How to End a Training Session

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Whether you're a sport coach or a strength coach, there have probably been multiple times in your career when your athletes are energetic and focused at the start of a practice or a training session, but sluggish and distracted by the end. It’s frustrating—I’ve been there. Here are a few strategies I’ve used that have proven successful when you desire to end your training or practice on a high note!

 

Introduce a Little Competition

What coach doesn’t like putting their players in competitive situations? That said, what player doesn’t like a good competition? A good strategy I have found to use at the end of a session is to set up some sort of competition. It can be mental, physical, or just for fun. You can implement a consequence for losing the competition, or it can merely serve to enforce a lesson or theme for that day. Be creative and think outside the box. Some examples of competitions I have used in my weight room are: relay races, hand-eye coordination drills, and isometric holds for time (like a plate pinch, pull-up hang, or front planks). We have even held a team-wide Rock-Paper-Scissors tournament to end a session! It doesn’t have to be physically demanding every time. Mix it up and keep them guessing. If your athletes are focused on the task at hand and competing, you’ve won. 

 

Reinforce Your Culture

Another strategy to employ when ending a session is to gather your team together and have a debriefing. The end of a group training session is a time to reinforce the culture you are trying to build and talk about the session that just took place. Bring up things you liked or things that need work. Take a scenario that played out that day and ask your team questions regarding the outcome. For example, “We talk about accountability and teamwork all the time, guys. Here is what I saw today...” It can be a positive example you are reinforcing, or it can be something your team needs to work on. Require your athletes to answer a question or two about the scenario and be engaged in the discussion. The main theme of this strategy is to force your athletes to think for themselves and take ownership of their culture. 

@@Culture is something that is easy to put into bullet points on a poster, but a little trickier to see played out amongst your team.@@ One way I implemented this strategy with my team was to create a weekly “high-performance handout” that I printed and distributed to the athletes at the beginning of every week. On the handout I included a short book review, a few recovery and nutrition tips for the week, and a motivational quote that my athletes would have to commit to memory. We would discuss it at the end of Monday’s training session and revisit it on Friday to make sure they memorized the quote and retained the information. We also provided them with a binder so they could save the handouts they received throughout the year. I used a handout because is made it easier for me to combine leadership development, recovery and nutrition education, and motivation into one tangible document. Whether it is a handout, scenarios, discussion questions, an inspiring story, or simply a recap of what went well and what needs work from that day’s session, use this strategy to help build and reinforce the desired culture you want on your team. 

 
 Coach Heidegger has his USC baseball players relax, breathe, and go through some guided visualization.

Coach Heidegger has his USC baseball players relax, breathe, and go through some guided visualization.

Implement a Cool-down

Sometimes your athletes are exhausted at the end of training. One good option I employ in this situation is a cool-down. Sounds simple enough, right? It is. In the picture above, I’m having my athletes relax, breathe, and go through some guided visualization. I use the HeadSpace app, which is designed to help foster mindfulness by guiding you through some meditative breathing exercises with audio cues. I like to believe it’s giving my athletes a small outlet to relieve stress. It is also something I encourage my athletes to add in to their nightly sleep routine. My guys love it. I put it on for 5-10 minutes during our cool-down period and let the app do the rest. If there is one thing that I don’t have to fight my guys on, it’s this cool down. Everyone likes to relax after a grueling training session. 

Ideas for a good-cool down are endless. It will depend on your space, time, and team. Are they mature enough to handle being quiet for five minutes? If not, take them through a coach-led stretching routine, barefoot walking drills, or some foam rolling. Athletes, especially ones in the college setting, deal with all kinds of stressors, so implementing a good-cool down is a great way to get them to flip their switch into recovery mode. 

 

The Takeaway: Competition, Culture, Cool-down

As coaches, we all want our athletes to be a good blend of confident, competitive, and calm. Don’t miss out on an opportunity at the end of your training to help reinforce these traits. Try implementing one or all of these strategies as a way to end your training sessions with intention—and my hope is that you will enjoy the long-term growth that will ensue.  

If you have any questions about any of these strategies and how they fit in to your setting, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me on Instagram at @coach_jheidegger.

 

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Josh Heidegger, CSCS, is a strength and conditioning coach at the University of Southern California. A former collegiate javelin thrower, Josh has worked as a strength coach at several major DI universities, including Tulane, Cal, and USC, where he now works with the football and baseball teams. Follow Josh on Twitter at @jheidegger1 and Instagram at @Coach_jheidegger.