5 Steps to Managing Large Groups: Part 1

Part 1 - 5 Steps to Managing Large Groups: for their success and your sanity

1-on-1, piece of cake; 1-on-2, how’s that different?; 1-on-4, eh, I haven’t even broken a sweat; 1-on-8, now we’re talking; 1-on-15, okay, let’s do this!; 1-on-25, hold on, I think I may need to call for backup.

In the area of managing ridiculously large groups under sub-par circumstances, I consider myself a bit of an expert. Beginning at age 24, I was thrown into the deep-end of strength coaching when I took my first job at a division 1 institution.

I was faced with having to figure out how to gain the respect and buy-in from male and female athletes that, in some cases were my age or older. If you didn’t do it just right from the get-go, you probably lost your chance and, thus, your work-life was guaranteed to be pretty rough for at least a semester. I’ve seen it happen a BUNCH of times.

Here at Concentric Brain, we’re passionate about improving the lives of strength coaches, personal trainers, and all other fitness professionals. So, in that spirit, I’ve put together this 5 part guide to help you navigate the waters of large groups and come out the other side more satisfied and with a better approach to your team management strategies.

Step 1: Get Buy-in

    Honestly, this is the most important step by far. Being a coach is personal. You may think it’s not (or wish it wasn’t), but your athletes think otherwise. So, their support of your system, methods, and ultimately YOU is crucial. In a world where information moves faster than ever, gone are the days of “do it because I said so.” You can get to that point, but first you’ve got to win over your team and the head coach. Then you can go right ahead and yell “because I said so!” until that vein in your forehead pops (and enjoy the response, because it will be super effective).

To get great support from your teams and head coaches, you need to show them how much you care. Do this by listening, being kind and thoughtful, and always remembering you are there to help them. Be willing and excited to explain your methods when someone asks. They’re not necessarily challenging you. It’s your opportunity to educate and help.

Continually ask yourself - how can I better serve my athletes? Again, this is about building personal relationships. How can you help? How can you revamp your methods to be more effective? Can you improve your coaching cues, your vibe in the room, etc? HOW CAN YOU IMPROVE EVERY DAY? EVERY SESSION?

Now, don’t get me wrong… a crucial part of the buy-in process is demonstrating all the warm and fuzzy stuff above, but the second component is to never, ever, ever let them question WHO is in charge. ***Side note, I got the privilege of seeing Adrea Hudy speak on exactly this idea at the NSCA Coaches Conference a couple weeks ago***

Everyone who walks into the weight room at any given point in time should be able to pick out exactly who the coach in charge is at that time. Here’s where coaches make mistakes: they yell, they allow themselves to get visibly frustrated, they get negative! Instead, try using a calm style of control. Get obsessive with the planning of each session (I’ll talk about this in a later post), have caveats in place for what you’re going to do if things do get out of control, be prepared. Never allow yourself to be caught off guard. This will naturally make your responses stronger and more effective. No one will ever question your control over the room - and if they do - you’ll have the smack-down of your choosing locked and loaded in the chamber.

The last part of buy-in is, of course, walk the walk. Seriously, you’re a strength coach. Be strong and reasonably well conditioned. Your athletes will pick up on that and respect you for it without you saying a word. I was generally stronger than most freshmen men that came in on my teams… and they knew it… not because I literally showed them, but because I walked it, I talked it, and I lived it. My reputation preceded me. I can’t even begin to assign a value to how much easier this made my job in building rapport with full-of-themselves young men.

Here's me "walking the walk" at 37 weeks pregnant with my second child. My point here, is that you can't ever stop - this job is a lifestyle if nothing else.

Ugh, all I can think watching this again is how GLAD I am I'm not pregnant anymore. ...And how my chin isn't tucked...


Next week: Part 2 - Plan Every Minute

Sarah Walls

A little about me: I've worked in pretty much every corner of the fitness industry for about 10 years. I've had the great fortune of spending most of this time working with gifted athletes at every level. I've also had the great opportunity of designing and conducting research projects, writing occasionally for various publications and blogs, competing in powerlifting, and just generally having a killer time pursuing my passions wherever they may take me. Now I own two businesses: one is an athletic performance training company that I started in 2007 at age 26 and the other is a software company startup that was launched in 2014. Paramount to all the awesomeness of my professional career, is my family. My kids are a thrill and my husband continues to be my most critical and important supporter.