Whole-Part-Whole Practice Philosophy

Youth Soccer Dribbling Drill

The Whole-Part-Whole practice philosophy (or Play-Practice-Play) is a method that is growing in popularity.  The more traditional practice approach is an incremental method in which the players start with a basic skill or tactic and gradually increase the complexity throughout practice.  The idea being that if you start simple and end more complex then everyone has made progress.  However, the Whole-Part-Whole method is based off of how kids may actually learn.  

Different coaches have different methods for finding these weaknesses in their players and improving upon and building the troubling skills. “Whole-Part-Whole” is one method that can be useful and most effective when practicing skills that consist of very distinguished parts.

If you are planning practices bases on the whole-part-whole method then be sure that the skills you are working on are relevant for the age level your are coaching. U14 players should not be expected to work on skills that are challenging for U16 age level players and therefore you should have a good selection of U14 drills available to you.

What is the Whole-Part-Whole method?

Think of it as a kid who is given a brand new toy.  This toy can be used in simple ways but to get the most out of it you need to read the instructions.  The first instinct most kids have is to open the box and start using the toy.  The kid will typically use the toy based on how they interpret it.  However, once they realize they are having trouble using the toy in certain ways or putting it together, then they turn to the instructions.  At this point they will take out the instructions and may read them step by step.  Once they have learned how to put it together or use it properly then they will go back to using it.  Now that they fully understand how to play with it or put it together they will begin to master the enjoyment of the toy.  

How to apply the Whole-Part-Whole philosophy in practice

Youth Soccer Small Sided Game

Now we must explore how to apply it. With the “Whole-Part-Whole” method, coaches will begin every practice with a game or exercise that will emphasize important skills for players to master.   These are typically small side games with an emphasis on a skills or concepts the coach thinks the players will struggle with.  Upon the players performing this activity, it should become apparent to the coach that there are weaknesses during certain parts. Once the coach has recognized where the players have struggled, they will introduce the “Part” of the method: an activity that will focus solely on the team’s weak spot. It is vital for coaches to take the time focusing on this specific skill until they are certain their team is comfortable enough to move on and perform the skill confidently. When the practice has reached this point, coaches should then re-introduce the “Whole.” Whether the coach chooses to utilize a new game or exercise or the same one from the beginning of the practice, they should make sure the activity will emphasize the use of the skill in order to see if it is truly mastered. By the end of a practice where the “Whole-Part-Whole” method is put into place, coaches should feel confident that their players are able to execute important skills accurately in all situations.

In addition to being able to focus in on the weaknesses of players, this method also contains a repetitive nature. Because of the way children learn, being repetitive during practices in a youthful environment is both important and effective. This idea, along with the others mentioned, gives coaches ample grounds for considering the benefits of using “Whole-Part-Whole” when deciding methodology of their practices.

Please share with us your thoughts or cases in which the “Whole-Part-Whole” method has been effective for your soccer team. Don’t forget to subscribe for future blog posts!