Over the past several weeks I have had the pleasure of coaching sessions in various clubs and meeting many enthusiastic players, coaches and parents.
Having the opportunity to discuss ideas, issues and solutions around the preparation, planning, delivery and evaluation of practice sessions, we agreed that these stages are vitally important to help us get the best out of the players we coach and help them improve.
ALL OF THEM. EVERY SINGLE ONE.
“I’ve got such a diverse group of players with different abilities, it’s hard to plan a session to improve them all”
“How do I plan on a session for players with mixed ability and experience?”
Through discussions with coaches, a paraphrased version of the above inevitably comes up when coaching at grass roots level. And will continue to do so, even more so for new or inexperienced coaches.
And you’re right. It is damn hard.
Thankfully however, “managing difference” can get easier. But we have to be willing to put the effort in as a coach to get better, to make it easier.
When I say managing difference, I am talking about player ability and stage of learning. And to help me manage this I personally ensure first and foremost the rules and boundaries for all players, coaches and parents are set out from the start to abide by. These rules are inclusive of everyone. We are all equals.
With this in mind, I thought I would put a couple of tips from my experience and what I use when coaching to help me try and improve each and every player I coach, regardless of their ability.
The biggest challenge that comes across when working with our teams, or indeed meeting a new set of players for the first time is recognizing how to appropriately challenge the ability levels of all players.
The late developers (1), those who are keeping up (2) and the high flyers (3).
Honestly, I don’t think there are any quick wins. As a coach, the more experience we get being out their on the grass will help us recognize these three groups. And this is key to managing the difference.
Although we may have our best session plan prepared, we need to be able to understand how to progress the session at the right speed, with the right challenges in place for these three groups.
Personally for me, when working in 1v1’s, 2v2s, small groups during our practice sessions, I find pairing players from the same ability group or the ability group above together works 9 out of 10 times.
Mismatching the late developers and the high flyers will absolutely cause behavioral issues resulting by the late developer being challenged too much, and the high flyer finding the task to easy.
Both sets of players become bored or frustrated. Usually then begin to “act out” or “play up”, through no fault of their own. It’s actually our fault, the coaches, for not managing the difference effectively.
In reference to progressing the session at the right speed and the right time, this may actually be different for each group.
During your set period of time for the task at hand, giving the late developers one challenge to overcome may be sufficient for them. However during that same period of time you made add an additional challenge in for the middle group and perhaps another challenge still for the high flyers.
All players striving to overcome their own set of challenges that is appropriate to their ability level at their stage of learning.
During the Small Sided Games, if one side is obviously stronger, simply use “Transfer Windows” where teams have a 30 second team talk to discuss who they want from the side. It may take a couple of transfer windows, but it naturally happens to balance out the sides sufficiently without coaches having to step in and pick the teams for them.
I also ask each side to give a reason why players want to buy another player too. This helps the players themselves recognize the qualities and traits in their peers, and how those qualities will improve their current team.
Getting out on the grass, coaching as much as possible and doing the ‘deep thinking ‘ with regards to the reflection of our session just has to happen.
Its all well and good planning a session, delivering it and saying the end “that was ok” or “that was good” or “that didn’t work”. However, to get better we need to do more than that.
If the session was ok, how can we make it better? What would we change?
If it was good, what went well?
If it was bad, what could we do differently or better next time in our delivery?
Personally, from my experience, if you break down your practice sessions to reflect on them, I would bet that you would have all the above in each and every session you deliver. Now we’re on the right path to becoming a better coach. And a better coach means you’ll help your players get better.
And whilst we are gaining all this valuable insight coaching on a regular basis, I would expect running parallel would be “getting to know your players”.
Getting to know their unique characters; their personalities; their playing traits; what type of practices they enjoy taking part in and which ones they don’t.
All this information will help us prepare our future practice sessions, and the challenges within those sessions to cater for the difference.
And if we can do that, we doing damn good job.