Back to the drawing board

Last night I had my first session providing strength and conditioning sessions working at a basketball club. I remember when having the initial discussions with the club, they asked “What is the ideal group size for you?”. I didn’t really give this much concern as in the past this hasn’t really been an option to choose what size group I would like, I was just given a group of athletes (be it 1 or 15) and that was it.

Well last night I turned up, organised with my pre-written programme, ready to give 2 x 1 hour sessions to 2 different aged groups. Group 1 aged 12-16, group 2 aged 16-18. We had agreed that the sessions would run 6.45-7.45pm and 7:45-8:45pm. I had envisioned working with groups of 10-12 athletes.
Ideal vs Reality
I turned up at 6:20 ready to prepare for my session at 6:45pm. Straight away the coach asked if I could start at 6:30pm instead. “No problem” I said – happy that if we started earlier we might also finish earlier (travelling home from Millwall at 9pm at night doesn’t inspire confidence). I had a look at the group at hand – 21 athletes aged 12-16. Nearly double what I had anticipated! Also, we were located on the second of 2 basketball courts – with a session in action on the other. My thoughts of being able to do some more coaching-intensive exercises vanished! I would have to revert to “en-masse” drills or partner work, but partner work doesn’t usually work well with 12-14 year olds!

I sat the group down to introduce myself and get their perspectives on their previous S&C experiences, to try and help buy in (always difficult at 12 years old!). I also made a point of telling them that I was open to questions in front of the team, or 1 on 1 with me before/after sessions. I adapted my plan to use  more military authoritarian style coaching (not my preferred method). Get them in one long line on the baseline and go through some basic movement patterns – A Walks, Ankle taps, jump and stick etc. This worked well given the scenario, although it took it’s toll on my voice by the end of the session. I soon realised I could get more structure and unity in the group if I got one of the “naughty kids” to count the reps out loud. (Plus this meant he couldn’t use that same voice to distract his mates). I had to drop a few exercises out as they were impractical in this group size.
Overall, these sessions weren’t ideal for me as the coach, I would have liked smaller groups and a quieter environment. But welcome to the real world – you have to be flexible to the situation you are in. Freeze and your dead in the water.
However, the feedback I got from the head coach was that the session “looked good” and the kids enjoyed it (important for buy in). I’ll take that considering I had a few changes in conditions from my original plan. However, he also offered me an olive branch, “I think we should break them into smaller groups, as we have some technical coaches standing around. We could use the time more efficiently.” Sure, this might mean I only get 30 minutes with each group – but maybe I can make that 30 minutes with 10 athletes more productive than 60 minutes with 20 athletes. I also got some questions from kids 1 on 1 about improving their vertical jump, knee pains and landing positions – so some buy in there.
Lessons I learned from the session:

  1. Being early never hurts – it gives you time to respond to changes and tweak your gameplan
  2. Your first session is about your initial impression and connection with the athletes – take the time to chat to them and it’s probably worth having what you want to discuss down on paper, rather than in your head
  3. Control what you can but be prepared to roll with the punches – have a plan, but have a back up plan if things change – whether it’s the programme at hand or group sizes/timings
  4. Pareto’s principle – what’s the 20% that will give me 80% of return or “the biggest bang for my buck”, in this case what exercises are going to be most productive? Will smaller groups for less time be more effective than bigger groups for less time?
Get rid of the fluff – what’s going to give you the 80% of results?

So it’s back to the drawing board to chuck out the things that won’t work, keep the things that did and make some improvements where I can. Maybe some of these changes suggested above would make my sessions better overall… Who knows, maybe it’ll even save my voice!!
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