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The Blog

Creating Self-Sufficient Learners

Regular Player Development Project contributor and coach educator, Mark O’Sullivan gives us a fantastic session example of how to create self-sufficient learners by using a constraints approach to your session design.


This is part-three in a series of blogs that I will publish on the theme of helping someone become their own learner. You can read part one here and part two here.

I continue to eavesdrop on some fascinating stories and have exchanged learning experiences with many great people as I go “Ag Bothantaiocht”.

This is a session I designed at the end of the season and certainly one I really look forward to working with in more depth next year. I present the game here in the 8v8 format but I have also applied the same/similar constraints to a 5v5 and 6v6 game.

The Aim: To develop collective defensive tactical organisation and recognition of pressing triggers.

Age Group: Session performed with 13/14-year-olds and over for a period of one month.

Mark O 1


  • 8v8 game with 3 zones
  • Maximum 3 touches
  • Red Zone 1: Blues cannot tackle and can only intercept a pass (they should focus on influencing direction of play).
  • Red Zone 2: Blues can only try to win the ball if:
    • A red player receives the ball with his back to the goal that he/she is attacking
    • A red player is in possession facing the side-line
    • A red player stops when in possession
    • Intercept a pass
    • Red Zone 3: Blues can tackle
  • Same applies for red team when blues are in possession

Personal Observations:

One of the aims of this game was to get players used to the idea of recognising pressing triggers in the middle zone (player facing side-line, receiving the ball on the wrong foot, receiving the ball facing their own goal, stopping while in possession). After playing this game a few times over a few sessions the learning took an interesting evolution, (one that I had not entirely anticipated), I noticed that the defending team began to self-organise and influence their opponent’s behaviour by forcing the “pressing triggers” to happen.

Evolution of Session & Learning

  • Identify pressing triggers
  • Influence the behaviour of the opponent to create the pressing triggers
  • Connect the constraints of the session back to the purpose you applied them for by removing the rules and go into free play. For the coach, the real challenging part is to observe and make notes!
  • Releasing responsibility to the young players for them to become more self-sufficient learners

With the aim of helping our young players to become their own learner we ask ourselves what learning opportunities are on offer in our training environment? What conditions do we create that embrace the adaptive capacity of our young learners? How do we help our players to become perceptually attuned to the dynamics of the game?

We take responsibility for WHAT but the concept of HOW is something the players must bring to life themselves. This is how we can create self-sufficient learners.

About the Author:

Mark O’Sullivan is a UEFA A licensed coach based in Stockholm, Sweden. Mark delivers coach education courses and has run many youth social projects, has his own blog – Footblogball – and he works with Espanyol Football a co-operation with La Liga club, RCD Espanyol. Mark is a regular contributor to Player Development Project magazine and has featured in our Masterclass Webinar series. Mark’s currently working on his book, ‘Coaching the Learning Game’ and it will be due for release soon.