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Posted in: General

How to maintain engagement when the range of ability within a group is large?

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  • martinbeckford


    I'd be interested to hear people's ideas about how to keep more experienced and capable athletes engaged in team sport training sessions when others in the group are only just starting out in the sport, and vice-versa.

    For example, the club only has sufficient members to run one side, so everyone trains together and it's challenging to dedicate much of the coach's time to individual development without compromising support to the wider group when there's only one two hour session per week available.



  • robertepetersen

    Can you train one of the top shooters as an assistant coach?  It sounds like you need a form of "divide and conquer".  

  • Omar


    As a tennis coach I regularly run clinics which at times can get large, also my group coaching sessions can get big. I tend to get the entire group to hit with each other, which gives me an opportunity to see the individual standards. Whilst doing this I look for a teaching point for the individual to work on. I then go back around to monitor their progress. 

    if I have an odd number in the group, I hit with each one individually so I see the the teaching point this way they feel like they have had a personal coaching session. Hope this helps you out. 

  • BarbAugustin

    In the past, I've had sessions where I've had 9 year olds training next to adults. This is how I've handled it:

    Get the older/better players to be mentors to the newer players.

    Give everyone the same tasks but reduce the number of reps the new ones have to do (e.g. 10 sprints vs 4 sprints)

    Have different goals (eg time to do a given distance or drill) depending on the player.

    Be creative - I had my 9 y.o.s sprinting next to a 15 y.o. who was doing her 3000m speed - one 9yo in each straight, so they got to sprint 80m for every 400m the 15 yo did. 

    Handicap races/competitions - easy for runners, but you can do it for other sports too, for example get the good netballers to shoot for goal with their wrong hand and from further back.

    Give the newer ones a break part way through and use that time to do the high level stuff with the better players.

    I also like one of the comments above - rotating your one-on-one time through the squad.

    Good luck!

  • Reggie12
    Hi, my first post so here goes! One way to consider, particularily for skill development, is to split your group into smaller groups of similar ability and plan your practice as a set of skills stations running say for 10mins each. Each group will rotate through the stations so everyone will complete the same practice but will be able to work at the optimum tempo for the individual group and you can set expectations according to ability. Depending on the number of coaches you have it may be worth placing a senior player in each group to lead the drill. This will allow you to focus on a skill station or group as appropriate. Hope this is useful. Reggie
  • IanMahoney

    Most Athletes especially children like playing games.

    I coach athletics and use a staggered start.

    runners starting ahead their primary role is not be caught

    runners starting behind their primary id to catch the runners ii front.

    This gives two roles, the athletes push them selves to catch of not be caught.

    every runner starts at the same so all get the same intensity.

    Smiles of their faces tells they enjoy this type of friendly rivalry.

    the starting positions cam be adjusted depending on  if it is too hard to be caught or if you get 'swallowed up' to early.

    Having am assistant helps with the organisation

  • Woodo

    In most teams we have a variety of players some are advanced, some intermediate and some beginners  A good option I find useful is to gain the trust of the advanced players by allowing them to have some ownership of the session by delivering elements of the main session under the guidance of the head coach. This approach creates self esteem for the advanced players and develops the group as a whole 

  • rogerkaye73

    I ran a women's cricket session last night in which the focus was batting. In terms of ability this ranged from junior county players to inexperienced players in their teens, twenties & thirties.

    All the players worked in the same space so there was no demarcation in terms of county players being asked to work together or anything like that. This resulted in a good mixture of ability and experience in the pairings with no sense of them and us.

    Initially the drill was set up the same for everyone as I wanted a common starting point. I added a couple of further common progressions but as I made my way around the group I asked individual players to challenge themselves by trying the same thing but in a more advanced way thereby keeping the more experienced players interested.

    I think the thing that helped keep everyone going was to add progressions and allowing the players to make their own decisions about whether they were ready to move on or not, making it clear it was okay to progress at their own pace.

    Everyone was working on the same skill the difference was that different levels of proficiency and challenge were happening across the group.

    Maybe the skill we were working on lent itself nicely to this approach?

  • JHalsius

    Hi there

    I have had similar issues with one of my rugby sessions, 20 kids aged 9-11 with experience ranging from 3 years to 3 weeks. 

    I have found a few ways to keep both the engagement high but also to ensure everyone gets maximum chance to develop at their level. Depending on if I am running the session on my own or with another coach some options are;

    1. Coach through a game but give individual challenges or rules, for example better players have more restrictions set to develop what they need to develop (can only run for 5 steps before they must pass or a turnover ball, can only score if they use a Grubber kick, challenge to get as many assists as possible, allow developing kids easier rules). This works well if coaching alone and helps to both challenge and develop the individual players.

    2. Split group across two pitches with smaller sided teams (4v4) matched to even ability playing each other on each pitch. Let's developing kids get maximum time with the ball and success whilst the more experienced kids gets more challenge in their game. 

    3. Run a big game and rotate out players by similar experience/ability into a smaller skill are and then rotate them back in the game. Allows the newer players to learn the basics and when the more experienced kids rotate into the skill area they can work on more advanced.

    4. Peer coaching, ie buddy up and challenge the more experienced to help the newer kids.

    Hope it helps. Good luck! 😃😃

  • FencingCoach

    I do a similar thing in my fencing club. I also use a handicap system sometimes for sparring, or give each fencer a work on stroke or specific goal during sparring.

  • smilner

    Hi Martin

    I think I am pretty much duplicating what is being said but I wanted to also throw at you an idea taken from disability coaching: The Inclusion Spectrum. it works just as well as an inclusive tool, to include people of many different abilities in your sessions - have a look at this link, which takes you to a guide produced by UK Coaching which explains the Inclusion Spectrum and STEP as a way of modifying activities to include everyone.

    it would be great to hear how you get on:


    Kind regards


  • Philk

    Hi Martin ,it’s a really good question when working with team sports and some excellent contributions so far.

    What is clear is the need to plan sessions rather than  ‘turn up and do what you have always done’.  Sarah’s point about using the Inclusion Spectrum will enable coaches to meet the needs of the group and not be distracted with rules / laws / regulations in team games which are frequently confusing and usually mean players have to conform.

    The staggered start in athletics and  swimming are really good examples how you can achieve an equitable approach in some sports .Team games are frequently grouped around age groups where experience / maturation / talent can vary enormously particularly around the under 13’s age group when you add all the emotional and physical changes children are going through.

    An education theory on learning which we can adapt to coaching ?

    90% of what they learn when they teach someone else/use immediately.

    75% of what they learn when they practice what they learned (kinesthetic learning)

    50% of what they learn when engaged in a group discussion (auditory learning)

    30% of what they learn when they see a demonstration (visual learning)

    Get those who have the ability to mentor the new comers to the sport.  Roger  Kaye made some good comments about introducing skill with women’s cricket . I’ve used the mentoring approach with the closed skill of learning to bowl in cricket.  This benefits not only the newcomers who can practice in small groups but it also helps the experienced players who frequently have a better understanding of the skill afterwards. This empowering approach can then be applied in other areas.

  • Blake

    Hi Martin, I hope the feedback you received has proved useful. Your question triggered such a fantastic response that I pulled a lot of the advice and experiences in this thread together in a separate blog, on how to coach a range of abilities. The link is here:


  • paulcrocker

    I like to use “levels” of difficulty. And really see where I can push things...

    level 1 is the basic drill

    level 2 is the basic drill on one foot

    level 3 is the basic drill on one foot with both hands on your head

    do you want a level 4? To which they all reply “yeah!” And I’ll do a level 4,5,6 until it’s a real challenge and always encourage them to try or stick to the level they’re happy with.

    ive also used “shapes” in our sport we make certain patterns on the ice, and the same pattern can be done many ways. Letting them chose the drill and the difficulty is great to see what they do for the shape. Then I might say “now do the same shape a different way”

    Probably echoing some other comments in a different way but sometimes it helps to hear things a different way. A bit like when you tell your athlete 100 times to do something then another coach says it once and they do it haha

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