Keeping everyone involved

In every squad, there are slower runners and those who take longer to gain understanding. Such players can become disengaged unless you take steps to involve them. Here’s how to go about it…


Using small workshops provides better coach-to-player ratios and increased individual input.

So run concurrent workshops with small groups of players moving along regularly. Or run a single workshop alongside a continually running game, removing small groups or individuals at a time. Manage the groups by pace or learning speed.

Develop skills as building blocks:

  1. Make sure tackles can be executed from the side before the front and back.
  2. Pass successfully off the strongest hand before working on the other hand.
  3. Identify space before running fast.

Players with even the most basic skills will gain more from involvement if the fundamentals are solid – as will their team.

Use Dan Cottrell’s exercise Get “under” the defender for a good passing workshop.


Skills must be enhanced by use in game conditions. By conditioning games via rules, pitch size or team selection, you can maximise everyone’s involvement.

Narrow pitches keep slower players closer to the play at all times, while the use of channels can keep quicker defenders to one part of the pitch – so providing opportunities for other defenders and attackers in another part.

Using coloured bibs can keep players in some areas of the pitch while others are free to roam. Attackers with different-coloured bibs can be conditioned so that one colour can only ever pass to another colour, while the other colour could pass freely.

Condition reticent players to take on definite roles, such as strike runners looking for gaps, or finishers who are the only players that can score. The more able players should work as distributors and decision-makers.

Simple defensive patterns help slower players understand their involvement while focusing on just one thing. Exclusion limits their side’s chances and fails to keep their interest and develop understanding.


The tricks you use as a coach in practices aren’t available in games. So there’s clearly a danger that slower runners will always be behind play, and less developed players won’t contribute.

Simple tactics and game plans can overcome much of this. Give slower runners only one side of the pitch to play in rather than the freedom to run everywhere. Or suggest they only focus on every other breakdown – leave a ruck and ignore the next one and stand behind a back to support.

Simplify the tasks for less adept players. Use them as finishers or to run defined lines. Keep calls and moves simple so they can be followed readily.

A team with a simple game plan that includes everybody is a more potent opposition than one with a few flair players but several who are always off the pace. Playing with half a side involved is difficult for all.

Share this
Follow us