Applied coachingYouth strength and conditioning

5 ways grassroots coaching made me better…

Very often when people catch the S&C bug, it’s because they see the glamour of elite sport. The glamour of the Premier League, Rugby World Cup or the 100m final in the Olympic Games. However, the majority of coaches operate at the grassroots, community club level of sport. While you may wish to progress to coaching at the highest level, coaching at grassroots level of sport offers valuable opportunities to improve as a coach…

Here are the 5 ways grassroots coaching made me a better coach…
1.It made me more resourceful
It’s no secret that grassroots sport tends to be under-funded. So you can imagine that if the resources for the sports coach are limited, they are even more limited as an S&C coach! When you complete your degree/accreditation, you may (foolishly) assume that when you go to work in a club you will have full access to a dedicated gym with multiple squat racks, dumbbells, medicine balls etc. After all, obviously you’ll have a high performance gym to access right?
However, when your equipment list is dramatically shorter than that above – can you still coach an effective session? A great coach isn’t limited by the equipment in front of them, if so many coaches would never be able to achieve anything as there is always a better piece of kit or newer piece of technology that we’d like! Coaching at the grassroots level will help you become more resourceful by re-thinking how you will progress your athletes despite having next to no equipment. You’ll become more imaginative in how you utilise and apply the limited equipment you do have! Ultimately, this will help you at any level of sport!
For example, have a look at the Fiji 7’s team strength and conditioning session in the video below, does this fit your idea of a “high performance” facility? (by they way – they’ve won an Olympic gold medal!).

2. It made me more efficient
Coach to athlete ratio? I’ve had anywhere from a 1:1 to 1:20 ratio! When you have such a large group of athletes, in order to get effective training done, you will need to become efficient in organisation, timing and delivery to tackle the challenge. It will get you asking yourself questions like:

  • How will you run the session?
  • Will everyone do the same exercise simultaneously, or partnered, or will you run small groups rotating around stations?
  • How much time will you dedicate to each group?
  • How will you deliver instructions/feedback?
  • How can you utilise more experienced players to help coach/feedback?
  • How can you use the other coach to help with the group?

Coaching at this level made me efficient in maximising the space, facility and player number in order to get the work done! You might even think outside the box on how to acquire more equipment, as I wrote about in Building your S&C facility on a budget.
This experience has helped me be more efficient in my sessions as I progressed onto fulltime roles in sport, as I wrote about in Getting more bang for your buck. Being efficient is an asset at any level of sport!
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3. It gave me a chance to learn and experiment
What you learn in university and what happens in the real world is different. The ideal doesn’t exist and sometimes you will need to experiment in order to try a different method or strategy to try and get a result. Coaching at the community sport level gives you an opportunity to learn and experiment, with a low risk, high reward ratio! The lessons you learn in this period and the valuable information it gives you will help you as you progress on to higher levels. You can try a new warm up drill or a coaching cue or different exercise selection.
For example, many community sports are under-funded in terms of rehabilitation methods and processes. As an S&C coach, this can present the opportunity to fill the gap and gain valuable knowledge and understanding of injuries and rehabilitation methods. One of the things I learned about was patellar tendinopathy rehab protocols. Be careful not to step outside the scope of practice as an S&C coach, but also capitalise on the opportunity to help in rehab where possible! If a physio has multiple athletes to treat and supervise in their rehab, what aspects are you capable of supervising or learning in order to help in the return to play? These skills will help you in future as you come across these injuries again and can offer insight and experience.
Many of the cues I use on a daily basis were tried and tested during my time coaching at the grassroots level. It was the trial and error of seeing what worked in that context that helps me now!
4. It gave me valuable experience
You will get many opportunities to get involved in sport at the community level. The best part is, they might not even be sports you have experience in! For example I was privileged to coach athletes in basketball, volleyball, boxing, golf and swimming – sports I have never competed in. Each of these gave me valuable experience and insight in new perspectives and understanding of movement and the contexts of each sport in terms of training methods, training load, injuries, match demands etc.
Had I not been exposed to these different sports, I wouldn’t have picked up many of the ideas or perspectives that I now benefit from. Each of these sports has added to my skillset and understanding. If you limit yourself to coaching S&C in only 1 sport, you are cutting yourself off from potential opportunities in the future!
5. It gave me confidence
Ultimately, all the things above culminated in increasing my confidence in my coaching. Being able to overcome many different challenges, become more efficient, learn new things and gain valuable experiences, all made me a better, more able coach! As you’ve now seen and experienced many scenarios previously – you are better equipped to tackle these in the future, to apply what you have learned to new circumstances.
Once you’ve coached two groups of 20 athletes for 30 minutes each, in a Basketball Hall in South London, with other training sessions going on and no real gym equipment to use – you’re pretty much comfortable and confident in any other scenario!
Use your community coaching experience as a springboard to improve as a coach! Whether it’s a local rugby, athletics, swimming or badminton club – it doesn’t matter! Get out there and see how you can improve from these experiences!
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