach blows the whistle the defender of the ball carrier must momentarily sit down would do this.
b) Create a link into the situation you want to work on. For example, a positional exercise that transitions into a 2v1 counter attacking situation. By doing this you include the unexpectedness and disorganisation that occurs in the real game as well as the link between different phases of play.

4) To encourage movement of players in attack

Can’t pass to the player you received it off or, similarly, each team is split into two colours and can’t pass to the same colour.

3) To increase the intensity
a) Reduce number of players or size of the court as this means they are more involved and their movements will have to be more intense.
b) Reduce the work:rest ratio of the exercise so the players work for short periods followed by complete or near full recovery.

2) To encourage defence to press

Point scored for making a certain number of consecutive passes. This could be applied equally when you’re aiming to work on pressing in defence or for attackers overcoming pressing.

1) To teach team co-ordinated movements

a) Usually when you first introduce a team rotational movement to create space it is unopposed. However, this is unlikely to transfer the knowledge of the movements into players applying it into a game situation due to it being too simplistic. One way to try to bridge this gap is that the defenders are only allowed to shadow the attackers (no tackling/intercepting) while the attackers do the movement at the start of the exercise. After the first rotation or once the coach blows their whistle, the defenders become fully active. By doing this, it helps create a realistic picture of the movement in a game situation in the mind of the attackers.
b) An alternative is to say defenders can only intercept and not tackle which gives the ball carrier a bit more time to think and can also cause the defenders to over anticipate (try to intercept) which leaves space in behind that the rotational movement can take advantage of.

I hope you find some of these useful to designing exercises that are more effective and if you wish to share any principles you use so myself or other readers can learn, please do so in the comments. Thanks!

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