Working with a team is a totally different experience than working one on one with athletes. Depending on the size of the team, gym space changes and how you evaluate becomes much harder. What makes it even harder is that you don’t get to personally meet every athlete and there is usually timelines and goals you need to achieve. The personal aspect is the hardest thing for me as you don’t get to learn about the athlete and this in turn makes programming and progression harder. You can’t build that rapport with the athlete that allows them to trust you and be able to feed them valuable information that they can learn from. So how do you coach a team? How do you get the connection with the team so that they trust you and follow you on the journey?
This all gets easier every time you do it, but always take down notes. Learn from what you have done and change it next time. My first experience was in a team situation working with an NBL team and if I was to take what I learnt from that and put it into a non-professional situation it wouldn’t work. Professionals may only do team training for a couple hours a day, some may do more after team trainings (individual skills etc), where others may go straight to the gym. Gym sessions could take 2-4 hours on any given day, including recovery sessions. This is not applicable in private strength and conditioning situations because the people that you are usually working with aren’t professionals in their sport and have other commitments such as work or school.
So remembering that we are always learning, what I am putting forward is from my experience and that I change what I do regularly because it is never perfect. Preparation is key you must have a plan, if the plan doesn’t seem to be working make don’t just go and change it mid session stay strong and complete the session. You then adjust for the next session. If you don’t change your session you won’t get the trust of your athletes, you won’t get results and it will fatigue you. Now I’m not talking about a program plan that’s basic, it’s more about how you are going to achieve your goals in a session. For example my goal for every session is to make sure I get around to see as much technique as possible. This gives me piece of mind that the athletes are doing the right thing and this will lead to progression and improvements. It will also make sure no one gets injured in your session (the most crucial thing as a strength and conditioning specialist).
The next big tip is to have rules set at the very first session that everyone must abide by. This instils safety in the room, even though you may not be able to look over the whole room, when you have these rules you can make sure that safety is at a premium. This can help with the first area, I have the confidence that I can work with an athlete on technique while other respect the gym area and not get themselves into trouble. One such rule I like to use is that all lifters must have at least one spotter for dangerous lifts. I teach all athletes at the start how to spot correctly and make sure that they spot correctly throughout every rep and set. This gives me peace of mind that if I’m looking at a deadlift that if others are doing DB Bench Press they are safe. Then I can go back to getting around the room and checking everyone’s technique. Another rule I like to use is that dumbbells are to never be on the ground especially near an area where bench press is being done. If you are big enough to lift them you are big enough to rack them away. Let’s say you 8 athletes DB Bench Pressing at once and they are all using different weights, that’s 16 dumbbells on the ground. This clutters up the space and creates a safety risk. If the lift is lazy and drops the weights before they sit they could do some serious damage to fingers and hands if they were to be between two sets of dumbbells.
Things to take away from Part 1 of this is that you must always make notes on your sessions, keep on improving your sessions. If you try different things it will keep a large group of athletes interested and you will have less of a drop off with the tail end athletes. Preparation is key to a successful session with a large group of athletes. Write down what you want to achieve with your group in alliance with the head coach of the team. Make sure that you are both on the same page, this is going to increase the confidence the coach has in you to complete the goals. Find out strategies that are going to make your sessions easier, I have given you some of my tips before I even look at programming. You can use these or create your own just make sure you are prepared as this is a different kettle of fish to one on one or small groups.
Sport and Exercise Scientist
BSpExSc, ESSAM, ASCA Coach
Vision Sports Science