Practice, games, tournaments and family commitments limit the amount of time coaches have with their athletes. In these circumstances, I recommend group training, which I've found to be an effective strategy to ensure your athletes can benefit from strength training in a fun, team-oriented environment.
Generally speaking, group training consists of a number of stations, and the athletes move from one exercise to another in a predetermined order. This creates an atmosphere for the athletes to work together, have fun and push each other.
Most importantly, it provides a great environment for athletes to become stronger individuals and teammates.
Why use group training?
1. Team building
Having your athletes train together can carry over to their sport. During each session, the team should be encouraged to communicate, motivate, and help each other—just as they do during games.
2. Efficient and family friendly
A group setting allows you to more efficiently accomplish tasks. During training, you can communicate team messages and educate your athletes on the importance of exercise while they work. Kids love spending time with their friends, and parents can carpool. Before, during and after sessions, my athletes have talked about homework, sports and everything else kids talk about. Feedback from parents is positive too. They love that their kids are exercising, and that they can work with other parents to arrange for transportation.
Keeping youth athletes engaged can be challenging. They tend to lose interest easily. This is one of the biggest obstacles when working with youth athletes. If they are training with their friends and moving along quickly through a variety of exercises, you'll have a better chance of holding their attention.
A properly designed group strength training program provides excellent results that carry over to the playing field. All of the above reasons are important, but we wouldn't use group training if it weren't effective.
With all that said, group training sessions can quickly become a mess if you're not careful. Here are four rules to create effective group workouts:
Rule 1: Have a plan
You should never "wing it" when it comes to training athletes. Having a plan becomes even more important in a group setting. If you have a large group of athletes, you may not have time to make changes during the session. You have to prepare ahead of time and make sure your plan (exercise selection, order of exercises, equipment requirements, etc.) is rock solid. What questions will your athletes have? What exercises will be most challenging? How will everyone stay on schedule? Make sure you can answer these questions ahead of time.
Rule 2: Set ground rules
The athletes need to know exactly what is expected of them. Be very clear in demonstrating each exercise, the order of exercises, and time allotted for work/rest periods. Athletes should be encouraged to ask questions; however, you want to prevent simple questions that can be dealt with before the clock starts running.
Rule 3: Choose the right exercises
Exercises need to be effective, but not overly complicated. Push-Ups require no equipment, whereas a Seated Chest Press requires seat and weight adjustments. Olympic lifts require a lot of coaching and monitoring. They may not be good options, depending on your athletes' training experience. It's better to focus on fundamental movement patterns with youth athletes.
Rule 4: Communicate
Encourage healthy competition and teamwork. As mentioned above, this type of training environment can build better teammates. As a coach training youth athletes, make sure to provide feedback and motivation. Keep your communications clear, concise and positive.
Group strength training should provide a fun environment for building healthy and happy athletes. Your program may be some athletes' first exposure to resistance training. This means you have an opportunity to make a huge impact on their lives. You want to make sure it's a positive experience that will hopefully lead to a long-term healthy lifestyle. Try group training with your athletes—it will be a great experience for you—and your team.