Home Blog 4 Strategies for Effective Group Coaching

4 Strategies for Effective Group Coaching

Written on June 12, 2014 at 6:20 am, by Eric Cressey

Today's guest post comes from Cressey Performance coach, Greg Robins.  In addition to his "normal" strength and conditioning coaching duties, Greg also heads up our bootcamps.

Training larger groups of people, or athletic teams, often gets a bad rap. Quickly identifying the downfalls, many of us never explore the intangibles that make group training great.

For example, large groups foster all kinds of natural qualities between people. If you don’t see the overwhelming value in developing camaraderie, loyalty, accountability, and – dare I say, family – you’re missing a large part of what it means to make people feel and perform better.

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There are two sides to every coin, and group training certainly falls short in some respects, for some individuals. However, I challenge you to reevaluate how you view the relationship between the group setting and the athlete or client.

Is group training a suboptimal format for training, or are certain people in a suboptimal position to undergo group training?

I would argue the latter.

Furthermore, if you are in disagreement with my assessment, maybe the question is this: if a person is willing and able to train under the obvious constraints of group training (my perspective being that they do not need individual attention and are mentally capable of embracing a social environment) then is it still the case that group training is a suboptimal format? Or, is it that the group training format on which you’ve shaped your opinion to needs to be elevated? In other words, how can we make the group training experience better?

Below, as a good place to start, I have compiled four strategies I use to optimize group training. Quick and easy, you can apply these right away and use them as reference. Enjoy!

1. Effective organization

Organization of a group training session is paramount to its success. If the sessions are clearly thought out, they leave little room for the chaos that often ensues in the mass organization of people.

Start with this concept: “format must fit focus.”

If you read my material, you know I like to have a clearly defined purpose in everything I do. That’s where you begin. What is the focus for your training session? Are you trying to teach new movements, build work capacity, dial in technique, or something else? Sure, these qualities all overlap to some degree, but you need to have an overarching rationale for the day’s training.

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With that in mind, the format you choose for the training session should allow you to carry out that goal most advantageously. For example, you won’t have much success teaching someone a complicated new movement when they have 30 seconds to perform it. Instead, you’re better off using a format that allows people to stay with a movement long enough to receive repeated exposure to it – so think out the training parameters. Are intervals the right choice, or is something more along the lines of a workshop or open gym type organization a better approach?

Lastly, how does the session flow through the training space? Do people have to bounce around from one side of the gym floor to the other, or is it very easy to move around? Set up the training session to be ridiculously easy to follow. That means you have to consider where the equipment is, and where people will be at all times.

2. Command presence

Not everyone may be cut out to coach large groups of people. In order to do so effectively, you have to have to do two things, be in charge and communicate clearly. You don’t need to be loud and boisterous, but you can be. I, for one, am not the type to yell; in fact, I rarely raise my voice. That being said, I have had plenty of new group members tell me they were referred by “so and so,” who says I am a “drill sergeant” and whooping their butt into gear. To me, that’s perfect; I’m not being overbearing, but I am fostering an environment in which I am clearly in charge of what we are doing.

In order to be in charge, you need to be prepared, and you need to be heard. Being prepared is simply a question of taking the time to assess the variables and act accordingly. Being heard is about doing what is necessary to deliver a unified message to many individuals at once. That transitions nicely to our final two bulletpoints.

3. Develop context

Context is everything when you want people to learn something. Essentially, we learn by comparing something foreign to us to something we already know (Eric wrote about this in a similar context here). Therefore, the more context you can create, the easier it will be for people to make connections, especially in the faster pace of a group setting.

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The first place to develop context is by actually getting to know the people you are instructing. Obviously, we need to know as much as possible about a person’s physical development. Doing so means we can choose wisely from movement and load selection standpoints. However, you cannot overlook getting to know who the person “is” as well. What do they do for work? What sports do they play? This information is gold when it comes to teaching them, as you can appreciate their point of view and help them view the challenge through their perspective.

Context can also be created. You can create context by introducing new movements and concepts slowly and well before they will be applied in a more intense fashion via training. My favorite time to do this is the warm-up. Use your warm ups to test the waters with different movements, as well as to introduce subtle cues to which they can relate later on. A simple glute bridge develops context for someone when you’re quickly instructing him or her to engage the glutes on a deadlift lockout, for example. These subtle cues can also be individualized, and triggered by general cues later on, as per my final point…

4. Create individual focus points

Recently, I attended a fantastic seminar with Nick Winkelman, and my mind was blown with the quality information he was presenting. In many instances, hearing him explain how he coaches helped me realize what I was doing well, not only what I could do better. This was very much the case in regard to developing individual focus points.

Developing individual focus points is HOW YOU PERSONALIZE GROUP TRAINING!

Pull someone aside and show him or her something they need to focus on, and then you can cue the entire group and have each member respond in their own way; that, my friend, will change the game completely. For example, one individual may need to work on better abdominal bracing to keep the spine neutral, while another person may need to create more upper back tension to not lose positioning. Pull them aside, help show them what “right” feels like and explain to them that when they hear “brace,” that is what they should be thinking. When you approach things this way, you can say one single word and have two people doing completely different things. It’s up to you to be creative with how you cue, but if you develop individual focus points, you will have people flourish in a group setting.

In closing, I challenge you to do two things. First, think about whether or not incorporating some group training might be a good idea for your approach. I think it’s a valuable tool that teaches people to be accountable to each other and boosts the sense of community. Second, if you have reservations on the quality of the training with group training, challenge yourself to deliver a better product to those who meet the criteria to participate by using some of the strategies above.

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  • Iron WIll

    Great read. I’m a young trainer, still finishing school, but am blessed to already be working in a great training facility in Toronto. I do a lot of bootcamp classes and I too myself am not “yeller” but keeping things organized and explaining the concepts of the class help the clients trust in you more and respond to the activities better. The biggest challenge is when I have to give clients a regressed movement and their attitude is “I’m strong enough, I can do it the harder way”..when they clearly are not..
    Still working on getting them to understand it’s a regression that will lead to progression, not a “weakling version” of the exercise.

  • Shane Mclean

    Handy tips Greg, I will put them into practice immediately.

  • Mark

    Spot on Guys.
    Spot on

    Thanks Greg

  • Good practical information Greg. Definitely an area of training & coaching that needs more attention. To echo Iron Wills point above, especially dealing with clients of varying abilities & levels in the same group

  • Great stuff. Group coaching can allow you to affect a larger population than you otherwise might, but it goes bad when it’s a boot camp run by cheerleaders. Obviously programing needs to be smart but details like these make session more effective for members and make the coaches job easier in the long run. Bravo.


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