The Art Of Skill Progression And Regression When Coaching Kids

How Coaches Can Cater For Different Capabilities

Particularly when coaching kids, the skill level within a group can vary considerably. The larger the group, the more levels of capability you are likely to encounter.

Some kids will pick things up quickly and might become bored. Others may struggle and become frustrated or dispirited.

To keep the kids motivated and engaged, it is worthwhile to be ready for this scenario and prepare a response.

A recent tweet from GAIN PE captured this beautifully:

The Plan B

Not only is it worth knowing how to progress or regress a skill, a “Plan B” should also involve thinking about how this will be implemented with as little disruption to the session as possible.

For example, will you need to transition the kids into or out of groups and how will this be done quickly? Will you need additional equipment or space? How will you effectively supervise multiple variations of the activity?

Make sure that you have potential progression and regression options in reserve, and also a plan of attack for implementing them.

When To Regress A Skill?

Finding the balance between persisting with a skill & when to regress a skill with a young athlete is an ongoing coaching challenge.

Lee Taft suggests that we shouldn’t jump in to regress a skill too early:

UK Coaching suggests that if a child struggles with a movement, prior to regressing the movement, you should see if additional cueing can help. If cueing doesn’t help then it may be time to regress the skill and/or introduce some corrective exercises. You can find a useful model with suggestions for assessing, and progressing, or regressing fundamental movement skills HERE.

When To Progress A Skill?

I assume that most coaches at some stage have decided to progress a skill only to find that a child wasn’t ready for the increased complexity or challenge. Sometimes we can get so eager to see the athlete improve that we don’t allow the skill to settle for long enough before trying to advance it. To progress a skill, we need to be certain that the child has learned the current version of the movement. One performance isn’t enough. Repeatability should be the key here maybe not just within a session but over several sessions, which indicates retention. In doing so, however, we always need to be exploring and nudging the boundaries of what the child can do. Sensible, achievable steps are important.

Choice of Challenge

Some activities can be created specifically to cater to a wide variety of abilities.

Think of it like some indoor rock climbing walls where participants may be able to choose from a variety of colour-coded difficulty levels.

The kids can be given several suggestions as to what they may like to attempt or the choices can be left open entirely within some rough parameters. The kids are then responsible for determining an appropriate level of difficulty for themselves.

A simple example that I have used is a jumping/bounding “cross the river” game with kids. The activity involves closely scattering a whole lot of hoops on the ground between two points. The kids bound “across a river” using hoops as stepping stones. The kids can use as many or as few of the stepping stones as they like and in whatever pattern that they want. Alternatively, you can challenge them to use the least number of touchdowns that they decide that they can manage.


It is really worth being aware that kids’ skills within a group will differ and that planning a response to this will result in a more engaging and effective session for everyone.

Listen to the Podcast

If this post helped you please take a moment to help others by sharing it on social media. If you want to learn more I encourage you to leave questions and comments or contact me directly.

Darren Wensor is a sports development professional, coach educator, specialist coach of young athletes and founder of the blog Learn more about him here and connect with him on TwitterFacebookLinkedin, Anchor or via email. Check out Coaching Young Athletes on YouTube.

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