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Brave ways to start a coaching session

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Coaching session starts can be tough. That’s mainly because the players will arrive at different times, get changed at different paces and switch on their minds to training at different stages.

 

It would be great if you could blow a giant hooter. This would be the three-minute warning that the session is going to start and then, be ready to go, on time. Well, why not? 

 

Or you could try out these brave ways to start the session.

 

Ticket to train

 

Put a load of post-it notes (or scraps of paper) and pencils at the side of the training area. Players must write down one thing they want to work on in the session on the post-it note and hand it to you before training starts. It might only be one word.

 

It might not help you start promptly, but it certainly focuses the mind.

 

And what happens if they can’t think of anything? Give them some nudges. For example: which part of the last training session or game did you think you might have done better in.

 

I would tell them in advance of the session this is going to happen. Perhaps, a social media message might work, and they can send you their ticket back in a message.

 

At the end of the session, pick out a couple of players and ask them whether they managed to make some progress on their “ticket to train”.

 

Theatre game entrance

 

Players love games. Start the session with a game (see below on how these might work). However, only let them join into the game at the right time. So just like arriving late at the theatre, you are only allowed to enter the game at a scene change.

 

Now, the late arrivals don’t just wander into the game. They come in when there’s an appropriate stoppage.

 

Players who must wait will know for next time: there’s always a downside for not being ready on time. If you had started with some laps of the pitch or boring drill, then that might be different. They won’t mind waiting until the end of that part.

 

Not just any game to start

 

Start with a game, but not just any game

 

Have a menu of games to start the session. Allow the players who have arrived on-time to choose a game from the menu. If, every session, they are constantly choosing one game above the others, then that’s off the menu for next week.

 

However, whatever game they choose, they must run it, set it up and referee the game. You will stand on the sidelines, only intervening to encourage a player or to introduce late arrivals. 

 

The outcomes should be games the players want to play. They are also under less pressure to conform, which is something they will want to do. 

 

Set out an expectation

 

Building on the work of Mark Bennett, from PDS coaching, decide with the players how training should start. This is a conversation you might have the start of the season, or when you want to change the way training looks on a more permanent basis.

 

The process looks a bit like this. You ask a series of questions. Notice how open they are, and that you might not elicit the answers you want to hear. 

  • What do you want to achieve at training (Can you remember good training sessions that you enjoyed, does that help you think of ideas?)
  • What do you want me to do to help you achieve that? (Can you think of good training sessions that you enjoyed and what the coach did?

Now, you want to set some standards.

  • What do you think is unacceptable in terms of us working towards that?
  • What you think is acceptable?
  • What do you think is exceptional? In other words, what might you do some of the time which goes beyond acceptable?

“Okay, now you’ve set out the rules, you will want to keep to your rules. I’m here to remind you.”

 

This can work with all ages. If the players just say fun for the first question…that’s what you are going to do. You can, of course, manipulate the session to help achieve that. Crucially, you’ve made it something that’s theirs, not yours.

 

What do you think of these starts? Do you use them already or use others which are successful for team/athletes? Of course, a lot depends on the players and their current environment. I would love to hear what you’ve discovered on your coaching journey and let’s continue to share best practice.

If you enjoyed this you can find all my other ConnectedCoaches blogs here.

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Comments (10)

   
Couscous

Dan, I think some of your comments are well thought out. As the coach of my previous team, pre season we held a players meeting to discuss as many aspects of rugby as we could for the coming season. This also included focusing on individuals development of skills, physical and mental progession and any other concerns. Some of the issues naturally had to be in private on a one to one basis. I and my coaching staff then used these issues and suggestions made by players to help develop the upcoming sessions and game plans. As coaching staff we also looked at other sports for inspiration and to make sessions more interesting, we were not always successful. As an example for this coming season our focus for our newly formed Colts rugby team will be focused on space, how to create, spot it, support players in and around the creation of space.
One idea, yet to be tried is to play a game of "Ultimate Frizzbee using a professional standard Frizbee. The idea is firstly enjoyment followed by players having to achieve targets for rugby. Support, Communication, look for and create space going forward as well as a host of other functional targets for the game of rugby. I suppose the idea could also be tried for other team sports such as football.
Will it work? I do not know yet. Will the young players enjoy it? Will they recognise the possible benefits, I hope so. Is it worth trying? I think it is.
Innovation comes in many different guises as your comments show. Feed back is vitally important as is self coaching both by coaches and players by asking questions of them and getting individuals to constantly question themselves.

10/08/18
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BarbAugustin

My sessions start at 4:30. If they're not there, they need to warm up on their own. It works a treat - I very rarely have late arrivals. If something comes up (like a traffic jam, parent held up at work), they call me and then I'll wait if it's going to only be a couple of minutes. A couple of colleagues of mine, don't do that and they're always waiting for late comers.

13/08/18
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Gregsy

A Trick I found works for late arrivals is to get one of the others to explain what we are doing in the drill , that way you can check they were listening lol.

15/08/18
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Margaret88

I love the post-it ideas - and always looking for games. Mine is more of an individual sport (pistol shooting) but it can become very tedious training, even alongside others, so games are good.

17/08/18
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EllaBevan

Dan, these are excellent ideas. My coaching sessions start at 6pm and my issue is that parents can’t always get them there for 6... work etc, so usually the session is full of my young adults by 6:15. These ideas mean that there’s no hanging around and also that the session is fun when my strugglers arrive. I think it’s so important to start your session when it should start so, irrespective of numbers, there is always activity from 6, I do use the game idea but have found that as I am registering late arrivals the game goes to pot somewhat.... getting the participants to pick the game and then control it themselves would make this part much easier for me and more meaningful for them. Thanks Ella

18/08/18
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Couscous

When the rugby coaching session ended my team manager (non rugby player but former football coach) taught me to speak to my young players and basically de brief the session and the previous game. I also asked them what issues they had concerns about and what they wanted bringing to the next coaching session. We would then talk about all the issues, isolate what we identified as the most important at that time and develop the next session to include some of those concerns, issues, skills etc. This way the players would recognise that they had an input to their skill development and the team development prior to their arrival at the next coaching session.

20/08/18
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Coach_Browning

With regards to getting players switched on at the start of sessions, one thing that you can do is control the environment of practice. In this video they have made a boundary between practice and non-practice:

https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x2ntv3b

While it is unlikely that you can paint a line on the floor of your practice, there are ways that you can create a boundary of sorts to help demarcate when players cross into this area. Then it is up to you to start that culture of when they cross that line they are in full practice mode.

20/08/18
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Goose

Great article love these suggestions will be giving these a go love the ticket to train idea, here is one of mine. Have evolved rusty and fletches gold fish bowl. Context is I really can’t stand the beginning of sessions at the moment something I am working hard to get better at. So I threw it out to the players using the ‘crystal ball bowl preview’. I asked two of our senior players to stand in the bowl to imagine they had already gone through evenings session and to review the highlights. Really great way of setting session expectations and then challenging them. My aim is to get all the players comfortable enough to do it getting them all thinking,talking and affirming what they want out of the session. I am also going to have a designated crystal rugby ball for them to look into. Crazy 😜 but it adds a bit of fun to it all and certainly makes session starts easier!

22/08/18
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andrewb62

Late arrivals at practice are an ongoing issue at our club - thanks for setting out some solutions, Dan.

Our biggest challenge with the younger players is parental buy-in - the club is a convenient place to park the kids on a Friday evening, and they (the parents) don’t really mind if drop-off is at 5.45pm or 6.15pm (for a start listed as 6pm). So anything we try to improve punctuality will be delivered via “pester power”, if at all.

That said, I’ll certainly try out ‘not just any game’ and ‘theatre game entrance’ over the winter, and see how we get on.

26/08/18
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andrewb62

I have been very taken with Mark Bennett’s ideas on adopting “performance as a behaviour” (‘we agree standards of behaviour, and hold ourselves and each other to them, in practice and in competition’) but I wonder at what age they become applicable.
When athletes turn up at practice under their own steam, perhaps, not in mum’s car? So potentially at an earlier age for school-based teams (who practice at lunch time, or after school, and only habe to walk from their last lesson) than for club-based sessions?

26/08/18
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Chalkie62

I love the idea of ' not just any game ' - like rugby bingo or 'noughts' and 'Crosses', definitely worth a visual 'menu' pitchside.
Create a physical # and adopt a skill to score in a square in order to decide - even a blindfold bib throw, roll a ball, kick bounce etc.
Alternatively, to avoid the same early bird every week choosing from a board, make it the first option to get say 6 votes.
While waiting, have them think about their aims for the day, how they'll try and make it their best one yet, and work some 1 on 1 skills with the next arrival.

Always Important, while their energy and enthusiasm is peaked, to get them active (mentally and/ or physically) asap on arrival in a meaningful way, something which requires verbal comms and just a very few rules - ideally created by themselves.

10/01/19
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