Ron's Blog

Transfer of Training

By Ron Smith | 31/03/2013 | 0 Comments |

Practice that has all of the elements of a game is the most realistic and therefore it’s logical to expect the greatest transfer of training into the game.

When you organise any practice the “realism” factor should be considered because if what you are doing doesn’t relate to the game you have to question why you are doing it in the first place.

Maintaining realism is more difficult to achieve when you have a small number of players involved because it is harder to include the elements of the game, which are:

A goal or scoring system

Direction  and


When one or more of these elements are missing there is a danger that the transfer of training to the game will be reduced.

A simple solution would be to play games all the time. What would be wrong with that one might ask?  The concept of practice evokes thoughts of repetition, which is a key factor in acquiring and / or maintaining technique and skilful performances.

I have always made the distinction between skill and technique because the terms are frequently used to mean the same thing.  In my opinion technique is an action, for example chipping the ball or striking the ball with the instep when shooting at goal.

The term skill would refer to the use of the techniques involved in the game to achieve an outcome at any given moment and is related to decision-making.  If a player controlled a pass and turned into an opponent but lost possession of the ball, he or she might have displayed excellent technique in receiving the ball and turning but made a poor decision so didn’t play skilfully, or made the wrong decision at that moment.  The use of passing and receiving techniques is for the purpose of keeping possession of the ball so it can be transported to within shooting distance of the goal.

It should be clear that players need to develop good techniques and good decision making to become good performers, the question is can you do both by playing games? The answer is yes.

So why do coaches organise different kinds of practices rather than simply playing games, which are totally realistic as well?  There is a factor in skill acquisition called “repetition” which is fundamental to learning or acquiring skill and to maintaining a level of performance. Therein lies the problem. Repetition is harder to achieve in games that involve large numbers of players and that applies to technique and decision-making. It would be logical to reduce the numbers in games and practices to increase the repetition factor, which is the rationale behind small-sided games and game related practices.

Research into small-sided games has shown that repetition is usually higher the lower the number of players involved in the game.  Another factor in small-sided games is the size of the playing area.  A 4v4 game in an area 30 x 20 will provide lots of repetition for any aspect of the game that occurs in a smaller area but will not allow long passing for example.  This might not be important for younger players who may be more concerned with passing, receiving, running with the ball and keeping possession, which is why so many development programs are based on playing games with smaller numbers of players.

Another factor in acquiring skill is “feedback”.  One of the issues surrounding feedback to players is timing, or when to do it.  If players are engaged in a game and the coach wants to provide feedback to a player it may be impossible unless the coach stops the game to provide it, which is frequently met with disapproval from everybody else involved in the game. Delayed feedback about performance, which is after the game is not as effective as immediate feedback in the learning stages, largely because memory and the power of recall have a part to play.

There is also a major difference between “teaching” and “coaching” when providing feedback about performance.

When teaching something new to a player or group of players there will often be explanations involved, demonstrations, a task to achieve, questions and trial and error. This is when repetition and feedback is so important to learning. To facilitate the opportunity for all of the above to happen it is more efficient to organise players into smaller groups to practice whatever it is they are being taught or trying to learn.

The practice methodology may be different for whichever age group is being taught or the level of performance but it should be realistic and relate to the game.

When teaching has taken place and players are able to listen to information from the coach, during the performance or game and relate to it, feedback can be given without having to stop the activity it depends on the type of information being given. This is often referred to as “coaching on the run” and is quite different to the “teaching” situation.

So if repetition and feedback are so important to learning it makes sense to break the game into smaller parts but how small should we go? 

How can we include the three elements of the game into a practice situation (A Goal or target, Direction and Opposition) with a small numbers of players?

The answer to that question is in the sections, Practices for 3-10 players and 11-20 players  where I have created movies to explain the rules of the practices, the tasks the players have to achieve and how to provide repetition for all the players in the group in a very realistic situation.

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