Extracurricular PE – 7 strategies for getting the most out of your school sports teams

photo of woman in sportswear holding a football in one hand and a clipboard in the other

Tom Corker looks at what it takes to coach, coax and cajole a school sports team into giving it their all on the pitch or court

Tom Corker
by Tom Corker
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One of the great delights in being a teacher is the opportunity to get involved in clubs and teams outside of ‘normal’ lessons.

Given the wide array of sports that students enjoy – be it badminton, football, rugby, netball, cricket, basketball, hockey or many others – providing them with opportunities to compete against other students is a responsibility that needn’t be the sole preserve of PE staff.

It’s an excellent chance for teachers to involve themselves in something they’re passionate about while building a unique rapport with students – but at the end of an exhausting day for teachers and students alike, team sessions can be quite the challenge. So how can you get the best out of your team?

As a sports coach both inside and outside of school, I have a few thoughts to offer…

1. Set routines

Routines are everything. If you collectively decide that the team should meet at 3.30pm on Wednesdays, stick to it. I’ve seen countless teams lose momentum and players lose interest after staff members have had to cancel or rearrange sessions. If you suspect that you can’t always commit, enlist a colleague who can cover in your absence.

2. Stay focused

Most weeks will involve training sessions rather than matches, so keep everything you do focused on the sport. Ensure that students are doing straight away and practising elements of gameplay. Avoid any lining up, standing and watching – going straight in to active gameplay will see to it that everyone is getting active from the get-go.  

3. Practise decision-making

In every team sport, one thing that participants will constantly be doing is making decisions. To what extent does your training encourage effective decision-making, such as where to pass the ball, where to shoot or where
to run?

4. Keep things small

The smaller the group, the better. I recently calculated that if I have 15 footballers with me for an hour and we only play with one ball, each player will get four minutes on the ball at best, which won’t be enough to develop each player.

If we adjust that to three balls amongst 15 players, now everyone has 12 minutes on the ball. Change it again to five balls, and now everyone has 20 minutes on the ball.

5. Seek marginal gains

I’ve recently started using the ‘10% better’ strategy with the children. I know they work hard, but could they make their gameplay that little bit better?

Outside of training, I’ll share with them an anecdote to try and encourage marginal gains in matches. For example, there’s a great 20-second video analysis of Japan competing in a World Cup which shows how closing the players down led to mistakes and eventually a goal.

I’ve also shown them reports of how ex-England goalkeeper David James would allegedly make mistakes due to his video gaming addiction. Before their next match, the players all told me they hadn’t touched technology that day!

6. Praise and critique

To develop players’ confidence, I’ll ensure there are multiple opportunities for success in training before building to more challenging situations. The team and I will praise individual members for every good thing they do, whilst quietly pointing out something else they could do to make things that little bit better.

Reinforce this by sending positive messages home and you’ll soon have a player who can walk out onto the pitch feeling six feet tall.

7. Assign roles and rewards

Every player has their role. Substitutes support their team mates and collect the ball when it goes out. Some will assume leadership duties, helping with warm-ups and collecting equipment.

After each fixture I’ll then reward the ‘Men of the match’, since acknowledging two players rather than one lets me emphasise the team ethic, whilst also praising some of the more unknown players.

Coaching isn’t easy, but a few simple tricks can help ensure things run smoothly while getting the best out of your players, so that you can hopefully secure some great memories for all of you in the long-run.

Tom Corker (@tom_corker) is a D&T teacher and consultant, technology trust lead and junior football coach. Browse ideas for National Fitness Day.

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