A few weeks back I wrote a post Three Principles for Training Middle School Athletes. That post was mostly an intellectual exercise to consolidate things I'd read and studied into a philosophy that I could actually implement.
Heretofore, I had done very little actual training of middle school athletes, but I had thought upon and studied it a lot and trained what I thought were comparable populations (completely new lifters, 15 year old pre-pubescent kid, special needs population).
On Tuesday, April 6th, I had the first session for my after-school program at STRIVE Collegiate Academy.
I had reviewed my lesson plan, created different sized med balls from small basketballs, I had bought bright colored duct tape to make 8 point lunge matrixes, marked out 10 yards, and made 4 square. This is gunna be sweet -- I'm ready!! I loaded my Jeep with my barbell, some dumbbells, bumper plates, bands, a sandbag, and strapped my wooden, mobile squat rack to the roof. Oooo man!! I'm ready!! I would get there and the kids would be dazzled by my squat rack and the barbell. The parents would see all my equipment and be impressed and want their kid who hadn't sign up to actually sign them up! Most importantly, the kids and parents would SEE ME and how big I AM and they'd definitely want their kid to sign up.
As you can see.... I was ready....
From the word GO of the program, everything went pure FUBAR. I told the kids to line up in two lines, they formed into a disjointed semi circle. I would go to show them a stretch, I'd look up and there would be 6 different things going on: A brother and sister pair were bickering with each other, one girl was extremely conscious of her weight, a boy was nailing the movements, one already had a question (more of a statement than a question), and a girl was watching and listening intently but I was doing such a poor job communicating that she she was doing things wrong.
I started to panic internally, "Oh God, I'm failing as a coach in the first 2 minutes of this thing." I ignored the perfect coaching sheet I had stuffed in my pocket for reference and just went from instinct on what to do. It was chaos. It was disaster. I was a boat without a rudder.
My panicked state made me abandon good coaching practices, like a sailor throwing essential supplies overboard to keep the ship from sinking.
However, all was not lost and I adapted as I went on, speaking confidently and doing the best I could with the situation and the time remaining.
I also kept mental notes of what to do better next session.
One, SIMPLIFY THE LESSON PLAN. Most of these kids are new to moving or hadn't really moved over the last year. Explaining and demonstrating didn't take that long, but then coaching them through the movements took WAY LONGER than anticipated. Simplifying allows for focus and mastery of movements, not just checking things off the list.
Two, ONLY DO ONE MOVE AT A TIME. We can do supersets, but EVERYONE should only do ONE movement at a time. The movement disparities of these kids is so vast that it is impossible to keep tabs on two different types of movement patterns and have them get what they're supposed to get out of it.
Three, DON'T WORRY ABOUT BEING COOL. Don't engage with banter, chatting with the kids, or entertaining non-pertinent questions. Definitely do not negotiate with a situation that is frankly untenable (like trying to get the bickering siblings to cooperate). Not engaging in that stuff will help keep me focused on coaching and will minimize the slippery slope of practice devolving in to social hour. As Coach Johnny Parker once said on the Zach Even Esh Podcast, "You can always loosen up, but you can never tighten up after you've set the expectation for behavior."
I'll be heading back for session two this afternoon. I'll take these lessons with me as I head back into the fray. Simplify, Do One Thing At a Time, Don't Worry About Being Cool.
The kids were great, we had a solid time, and they were really excited to come back. So, I'm not overly worried. I just thought this was an excellent example of how it is easy to Talk a Big Game without actually having PLAYED THE GAME. As my mentor Zach says, Don't talk about it, BE about it.
I'm excited for this opportunity to continue to help these kids and grow as a coach. Keep putting in the work, keep showing up, keep growing. Knowing it is all part of the process and there is nothing to worry about... Greenlight!