The FA’s Four Corner Model can be a useful tool for coaches. But to use it effectively, we need to understand both its purpose and its limitations, and learn how to apply it in a way that supports our coaching without governing our approach. All coaches need guidance on how best to support their players, and the Four Corner Model can provide an excellent framework for session design and player development, provided we use it correctly.

In this article

What is The FA Four Corner Model and how does it work?

No matter what level we’re coaching at, it’s important to take a holistic approach to player development. This means helping our players to develop as people, not just athletes, accounting for their psychological and emotional needs as well as their levels of skill and physical adeptness. 

The Four Corner Model facilitates this process by breaking down player development and session design into four key categories:

  • Technical and tactical
  • Psychological
  • Physical
  • Social

As coaches, we should aim to consider all four components when working with our players. The FA 4 corner long-term player development model is designed to promote well-rounded coaching, whereby no single aspect of a player’s development is over-emphasized or neglected.

No corner in isolation: The elastic band analogy

The understanding that no corner operates in isolation is fundamental to the Four Corner Model. We should never fixate on a single area of a player’s development, and will often find that it’s difficult to design a session that focuses on just one of these elements by itself.

To demonstrate this idea, PDP Technical Advisor Dan Wright encourages coaches to look at these components not as four neatly defined corners but as a ball of elastic bands, with many interconnected bands representing each aspect of player development.

“All four of those corners work together,” explains Wright. “The idea that you’re going to deliver a social session with no physical or technical or psychological returns is quite difficult; the idea that you’re going to deliver a technical session that won’t have any physical or social outcomes is virtually impossible. So I like the idea of a ball of elastic bands, where all of these things are tied together and you can’t have one without the other.”

“A good knowledge of the psych-social areas is imperative,” adds world-leading Sports Psychologist Dan Abrahams, who emphasizes the implausibility of promoting technical, tactical, or physical development in isolation. “Lots of people ask ‘how can football be psychological?’, but the brain and the nervous system work in milliseconds and football itself works in seconds… It’s inevitable that, at times, we’re going to be distracted, we’re going to experience a drop in confidence, we’re going to have strong emotions, and with all of these psychological interplays going on (let alone the interactions between people), it is a phenomenally psychological and social activity.”

Understand your players as people

We should always remember that, in a player-centered coaching environment, the Four Corner Model is there to guide us, not prescribe a rigid approach to coaching. All players are different, each with their own unique needs, desires, strengths, and weaknesses. We must strive to know them as individuals and tailor our coaching so that it works for each of them.

Many new coaches are keen to focus on the technical and tactical areas of player development, but over time we learn that the social and psychological components are equally, if not more, important. As Wright explains, “If you’ve got players that have challenges in their personal life or don’t feel included in the social group, you can almost forget the technical and tactical box — because if the players don’t feel comfortable when they’re performing in that environment, it doesn’t matter how good they are as a player.”

“The key to coaching is people,” Wright concludes. “It’s a person-to-person activity. And if you can’t build those relationships or understand people, I think you’re going to struggle to work on that left side [the technical and tactical and physical aspects] of the model.”

Take a long-term view of player development

Finally, it helps to remember that the Four Corner Model ties into a long-term view of player development. “It’s important to understand that the journey is a slow one,” says PDP Co-Founder Dave Wright. “It has plenty of ups and downs, and ensuring that you account for every player’s needs across the Four Corner Model will help you in your planning and session design.”

The areas that a player needs and wants to work on will change over time. As coaches, we must be prepared to adapt and provide them with a range of appropriate challenges throughout their journey in the game.

The limitations of the Four Corner Model

The Four Corner Model provides an excellent reminder to think about the different aspects of coaching, in terms of both session design and player development, but it’s not without its limitations. If we’re not careful, over-emphasis on terms like “4 corners football coaching” and “4 corner player analysis” can turn our coaching into a box-ticking exercise when a more nuanced approach is required.

“I think the Four Corner Model can be deconstructed,” suggests Abrahams. “You’re setting a language that affects the way coaches see learning, development, participation, progression, and performance. And the psych-social components of participation, progression, and performance underpin the technical, tactical, and physical sides of the game.”

Designing sessions that address all four areas of development doesn’t mean conducting a ball mastery drill and adding a social or psychological component as an afterthought, but instead treating all four areas as vital components that are interlinked.

“I’d like coaches to picture psych-social at the bottom, with arrows going both ways — up and down —  with the technical, tactical, and physical above, and then participation, progression, and performance (the three Ps) at the top,” explains Abrahams. “I see psych-social as a driver of these three areas. It’s important to understand that people are complex… Coaching is about complexity and complication.”

Daniel Abrahams on Twitter: "My 'Psych-Social Coaching Model' - Why we  coach (participation, progression, performance) - What we coach (technical,  tactical, physical) - How we coach (psych-social) The psych-social is the  'how'
Dan Abrahams Psych-Social Coaching Model.

Coaching beyond the four corners

Ultimately, coaching is about more than simply delivering sessions. To be a good coach we must be good at working with people; we need to understand our players and how they learn, be able to empathize and listen, and know how to talk to them. And this requires us to go beyond the Four Corner Model.

Many new coaches go through a phase of ‘magpie coaching’, collecting and copying sessions and striving to understand how they work. And while this is an important part of developing as a coach, we gradually learn that the soft skills which enable us to engage with our players are even more important.

As Dan Wright summarizes, “If you can’t work with people — build rapport and inspire, motivate and connect and understand — then all of that first bit is a waste of time. Because all of that underpins your session.”

Understanding the Four Corner Model: The key points

  • The FA’s Four Corner Model is designed to help coaches take a holistic approach to coaching which develops players as people, not just athletes.
  • The model breaks session design and player development down into four components: technical and tactical, psychological, physical, and social.
  • No one corner works in isolation. As coaches, we should try to consider all four aspects of player development, incorporating each of them into our sessions.
  • The key to effective coaching is understanding our players as people, building a connection with them, and individualizing our approach to meet their needs.
  • The Four Corner Model is a useful tool but not an instruction manual. We must remember to take a nuanced approach to coaching that accounts for its complexities.
  • Soft skills underpin our effectiveness as coaches. How well we can empathize with our players, build a rapport, and inspire and motivate them will determine our ability to help them learn, develop, and enjoy the game.

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