By Tony Earp
When I was in graduate school studying to be a teacher, classroom management monopolized much of the curriculum and the focus of study. From the beginning, our professors and teachers who worked with us said, “everything begins and ends with classroom management.” Meaning, no matter how skilled a teacher, how great the lesson plan, it did not matter if there was a lack of classroom management. From the moment the students step into the classroom to the end of the class, everything that happens is important. This is true for coaches. As teachers, in a bigger classroom and a different topic, the focus of “classroom management’ is just as critical. Without it, a training session will never reach its potential to impact the players’ learning and development.
Let’s take a look at how classroom management can be applied to your team’s training sessions:
When the Players Arrive
I have seen two types of teams. One in which when the players show up for training, their bags are thrown all over the field, and the players are all doing something different. Some are shooting at the goal, others are running and chasing each other, some might be wrestling or squirting each other with water, while others just sit and watch the chaos. The second type of team, the players arrive and all place their bags in a designated area (normally lined up), and then the players are all engaged in the same activity. They might be partner passing, juggling, playing keep away (rondo), or getting right into a small-sided game on their own.
Which team do you think will have a more productive training session?
The second team is going to be ready to start training when it is time and is already in the proper mindset to get the most out of the training session, while the first team will probably take much longer to get focused and be ready to practice.
The activity does not matter as much as the understanding that there is an expectation of what should be done by the players upon arrival. Think of the coach of the first group, and the moment he tries to start practice. How long do you think it would take him to get the group organized and focused to start training? With all the players disorganized and running around, there will probably be a lot of wasted time getting everyone “settled down” before training begins.
Coaches with good classroom management have set clear expectations with their players about what is expected upon arrival and how training will begin. With all the players already participating in the same task and on the same page, when practice begins, it can be set up to be a smooth transition into the first activity (we will talk about transitions later).
Another benefit to this is when the coach is running late or coming from another training session that ends when the next session begins. Many coaches either work another job full time or have other teams they coach. Often, it can lead to coaches running late, or arriving just as practice is scheduled to start. A team that knows what to do when they arrive, will not waste any time and can utilize all of their practice time. It is impressive to watch a coach arrive a couple minutes late to training and their team is already warming up, or playing a rondo, until the coach is ready to start. It is a much better use of time than the players standing around not knowing what to do.
Flow of Activities - Transition
One of the best pieces of advice I received as a student teacher from a mentor was to eliminate “dead time” in my lesson plans. He called it “dead time” because nothing would be going on, and those were the moments your lesson plan was most likely to be “killed” by losing the kids’ attention. Progress made during the class can be stalled or even reversed. When nothing is happening, the kids will fill the time for you, and you might not like their choice of activities.
When moving from one activity to the next in a training session, transitions need to be:
Quick - 2 minutes at the most (much less with younger players) Active - there needs to be direction in what kids are doing during that time.
The more time you give kids to find distractions during activities or get themselves into trouble (for lack of a better term), the harder it will be to get the next activity started in a timely manner or have the players’ full attention. Often, when too much time has passed, the first moments of the new activity are spent dealing with behavior or focus issues versus the substance of the activity.
Any break should have clear expectations of the players. The players may be instructed to get water, and then collect all the soccer balls in a certain area or assist in moving cones/goals. I have seen some coaches have the players get water, and then “juggle” until called back on to the field. Again, no downtime. No opportunities to “check out” of the training session.
Coaches can assist with this by the setup and flow of their activities. When designing sessions, as it is taught in many coaching schools, layout the final activity first and then build down into the first activity. Ideally, coaches only need to remove a few cones or add a few cones for the next phase of training to be begin. Coaches should try to avoid situations that everything needs to be picked up and then reset again for the next activity. This usually causes a much longer pause in the training session, and even players who have been instructed to do things during the break, will lose focus due to there being an excessive amount of time between activities.
The kids want to play. Most behavioral and focus issues for players are born out of boredom from too much down time during training. (Next: Proximity, Demeanor, Expectations and The Importance of “Why”)
Tony Earp directs SuperKick/TeamZone Columbus’ Soccer Skills programs. Tony has a Masters in Education from The Ohio State University. Tony was a standout player both academically and athletically at The Ohio State University, earning multiple honors both on the field and in the classroom. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org