Group Management is a pretty broad term, and in the context of a sporting team, can range from a small group training drill environment, through to an entire squad culture environment.
We will focus on that small group training environment. An environment where the quality of group management, can result in high quality, maximal involvement, in-depth learning opportunities or, alternatively, a dysfunctional mess where nobody improves.
The difference lies in the planning, and in turn, the implementation of that planning.
To run the optimum session, we need to start with clear objectives and then a process to achieve those clear objectives. The process of effective group management includes:
How to introduce objectives.
The way we communicate the session objectives is essential to the focus of the activity. Broad and generalised objectives, don't allow the players to be able to create an accurate and detailed picture in their mind, of what they need to be doing. One player might create a completely different image of a skill to another player, and as such, what they execute may confuse them and any other player watching.
We need to be able to cater to as many learning styles as possible, so verbally explaining the objectives, then demonstrating the activity and visually representing the objectives is a worthwhile process. We need to ensure however, that our verbal instruction isn't long winded or convoluted, so the use of key points and concise descriptors is essential. Coupling that with the visual cues usually enables all learning styles to create a more accurate picture.
Asking open ended questions to the players, then allows participants to establish the level of understanding around the skill. If this includes an understanding of the context of the skill in the game, then that is even better. For example, if a player can explain the key points and provide a game specific example of using the skill, then we are well on our way to a successful activity.
How to manage the progression of the session.
The effective progression of the skill is important. It allows the players to learn and develop at a rate that ensures enough success to keep the players positive, yet challenging enough to keep them engaged and testing their capabilities.
Traditionally, we start activities with isolated closed drills and then broaden them into game like scenarios. We increase the degree of difficulty as the activity progresses using different rules, changing space and time, or varying numbers participating in the drill.
Another effective method is to use a whole - part - whole process. Start with the 'whole', meaning we begin with a game that incorporates the skill we want to develop. Then we transition to the 'part', and peel it back to an isolated closed drill to work on the specifics of the skill. We then transition back to the 'whole' by utilising that skill, hopefully in a more effective way, in an open game environment again.
Which ever method we use, it is essential to ensure the progression keeps relating to the objectives, allows for some success, and is challenging enough to allow problem solving when execution fails.
How to maximise involvement.
We have surely all seen a session where the coach has the players all in one line, with one ball, waiting patiently for their turn which only comes once during a five minute drill. A ratio of one to five. One go every five minutes.
A good coach will create grids that can be effectively coached yet produce five goes every minute. A ratio of five to one. This has a huge impact.
Think of it this way, player A and player B have the same intent to learning, the same level of playing ability, and are exposed to the same coaching content. Player A goes to two training sessions per week for 20 weeks. During each session their coach only provides one turn every five minutes. In an hour long session that is 12 repetitions, 24 repetitions per week, and 480 repetitions for the whole season. Player B on the other hand goes to the same amount of sessions yet gets five goes for every minute. That totals 300 repetitions per session, 600 repetitions per week, and 12,000 repetitions for the whole season. It's not hard to establish who might develop that skill to a more successful level.
Setting up the session physically, also has an impact. Ensuring our grids are set up to cater for the respective number of players, and to have the appropriate size and space for the drill to be effective is an essential part of managing the group. As coaches, don't underestimate the effective use of coloured cones or equipment to ensure we achieve our objectives.
How to create a psychologically safe environment?
Providing players with the opportunity to participate and try things, without the fear of failure, is essential for building the confidence to push players beyond where their current skill level is.
This isn't to say that you can tell your players to be reckless in their skill execution, and not care about quality performance, because at some stage, they will be under pressure to execute skill correctly and without failure, for the success of the team. It's more desirable to give them the security of knowing, that if the purposeful effort to execute the skill is clear, then errors become learning opportunities and not something to be afraid of.
A good coach will provide players with plenty of opportunities to develop the skill well so that under pressure, in a game, they have a greater chance of executing it successfully. A poor coach will do the opposite. They won't provide the players with enough chances to practice skills, and then when they try it and fail in a game, the coach focuses on the failure with anger, as opposed to, learning from the execution.
How to provide feedback and understand 'why'?
When managing groups, our ability to communicate, relies so much on being concise and efficient. Individual feedback can occur in two ways. The first is to use key points to reinforce or remind players immediately prior to or following the execution of a skill in a drill. It only takes seconds to provide the key point, and if the players understand the meaning behind the key point, it's easy for them to then put that into practice. The second is to ask open questions, to establish the players understanding of how they executed the skill and why it worked, or not? This takes longer than key points, but can be very valuable in taking the understanding of key points to the next level.
How to remain focused on the objectives?
It is very easy to see a lot of different aspects of skill execution within an activity. Especially given the multitude of skills involved in a game like rugby. However, if we act on each of these, we will certainly lose sight of the objectives of the session and potentially confuse the players, as to what they should be focusing on?
A rule of thumb is no more than three focus points for a drill or activity. This may mean we need to be very disciplined to only focus on a select few objectives. The exception to this would be when we start to see a trend of poor skill execution, that needs to be addressed which may not be part of an objective.
Continually referring to the skills key points and relating them to the objectives, is the best way to stay on track. Our goal is to challenge ourselves to ensure the vast majority of words used during a drill are the key points themselves, or questions relating to the key points.
How we manage our teams can have a great impact on the quality of our sessions, and can sometimes overshadow the content. How do you ensure you manage your team for an optimal session?
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