The Current Landscape and Contribution of Isolated Practice in European Professional and Academy Football:

A Thematic Analysis of Professional Coaches and Player Interviews



Football, Isolated practice, Professional sport


Isolated practices (IP) are defined as isolating the skill and practice in a ‘drill’ format in which players progress from basic to complex motor skill patterns, focusing on learning the ‘correct’ technique (Pill, 2013). Coach education and academic research suggests that IP has no long-lasting effects for athletes (McLean et al., 2019), but it is still part of the practice design in a lot of successful European Academies (Bate, 2020). To better understand the use of IP in player development in European professional football settings twenty existing and openly available interviews of professional coach were analysed using the six thematic steps of Braun and Clarke (2006). Two key themes emerged from the data; ball mastery and 1v1 and 2v2.  A sub-theme of ball mastery was coaches' defence of IP. Ball mastery sessions (practicing a specific set of skills) are used in professional football academy sessions and the idea of ball mastery was found to act as a philosophy for development in the coaches. This activity was used to prepare players for 1v1 and 2v2 situations. It is proposed that isolated football practice activities are termed ball mastery sessions and that further work is needed to understand the practical progression from these sessions to 1v1 and 2v2 practice.


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