Group Sizes – How Important Are They To Player Development?

I used to teach.  I used to teach in an English public school, in a low-income inner city school that to say the least, had its ups and downs.  Honestly, I thought I was a pretty good teacher – I used to get high evaluation marks, I had good relationships with the kids, they enjoyed my lessons, they got good grades, but sometimes I just HATED it because I knew I wasn’t doing enough.

No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t give each kid the amount of time and attention that I wanted to give.  I thought I was failing as a teacher.  The Government told me I had to make all the work completely differentiated for every single student.  It was my job to make a difference to every single student that came into my classroom.  I was young and knew no different, so I would go home at night knowing I was failing my students, because I knew not every single one of them was learning to their full potential.

I had 33 students in each of my classes.  I wanted to give feedback to every single one of them.  They deserve it after all.  They wanted to do well, they really did.  1 of me, 33 of them!  But I just couldn’t do it.

Classroom teaching
Teacher – Student ratios are outrageous in many public schools

Then I moved Singapore and the other end of the spectrum.  Singapore is a country where its education is consistently voted the best in the world.  I taught in a Private International School which consistently boasted the top 3 International Baccalaureate results in the whole world – this was a far cry from my inner city english school.   My teaching life couldn’t have been more different (and better!).

Part of this was to due to the classroom sizes and student-teacher ratios.  I would have an average of 16 students per class.  I felt like a teaching world beater!  Getting round to most of the students was a lot easier than in England.  I could target groups of students in the lesson that were struggling or finding it too easy, and that group in the middle that so often gets forgotten.

Was I still affecting every student?  Was I still having an impact on every student in every lesson? If I’m objective and honest with myself, then no, I wasn’t.  Absolutely not.  But again, it certainly wasn’t for a lack of trying.

During these times I also did soccer coaching every single year.  I coached the varsity soccer teams and we did well, I even had a couple of players that went on to make it pro.   Was that to do with my individual, personalised approach to team coaching?  Haha. I wish it was.

I used to work on team formation, patterns of play, set pieces, team motivation, team cohesion.  Sure we worked on skills and we used to practice them every session, but how much could I actually give that personalised feedback that is needed to improve the basic skill and techniques of every player on my team?

SMall group coaching image
Small group coaching is the perfect balance between focused and constant individual feedback and still having that fun team environment.

I tried to get to everyone, but I would always have 15 other players waiting around for me just making the same mistakes they’ve always made without any sort of correction or guidance.  Or I’d work with just the defense, but then the midfield and strikers would become bored.  Team coaching can be relatively easy, but excellent team coaching is extremely difficult if you want to improve everyone.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but any team coach that believes they can have an impact on the individual skills and techniques of every player on their team, is either lying or deluded.  It’s just not possible.

I then came to America and there was this thing called ‘Private Coaching’!  I’d lived in Europe, Asia and Africa and taught and coached on all of these continents, but I’d never seen or heard of such a thing.

I got into and loved it straight away! WOW – what an impact I was having! I was an awesome coach! – my athletes were learning so much, they were improving so much!  I had parents tell me (parents who were spending $1500-2000 per season with the local soccer club) “Johnny had never been shown that before”, “WOW, why hasn’t his team coach ever said that before?”

Immediately they thought: Their team coaches were no good; What have I been paying all this money for? Why don’t they coach this during the 3 sessions they have every single week with their coach?!  They thought I was the best thing since sliced bread!

But I had to be honest with them, it wasn’t me, it wasn’t me who was the amazing, awesome coach (Damn.), it was the fact that someone finally had the time and the opportunity to give their child some feedback for a solid hour, on every single touch, pass, shot and dribble of the ball.

Individual coaching is by far and away the best method for individual skill and technique development.  The constant and personalised feedback makes such a difference to the performer.

During my private coaching I see differences in athletes over 3 sessions that I haven’t seen in over 2 seasons with my team coaching.  It is priceless.  I LOVE the impact I’m having.

I also love team coaching and being involved in that environment because it’s so much fun, but if you want to see improvements in an athletes skill level, technique and confidence straight away, then individual coaching could just be your ticket.

Team coaching will always be essential and important, but don’t kid yourself as to what is possible during these sessions.  The team coach has a job to do – which is to make the team as good as it can be.  As much as it would be great to concentrate on the individual during this time too, unfortunately its just not possible or realistic to see a huge improvement in the technical skills of the athlete.  The coach has 15 – 20 athletes to look after!

Through my years of teaching and coaching experience, I have seen the whole spectrum of learning that occurs in team coaching, small group coaching and now 1 on 1 coaching.   Each of these types of coaching has its own value and importance; Team coaching for team improvement, small group for specific areas of the team and individual for the technical skill improvements.

But the main thing I’ve learnt during my time in England, Singapore and now America concerning skill development and technique, is that the better you want the athlete to become, the smaller the group size has to be.

Go get practising!





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Played with Coventry City F.C. in the English Premier League and England Under 18 Schoolboy Football team. 13 years in the Sports and Education industries as an Athletic Director, Head of Physical Education, Teacher and Coach. Extensive international experience in Europe (UK), Africa (Tanzania), Asia (Singapore) and now permanently based in USA (Denver, Colorado). Nick is co-founder of StriveFar, an online marketplace that connects athletes with private coaches. StriveFar’s goal is to eliminate the headaches and help coaches grow their private coaching business by finding athletes, scheduling the sessions and collecting the money so coaches can focus on what they love to do, developing the athletes. Nick’s passion has always been to develop and inspire young people through the medium of sport. He loves to share and promote his commitment to all things sport. Nick always tries to motivate young people to be their best and tries to exemplify a positive, healthy, driven and energetic lifestyle. He has developed Athletic and Educational programs from scratch for private international schools, combining clear objectives with a strong use of strategy, planning, organizational and communication skills.

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