Organizational Skills for Strength Coaches

There are many factors that determine the success of an individual training session. The big ones that we all know are the training program itself, the athletes’ ability to perform the prescribed exercises with good technique, and coaches ability to provide extrinsic motivation while the athlete provides a healthy amount of intrinsic motivation. But I think a commonly overlooked determinant of a training sessions success is how organized it is.

Now, I realize session organization is extremely broad in of itself, but to give y’all a better understanding of what I’m talking about when I say session organization I think about things like, maximizing program design based off of available equipment, maximizing session efficiency based off of facility layout, understanding where a coach should position themselves so that they can have eyes on all athletes at once, and how to organize sessions to get the most out of the time allotted for that session.

The point I want to emphasize more than anything in this article is the little things matter.

Next I want to layout some of the little things that I do and consider to make my sessions better organized and more successful. My hope is that by sharing these y’all can get some practical ideas y’all can implement into your own practice as a coach, or at least give y’all some things to consider for when you run your next sessions.

Understanding Facility Constraints

The first topic I want to talk about is how important it is to understand facility constraints. Not every coach is blessed with a huge, sprawling weight room, a full sized turf field, and every piece of equipment a coach could want.

In my current weight room I have 11 squat racks, 11 barbells, and 3 dumbbell sets which is great. I have a handful of resistance bands but no plyo boxes, no cable machines or anything like that, and very little room outside of the platforms.

 
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As you can see here the actual space of this weight room outside of the racks and platforms is extremely limited. Almost every group I work with has between 30 and 40 kids so it can get super congested. My weight room is also shaped like an “L” with 8 racks on the long side, and 3 racks on the short side. This provides multiple challenges for me as the coach.

To help with this I’ve instituted a rule where if the benches aren’t being used for bench press they are to be put horizontally at the end of the platform. This allows each rack/platform to be maximized for usage but due to the narrow layout of my space this also allows me to move from one side of the weight room to the other more easily.

 
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From the coaching side of things it’s really tough for me to see all athletes at once, and there are times that it’s just impossible due to the layout of my weight room. There are a couple of ways I combat this. I make sure to constantly move from one end of the weight room to the other, correcting and encouraging as I move from one group to the next. If I don’t have a cue or something to help them with I’ll at least let them know I’m checking in. I might ask “What set are y’all on?” just to make sure they know I’m engaged with them.

Understanding Equipment Constraints

I feel like out of all the topics I cover in this article, this one is probably the one that coaches do the best, but I wanted to mention it anyway and share how I work around the equipment constraints that I currently have.

From the programming side of things I need to be mindful of what exercises I pair together so that the weight room doesn’t become a complete mess. If the kids are doing deadlifts which take up the entire platform I have to be mindful to not pair deadlifts with any exercise that’s going to need the bar or the platform.

This is common sense, I realize that, but again it’s the little things that need to be considered and that I’m emphasizing in this article. When I’m designing programs I can’t simply pick exercises because I like them and I think they will be good for the athletes. I need to pick the best exercises for the athletes that they can effectively, efficiently, and safely perform in the space that we have. A good example is I can’t just say “Oh I want my baseball players to do serratus wall slides because I saw a Instagram video on those and I need my baseball players to do them.” I can’t say that because the walls of our weight room are chain link fences (outdoor weight room probz) and so I can’t use our walls for much of anything.

So the challenge for me is to find an alternate that will give them the same benefit I’m looking for but that will fit within my program template and weight room layout.

Considering Time Constraints

I’ve worked with coaches in the past who were great at managing time during sessions, and I’ve also worked alongside coaches who seemingly had no idea how to manage time and understand who long certain drills or specific aspects of the session should take.

When considering time constraints the most important thing for me is consistency. I want each aspect of my sessions to generally take the same amount of time every session. The more familiar I become with the duration everything should take the better I can make adjustments if I need to set aside more time to do a demonstration on a new drill, or if I need to take time before/after the session to address the group about something.

It also helps the athletes get into a routine if everything within the session typically takes the same amount of time every session. Plus, I can then see if a group or multiple groups are taking longer than other groups and I can look into why that’s the case. Is today’s program just more difficult for these groups, or are these groups messing around and losing focus? More consistent sessions will help me better answer these questions.

I also think it’s important to consider what we are demanding from out athletes. Hopefully it’s promptness, focus, and attention to detail in their training. It’s hard to demand these from our athletes if we are not demonstrating these as coaches, and I think time management is an easy and important way we can set a good example to our athletes. A coach who is sloppy with managing time and sloppy with staying on task is a bad look that athletes (and other coaches) will definitely notice.

Considering Placement and Position

As I mentioned above, my facility can be tough to coach in do to the “L” shaped layout. Because of this layout, and the fact that I’ll sometimes have 40 athletes in the weight room for a single session, I have to make sure I’m constantly trying to see and engage with as many athletes as I can.

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Now earlier I said I don’t have plyo boxes, and well, I kind of do but I really don’t. What I have is tiny, square boxes that aren’t big enough to really serve any practical purpose for my athletes, BUT I’ve found they can serve a great purpose for me as a coach. I have one box set up in the corner of the “L” part of the weight room and I’ll occasionally stop walking around and stand on that box, allowing me to see everything that’s going on in the weight room. (The GIF earlier in this article was shot from my plyo box vantage point)

I’ve found this is the only vantage point I have to see all athletes at once so I make sure to utilize it. I’ve also done exercise demonstrations while standing on these boxes, to elevate myself allowing the kids to see my demonstrations easier.

The last point I want to make on this topic is how important it is for the athletes themselves to know that they always have a coach that has their eyes on them. It’s especially important in my case where I have to constantly move from one side of the room to the other, leaving one end of the room unsupervised. The best way I’ve found to help this is to occasionally yell coaching cues from across the room. A simple yell “Jackson! Keep your chest up!” will let him and everybody else know that I’m paying attention at all times.

Athletes are used to being coached when the coach is right next to them, watching them intently. So they are always a little surprised to hear a coach help them when the coach isn’t even close to them. It shows them that I’m always watching them and that they need to stay focused at all times, not just when I’m right by them coaching them up.

The most important thing to ask yourself when considering placement and position is where can I get my eyes on as many athletes as possible when I’m coaching, and how I can I position myself so that every athlete can see/hear me when I’m demonstrating or addressing the group?

Preparing Beforehand

One of the worst looks a coach can have is realizing that the next drill in the session requires XYZ and then scrambling to get XYZ in place for the drill while the athletes just stand there and wait. This is sloppy and doesn’t look good in the eyes of athletes, coaches, and administrators.

I always make sure that I have the cones set up for the warm up, and this maybe be a little extra, but I try to get the cones set up before any athletes show up. It may not make a huge difference to them but I want everything to look like it’s ready to go when they first see it, instead of them walking up to me rushing to set the cones out. Another thing I learned while coaching in pro ball was how to set out cones neatly. If our cones were too close or too far apart or not in a perfectly straight line we were getting roasted. The little things matter.

 Kind of hard to see because the grass is terrible but I have the athletes line up on the black cones on the right

Kind of hard to see because the grass is terrible but I have the athletes line up on the black cones on the right

If your session calls for mini hurdle drills, make sure the mini hurdles are set up beforehand. If your session calls for resisted sprints, make sure the bands or sleds or whatever you’re using are set up beforehand. If you space only allows you to set up for one drill or thing at a time use that transition time strategically. Maybe tell your athletes that they have 60 seconds to get a sip of water and while they’re doing that you put the hurdles off to the side and put the bands out.

The main point is make sure you’re prepared and you have everything ready to go before your athletes show up. Some coaches that I follow who do a really good job of this are Brett Bartholomew, John Garrish of North Broward Prep, and Michael Rehfeldt of Cincinnati basketball.

I also want to give a shoutout to one of my biggest mentors, Lance Rhodes of Godspeed. Working under him and observing him has helped me tremendously as a coach, in many ways, but especially in terms of becoming a more organized and structured coach. Nearly everything I talked about in this article I either learned from him or observing him reinforced what I already knew, he just exemplified it better than I had ever seen before.

This is so important. Reading this article is great, and reading books like Conscious Coaching by Bartholomew is great (can’t recommend this book enough), but the knowledge you gain from reading can’t compare to learning from another coach in person. If you found something from this article that you want to take and use in your own practice that’s awesome, and that’s why I write articles like this, but it’s always so much better when you can see ideas like these demonstrated in real time seeing how real athletes respond to real coaches.

So my advice is go find a mentor or some coach who you think has great organizational skills. If you’ve never worked under or alongside one I promise it will open your eyes to a whole new and extremely important aspect to coaching, which is successfully managing a training session.

My other advice is go find a really good CrossFit coach if you can. Trust me I know there are probably more bad CrossFit coaches than good ones but if you can find a good one I promise you that you can learn a ton from them. You can observe how they teach olympic lifting progressions to class of 20-30 at once (which by the way is extremely challenging), and how they make individual adjustments to each workout despite having the whole class doing the same/similar movements during the WOD. It’s worth it to look into this, as I can speak from experience.

I hope you found at least one piece of information in this article that you can practically take and use in your own coaching. Or if anything I hope this article has made you more aware of little things like where you stand when you’re coaching or when you’re addressing your group.

Austin WomackComment