5 Considerations for Programming in Team Sports

Des Ryan

[4-min read]


In a previous article, I highlighted the importance of supporting your coaching career with continuous education and development. At Setanta, our team of coaches comes together to engage in CPD each month and we have been fortunate to be joined by some top-quality coaches throughout this time to share their knowledge and experiences.

The theme for this first phase of CPD was programming in team sports and I would like to share my five main reflections from this phase.

#1 / Understand the Demands of the Game

Our role as S&C coaches is to improve athleticism and reduce the likelihood of injury among our players. To do this effectively, we must first understand our athletes and the demands that are placed on them from the game when programming in team sports. This will vary not only across sports but competition levels in those sports and the position of each player within the team.

If we take Gaelic Football as an example, the demands placed on a Midfielder will be different from those placed on the Full Forward. In soccer, the same applies to the differences between a Centre-half and a wide Midfielder. So, we need to understand how we can prepare our athletes to thrive within the environment of the sport.

How can we do this? We need to determine the physical actions that are required within the game and what form of physical quality this translates to. From there, we can determine what level they are currently at and how we can help them to improve.

This is discussed in more detail in a previous blog, A Framework for Program Design Part 1: Needs Analysis.

#2 / Understand the Coaching Philosophy

Across different teams and sports, each coach you work with will have a different philosophy on how they want to play. It is vitally important to work closely with these coaches to understand their individual approaches when programming in team sports.

We want to help those that we work with to become better players and to do this we need to understand what the coach needs to help deliver their style of play. What are the typical scenarios players are going to face in the game and what are the limitations to this? Are they physical, technical, tactical, or decision-making based?

Once we understand the principles of play, we can manipulate constraints and develop sessions that challenge players to deliver the desired behaviours and outcomes.

"Once we understand the principles of play, we can manipulate constraints and develop sessions that challenge players to deliver the desired behaviours and outcomes." @DeasunO Click To Tweet

#3 / Understand the Athlete

While placed at number three in this article, this point can be considered the most crucial. It’s important to get to know your player and build a strong relationship built on trust, humility, and respect. Once this is in place it can propel the programme to a higher level.

We have determined the demands of the game and how our coach wants to play. Now, it is important to understand what level our athletes are at in relation to tolerating these physical demands and if they are prepared to deliver the style of play that our coach wants to implement.


Visualizing athlete progress with RYPT

To do this, we need to create an athletic profile of each player on the team and where does this athletic profile fit from a sporting perspective? Once we determine the athletic qualities of each athlete, we can understand how they will translate to the game. It also helps us to identify where the athlete needs to improve at an individual level while also showcasing wider patterns within the team.

If an athletic quality that is crucial to both the demands of the game and the coach’s style of play is considered a weakness across the team, then this can be highlighted as a priority to improve. From here, sessions can be designed to challenge players physically and mentally to deliver the desired outcomes. A great example of a good player-coach relationship and good coaching is this clip from the All Blacks – Nic Gill runs an excellent session with great communication.

#4 / Monitor Work Completed and Readiness to Train

When programming in team sports, it’s important to monitor the work completed and the player’s readiness to train. This can be used in a practical way when motivating a player to progress each session. It can also be used to give some context for a conversation to mutually assess the players’ readiness to train and thus plan an appropriate session. An application like RYPT can bring this to life in a user-friendly way.

  • Coach “What did you lift on this last time for three”
  • Player “Let me check on the app. It was 100kg”
  • Coach “Great let’s try a push beyond that today. Do you feel ready?”
  • Player “Yes”
  • Coach “Coffee is on me if you get it.”

Monitoring Well-being, Workout, and Training Load data with the RYPT app

#5 / Reps-in-Reserve is one of the easiest ways to programme appropriately when programming in team sports

It was a consistent theme from the CPD that Reps-in-Reserve (RIR) was one of the most commonly used methods to help players work at an appropriate intensity. It is basically the number of reps you have in the tank after completing a set. It may take the player a while to understand their RIR is, but once understood it is a great guide. For example, if you want to complete 6 to 12 rep max you might aim for 2 to 4 RIR. If you want to complete 1 to 5 rep max you might aim for 0 to 2 RIR.


Again, I would encourage everyone to complete regular CPD and reflections, and embrace technology to progress your programmes to the highest level. I hope you find these reflections and considerations for programming in team sports from our own series of CPD beneficial.

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RYPT is a performance coaching platform designed to help multi-disciplinary coaching teams deliver athletic development programs efficiently at scale. RYPT helps coaching teams manage every aspect of their coaching relationship from the delivery of individualized training plans, to athlete monitoring and communication. RYPT centralizes athlete data to give coaches better insights and help them manage their athletes more efficiently and effectively – reducing injury risk and optimizing performance.

Over 2,000 coaches worldwide, working from grassroots to Olympic level, trust RYPT to deliver their athletic development programs and monitor their athletes. RYPT supports individual coaches, private gyms and academies, schools and universities, and large sporting organisations.

Athlete Monitoring Performance Programming

About the author

Des Ryan

Des Ryan is the Director of Coaching & Performance at Setanta College. With vast experience in strength and conditioning, youth athletic development, and performance, Des has previously worked in both the IRFU and Arsenal FC Academy.

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