In this article PDP Coaching Advisor, James Coutts discusses the value of ‘unit coaching’ or ‘position specific coaching’ and how you can incorporate this specific coaching model into your sessions.

What is unit training?

When discussing unit training we are considering a unit that’s position specific within the team, for example ‘defenders’ can be a unit, ‘wingers’ can be a unit and so on. Depending on what shape you play could have an impact, it could mean you’re working with a ‘back 3’ as your unit work or ‘front 3’.

Unit coaching is looking at any specific group you’re focusing on within the session. Chances are, you will already be doing a lot of unit work within your sessions however we’re going to look at whether you are consciously working on it and your level of awareness.

What to remember when focusing on unit work

Ensure that every player is excited and feels valued irrespective of the session. If you’re focusing on defenders for the session do all the players need to know that? You may well be looking primarily at defenders however make sure that you set challenges for the other units or individuals within the session. 

Tip: Put the players into bibs that represent their positional groups before the session starts, this always starts some chat between the players and straight away you will get some competition between the units. This competition also promotes unity amongst the unit which is one of the key outcomes when doing unit specific work.

Are we coaching unit training enough?

Every coach is different and there is certainly no right or wrong in terms of which of the below we focus on more.


However, are we consciously aware of the areas we coach more than others? Adding more unit coaching within your sessions doesn’t need to change your session design, it just requires more planning and more ‘unit tasks’.

Football is forever evolving, are you?

Working on position specific work or unit work isn’t new, however it’s evident based on how many position specific staff are being employed in modern football, just how highly valued this work is.

Within other codes in particular a ‘specific coaching model’ is widely used.

A great reference for this kind of position specific work was outlined in our Masterclass Discussion with FA Specialist Coach, Aaron Danks. Aaron discusses the time he spent with the top NBA team, the Golden State Warriors in the USA to learn how key position specific work is within other codes. Head to 15:58 – 18:35 for a couple of great examples from Aaron.

Within modern football (especially at the performance end of the game) you’ve not only got a lot of position specific coaching, you now have a lot of ‘moment’ coaches: Throw in coaches, set-piece coaches, in possession coaches, out of possession coaches.

Yes, professional clubs in both football and other codes have big budgets and can afford more staff however there are ways where we can incorporate more unit work into our coaching, we just need to be looking at ways to maximise our players learning within our own environments.

Benefits of unit work:

  • Creates unity amongst players playing in similar positions or units.
  • Can help coaches focus on a specific group for the session whilst knowing all players still have a purpose.
  • Creates healthy competitiveness amongst players when know up against different units.
  • Players become more aware of player’s roles within their unit.
  • Helps younger players with their game understanding and more unit decisions as they get older, for example: At a young age defenders are taught 1v1 & 2v2 defending however are they taught defensive positional shape within a back three or a back four? Do we need to focus on areas such as the unit stepping up to create a high line?
  • Encourages more communication amongst players and specifically in their units.
  • Helps create variety with session planning and design.

Pro-active communication

As mentioned above the key to ensuring all players are engaged by the session is in the planning. This doesn’t mean that you need to be doing pages of additional session notes or completely change session design.

To give a practical example of this, if your main focus for the evening is working on your defending players and how collectively they’re in a structured line when we don’t have the ball. This is a great opportunity to pull the attackers before training and give them a unit task for the night “Tonight guys we’re going to be looking a lot at how we break down a compact defence, every time you guys create an overload especially out wide I want you to look to take advantage of that as soon as possible”

Just by having that quick chat with a small unit you have given them some tasks for the session, it lets the players know their apart of the upcoming session and that you’re looking at ways for them to impress. The session objective for you as a coach may be the defensive unit however if you can get some positive outcomes from the attacking group also then that’s a win/win.

Being conscious of what area you’re working on will only help when looking at all areas of your team.

Improve your individuals > Improves your units > Improves your team

Below are some video session plans to assist with position specific work:

Image Credit: Deposit Photos

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