Individual Development Plans
For anyone that has attended a Coaching Course recently, especially those based in the UK, there is one factor that will continue to be mentioned, the Individual Development Plan. In layman’s terms, an action plan for a player, to focus on a particular strength, weakness or key part of their game, and create a step by step guide on how to improve it. In Academies and Colleges, these are nothing new, but with more and more coaches from a semi-professional and grassroots level looking to write and support young players development, there are some key talking points and discussions that have occurred.
Before we go any further, I am divided on the benefit of these action plans. On one hand, and with my professional head on, I am all for them. They provide a clear and structured pathway for young players (of any sport) to focus on their development, and along with support of coaches and peak performance staff, ensure that there is a clear and measureable outcome. Whilst sport will always differ from academia, it is refreshing to see that this aspect of the classroom can be brought to the playing field and make a real difference to how an athlete performs. For this, I am in huge support of IDPs.
Looking the other way, it is important to remember that many of the players we work with see their sport as a release from structured, formal, class based activity, and could easily be turned off by ‘another’ box ticking exercise. If, as an amateur coach, your training sessions are being eaten into by conversations that detract from physical contact time (be it with a ball, club or in the pool) chances are the athlete will begin to lose interest in what you are having to say. As an addition to the existing programme you have, the IDP can be a powerful tool, but instead of, it can be a real turn off.
If using an Individual Development Plan is something you wish to go down the route of, there are some things you need to consider. For individual sports, such as Tennis or Swimming, the challenge is a lot less daunting. Most coaches will already have a plan, and instead of making it just for you, they key would be to share the plan with the athlete, show them where they are heading towards and hopefully, the end result. In a team based sport, the challenge is much greater, as you are having to speak to multiple players, all of whom will be at different stages of development and have different focuses. If done successfully however, players will be able to have a huge role in their own development, and their work away from the club or training will be much more focussed and relevant.
Creating a Buy In
As mentioned, if you decide to employ an IDP for your players or athlete, the key is that they buy into it to. Fancy graphs and pieces of paper won’t be worth the ink if the player doesn’t understand or agree with it. The key here is to set the targets with the player, and in particular, create a goal or goals that are mutual and relevant. Working with a young defender, they may want to improve their heading, or a young tennis player may want to work his back hand. By having that initial contact and discussion with the player, the plan will be ‘theirs’ and they will really feel that it is designed to benefit them. Ideally basing that on real evidence, rather than just an opinion will make that more meaningful so the player himself using Focus to identify his development needs can be a powerful part of the process.
Create The Plan
Once the player is on board, make sure the plan is visible and accessible. Give the player a copy. Keep a copy for yourself. Make it visually appealing so players will want to look at it. Make it manageable so players will want to read it (pages of text are not the answer here). Break the plan down into smaller more manageable chunks, so they player can see a pathway of improvement.
Use SMART Targets
Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Realistic and Time. A SMART target is designed to keep the athlete or player engrossed and involved throughout. If it is a defenders heading, the target maybe to have him practicing heading the ball 5 times against a wall for 7 days. Here , the player can take ownership of their own target, and a realistic time frame is in place which the player can stick to.
Evaluate Progress
Once the plan is in place, it is both the coach and the athlete’s job to ensure it is evaluated. Tools like FOCUS are a fantastic way of evaluating a player against a target set in their IDP. By watching the game or training session back, you can clearly see whether a target is being achieved, and create visual clips of that player attempting too or successfully performing a target. When doubled up with statistics, these provides a powerful tool for evaluating progress.
Hopefully, players will start to have a level of success with their chosen target. It is then a case of re-evaluating and setting new goals, moving the plan forward. Once a player has seen progress using this method, they will be keen to continue to do so, and will work above and beyond the limits set by that initial first challenge!
For anyone that is interested, I have attached two PDFs to this article. The first is a sample Individual Development Plan that I have set up for a fake athlete. The information on here is generic, but may give a better idea of how the format looks. I have also included the same template blank, so if you like the idea, you can print off a copy and try to use it with your won athletes.
As always, I am always happy to talk coaching on Twitter, and you can follow me on @danbolas
Thanks for Reading

IDP - Sample (309 KB PDF Document)

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