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5 strategies to develop skill among different ability levels

Some of you may know that I work as a Talent Academy Coach which is a great experience as I am have the privilege of working with some pretty awesome young people who are constantly surprising me with some of the things that they are able to do.

The Academy programme is breaking new ground because for the first time the u16 and u18 age groups are being coached together and also boys and girls are in the session working together as well. As you can imagine this makes for some interesting planning challenges

We allow the players to explore challenges and develop solutions to problems that we put in front of them. As coaches we work to manipulate things like space, player numbers and tasks to present the players with challenges and to see how they respond to them and learn to adapt.

So here is my quandary...

"What do we do when a player doesn't even have the fundamental skills required to be able to explore the solutions?"

The challenge we have is that there is quite an ability range so pitching the activity is quite difficult...too much of a stretch and they they are so internally focused on getting the basics right that they aren't really able to find solutions effectively...too easy and they begin to drift off and don't stay focused on working through the challenge.

I recently tweeted this great article by gymnastics coach Anne Josephson which outlined '35 secrets of brilliant coaches' which got a lot of interest and I thought I would share number 28 as I found it useful to help me with this quandary.

"28. Give plenty of time for new skills to develop. Brilliant coaches allow at least eight weeks for athletes to learn a new skill. As the athlete progresses in the sport that time frame will actually get longer, not shorter, as the skills are increasingly complex".

I think that this is a problem that many of us face in our coaching. We are too quick to move on. Whether it is in the interests of wanting to provide variety so players don't get bored or because we know that we have a lot to get through and need to move on we don't allow the required time for skills to become ingrained...and we are then frustrated when the players don't perform the skills effectively in the game.

Another great source that a looked to for answers is Doug Lemov's latest book " Practice Perfect" which is a gold mine of highly practical suggestions to assist with all aspects of coaching and practice design. The book is split up into a series of 42 'rules' and right at the start in rule number 2 is an idea that makes total sense to me. The authors refer to 'Practice the 20' where they suggest that we should focus in on the "20% that is going to provide 80% of the value".

So these are the conclusions I have come to...

  1. Don't be in too much of a rush. The players are ready to move on when they are ready to move on.

  2. Work with each athlete individually and help them to identify their 20% development area. I do a lot on 1 to 1s with players during breaks or at the start and end of the session to get them to focus in on thier personal development area. I can then reference this throughout the session with a nod or quick 'hot review' during the session.

  3. Be relentless in reaffirming these focus areas even though we might feel like we need to add variety and move on.

  4. Create opportunities for repetition of these skills without it becoming repetitive. Vary the activity while still working on the same skill or development area. You can tweak the same activity just a bit to challenge ina different way.

  5. Be clear on your own mind on what is the 'critical path' for the athlete or athletes and help them stay on that path.

If you have any other thoughts I would love to here them.

Happy Coaching

P.S. My mission is to try and share my experiences with as many coaches and parents as I can so if you found this mail useful at all then please help me to reach some more people by sharing this.

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