As a strength coach working in the private sector, many sessions are filled with kids of different ages, sports, and skill levels. Sometimes I'm working with upwards of 12 athletes by myself. I have to figure out a way to manage all of them in a way so that they will get the most out of the training session. How do I do this? I'm going to go through a few steps that might help you if you’re in the same pickle.

1. War-ups

Many of us have our programs set up very meticulously with everything having its place, as it should, but sometimes we have to stray from the plan. This is definitely the case with warm-ups if you have a larger group of athletes with varying skill levels. I have warm-ups that are well thought out, but usually if I have younger or newer athletes, I will use a general warm up protocol. This gets the job done while keeping it simple and quick. If I used the planned warm-up, I would have to take more time to teach the proper planned movements. Keep it simple with simple skilled athletes.

2. Programming

I guess this really should be number one, but because I already wrote that…this will just have to do here. When you’re writing your athletes’ programs for each day/week/cycle, you should make it easy on yourself at the session level. To do this, I choose certain exercises, but within each exercise, I include options for modifications so that I don’t have to think about it “in the moment.” For example, if I had the deadlift planned, I might have a small list beside it with trap bar, kettlebell, kettlebell depth squat, or even kettlebell swings. The point is to plan a similar movement pattern as the movement you actually want as your end result and have the lesser skilled athletes work toward eventually performing that movement.

3. Split the group

When you have a larger group of athletes with varying skill levels, you will almost certainly have to split them into smaller groups. This will make the session move along more smoothly, and it will make it easier on you. Also, it will keep the older athletes “in the session.” Most older, highly skilled athletes will get bored with the session if they have to wait around for the younger, less skilled athletes to complete their sets. So split the large group into smaller, similar skilled groups. From here, you can delegate certain portions of that day’s session to each group so that everyone isn't starting on the same exercises.

For example, I usually start our sessions with everyone warming up together. Then I start my higher skilled athletes on a main lift like a snatch, clean and jerk, or deadlift. While they’re doing that, I’ll have the younger athletes perform core exercises or agility work. Every athlete will complete all the exercises regardless. They'll just be completed in a different order to keep things running smoothly. If we had a larger facility and more equipment to work with, this wouldn’t be a problem. However, we have limited space and equipment, so this is how we choose to handle our sessions.

4. Quality or quantity?

When working with any athlete, our main goal should always be to reduce the rate of injury while improving performance. That being said, should we try to fit the most exercises, sets, and reps into each training session (like you see many Globo Gym personal trainers doing with their clients to keep things ‘fresh’)? You might argue that this is plausible in times of general physical preparation when we’re trying to increase our athletes’ work capacity. I like to keep our sessions simple. By that I mean that I'm not strict on completing the entire session. I would never rush an athlete to get through any set of any type of exercise. Rushing only increases the chance of poor movement quality and injury. If there are only 15 minutes left and an athlete is squatting but still has a few sets left and conditioning work after that, I will usually let him finish his squats and skip the conditioning. However, this is where specialization comes into play. I would have an athlete who needs to improve his conditioning stop squatting to complete that day’s conditioning. So keep your sessions simple with higher quality movements, even if that means throwing out some of the exercises that you had planned.

So putting it all together...include several options in your program for each exercise to accommodate all skill levels. Use more general type warm-up movements, and put athletes together into smaller groups of similar skilled athletes. Allow for flexibility within your program so the athletes can focus on the more important aspects of the program. Train hard and train smart!