Tips for an Effective First 5 Minutes of a Coaching Session
Starting your practice session “off on the right foot” is extremely important when coaching groups of young athletes. What you do in the first 5 minutes of a session goes a long way towards determining the overall effectiveness of your session.
And if it is your first session with the group, those first five minutes become even more crucial.
During that first 5 minutes you want to:
- Take charge, gain respect and make it clear who is the boss.
- Make a favourable impression with the group.
- Build a connection with the kids.
- Create positive expectations.
- Look like you know what you are doing.
Below are my 5 tips for making that first 5 minute period a good one.
Tip 1: Take Immediate Control
I believe that is is important for a group of kids to like and respect a coach but they must also know who is the boss. This is a delicate balance to create and maintain. Lots of coaches go too far one way or the other.
The key is for the coach to set the tone and tempo straight away.
For example, when coaching a class of school children, I always make a practice of approaching my group as it come towards me. This immediately gives the impression that I am in charge and not intimidated by the group or the situation.
I meet them halfway, look them straight in the eye and greet them in a loud, friendly, confident way with a big smile. Body language is important here. I stand up tall, with an open stance (no arms or ankles crossed).
I have immediately taken control of the pace and tone of the session.
Tip 2: Look Like You Want To Be There
Enthusiasm is contagious. A coach’s energy will flow on to their group.
Therefore you must smile. Look enthusiastic. Appear excited. Ooze passion. Be “up on your toes”. Bounce around. Be a performer.
Tell them that you are glad to be there. Tell them that you’ve been looking forward to the session and have been for days.
If the kids believe that you like what you are doing, you will draw them in.
Tip 3: Praise Early
Never underestimate the power of well-timed, enthusiastic praise. Create a great vibe early by launching into positive feedback as soon as possible. At the first opportunity, say things like:
“Wow this looks like a great group!”
“Well done on getting organized so quickly!”
Use praise strategically to prompt quick compliance with your instructions. For example, if you have asked the group to sit down in front of you, ready to pay attention, look for the kids who respond promptly. Publicly praising these kids will not only make them feel good, but will often speed up the rest of the group’s compliance, as others also strive for praise.
A coach who tops up a young person’s “emotional tank” has not only done something good for that person, but has also started to build an important connection with them.
Tip 4: Establish Positive Expectations
Create a self-fulfilling prophecy among the group members by telling them that you expect them to be great and that it will be a fantastic session.
If I have been to a school before, I might say: “I know that this is a great school with great people. I had a lovely time last time I was here, and I am so glad to be back.”
If it’s my first time at a school I might say: “I’ve heard great things about this school and have really been looking forward to coming here.”
One of my favourite strategies is to ask the class what year level they are in and respond with: “I LOVE coaching (insert year level)!”
“I can tell that this is going to be a great group!” is another statement that I use a lot.
In contrast, imagine beginning your session with: “I’ve heard that this is a terrible school and this is the worst class . . .”!
Kids will often respond to the behaviour expectations put upon them.
Tip 5: Nail Your Introduction
So far you have made some favourable initial impressions before formalities have even begun. Now firmly consolidate the respect of the group during your first formal interaction with them – your introduction. You need to look like you know what you are doing as a coach and leader, so some “Coaching 101” reminders are worthwhile here:
- Sit the group down – if possible. (Praise quick compliance).
- Face your group away from the sun and potential distractions.
- Stand where they can all see and hear you.
- Speak at a volume that can be heard by all.
- Ask everyone for their attention. (Praise quick compliance).
- Introduce yourself. Your name is the most important thing. Don’t ramble.
- Announce broadly what the session is about.
- Outline some behaviour parameters and consequences for misbehaviour.
- Praise the group again if the opportunity arises and re-confirm that you expect it to be a fun and fantastic session.
The time from your first contact with the group to the start of the first activity should be no more than 5 minutes.
So in summary:
- Take Immediate Control
- Look Like You Want To Be There
- Praise Early
- Establish Positive Expectations
- Nail Your Introduction
The above may seem like a lot to achieve in the first 5 minutes of a session – but it’s not. If done well it can set up the success of the session and beyond.
Plan and prepare for it so that you can capitalize on it.
What are your strategies?
Do you have any strategies that you use for winning groups over at the beginning of a session? Please share by leaving a reply/comment.
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Darren Wensor is a sports development professional, coach educator, specialist coach of young athletes and founder of the blog coachingyoungathletes.com. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Anchor or via email.