Updated: Apr 22, 2020
When people think of strength and conditioning, they think of a whole football team yelling and screaming at their teammate to squat 800+ lbs. Don’t get me wrong, that type of environment is insane and very fun, but there is a lot more that goes into it than just loud music and max lifts.
No matter if you are coaching a football team at a big D1 school or a 12 year old soccer team at a private facility, there are some elements to training that should remain consistent. The three I always keep in mind are simple, unique, and enticing. Of course you can make an argument for others, but these are the ones I focus on.
Setup: This is very important to the flow of the workout. Athletes should seamlessly move through the workout in an organized fashion to mitigate any confusion and, of course, fooling around. Everything from where the athletes go to warm up to how they clean up the weights should be taught to them. Although some things may seem obvious, we all know that means nothing. Set yourself up for success by explaining every step of the workout.
Exercises: Now this is entirely dependent on not only how old your athletes are, but their training age as well. Even if you are training a group of college athletes, that doesn’t mean they can go right into advanced exercises and/or programming. Not only does it make it more difficult on the athlete, but coaching a team through advanced lifts is extremely demanding. A coach needs to ensure every athlete is performing the movement perfectly to make sure they don’t get injured. My recommendation is to first build the foundation. Start the team out with low level exercises: goblet squat instead of front squat, DB bench instead of BB bench, DB RDL instead of deadlift. You get the idea. Keep it simple!
Coaching: You will have to teach multiple movements many times when coaching a team. Everything you do needs to be done in the most efficient way possible. Creating a process on paper and in your mind will help you achieve your goal (hopefully). I find when you have more than 2 or 3 cues with an exercise, it is very easy for the athlete to get confused. They don’t care about the anatomy and physiology (well, most don’t), they just want to be able to do the movement correctly. So rather than explaining the upwards rotation of the scapula during a landmine press, simple say, “Reach through your armpit.” This will also prevent you from getting frustrated while coaching when the athlete isn’t comprehending what you are trying to teach.
Sport: Although most athletes need somewhat of the same foundation work in the beginning, the program should always address the needs of the sport(s). For example, if you have a baseball team, pitchers need to have the proper arm care drills to prevent injury. Another example is basketball, the ankles take a beating with all of the jumping, landing, and change of direction. It is important to incorporate exercises to work on mobility and stability of the ankles. Always appreciate the specific demands of the sport. This may take you asking questions to the athletes and/or coaches, reaching out to your peers for advice, and doing research on your own.
Motivation: After the first few sessions you will get a vibe on how the group works. It is important to find what makes them tick in order to get the most out of them. With team training, you may have them at 6am or 8pm, in which case, they will be tired. Of course there will be all different personalities, but it’s important to get a general feel. Like I mentioned in the beginning, many football teams may be yelling and screaming during portions of the workout, but you most likely won’t be able to do that with other teams. Figure out how to motivate the group and it will not only make your job easier, but way more enjoyable as well.
Music: This piggybacks right off of motivation. It’s simple; play music they want to hear. Different teams tend to have different tastes in music. Best thing is to let them make a playlist. It will keep the energy up and you’ll get less complaints!
Energy: This starts with the coach. If you are dull and deflated it will rub off on the athletes. I’m not saying to be like Spongebob, always happy and over the top, but you need to bring that sense of positivity. The athletes will play right off of your body language, tone, and overall demeanor. This should be easy if you love what you do. If not, fake it or change professions!
Challenge: This can mean a few things. Challenge the athletes by making the workout difficult or creating actual challenges for them. I find ways to make workouts hard in a smart way and by creating “fun” challenges for the athletes. This can be as simple as having them perform relay races, team bike sprints, or trivia questions with punishments. Implementing these create comradery and it makes your job more enjoyable!
With team training, there is always a lot going on; many athletes and different exercises. As a coach, keep it simple and plan for enticing ways to motivate athletes to allow for unique experiences where everyone feels successful. If you have any other strategies for effective team workouts, I would love to hear them!