Planning sessions for mixed abilities is something you have to deal with regularly as a coach. Ability defined is ‘the possession of the means or skills to do something’. When you consider it within a coaching environment you provide players with a task or a game each individual will be able to perform at different levels. So how do you plan for it?

Mixed abilities isn’t something we should shy away from when we are planning our sessions. Ultimately every and any session that you plan should consider every individuals needs which leads into my first piece of advice.

Are you task or player oriented?

As I’ve highlighted in one of my previous blogs, being a reflective practitioner is essential when deciding upon how you will meet the needs of your players within the session.
As a coach, you’re responsible for selecting the appropriate task or game that you feel will meet the needs of the individuals within your group. So, when planning do you select the practice/topic first and then decide on how you will make the players understand? Or do you think about your players and think… how can I help them?
My suggestion would be the later, look at the players within your group and think about what they need. By having a player centred approach you will be able to think about individuals when you are planning your session and consider how you will stretch or challenge them based on the task that you will be providing for them.

Layering learning… it’s a solo mission

When you’re playing a game what usually happens? You either complete the game or you move onto the next level. You can do this in your own time and have the ability to explore and decide how you want to compete the level. I challenge you to think like this when considering how you will stretch and challenge every player in your session.
Each individual is on a solo mission to try to succeed and achieve within your session, so consider this:
1) Provide every individual with opportunities to progress with a task or a challenge whether it’s through using a whiteboard to highlight once they’ve completed one task. They can then move onto the next or challenge them to think about how they can make it more difficult for themselves I.e. less time, more players, fewer touches etc. Not only will you be providing individuals with a mindset to improve and challenge themselves but you will also be providing some with a platform to extend their learning and problem solving skills.
2) Restarting the mission… completed it? Not quite made it yet? Well why not give the players the opportunity to have another go? Don’t be afraid to put on the same practice or game as you did in your previous session. Why? This is a great opportunity for you to observe and see children consolidate their learning. Some may need more time to complete what you’ve asked and others may want another go try and complete it differently.
3) Let them play… in order for them to explore learning for themselves you need to let them play. Continually stopping the session or changing the task will prevent individuals from being able to explore learning. Not the whole group needs a progression or to be moved onto the next step, it may be just one or two individuals within your session that need support or a new challenge.

Pick and Mix

Who am I going to put them with today? I regularly ask myself that question when planning and look at what the returns will be when putting one individual with another. Here’s a process that may help you with getting your pick and mix right:
1) Look at the individual and what do they need? What are their strengths and areas to improve?
2) Consider the task and what you want them to work on.
3) Pick which individual you feel is going to best support/challenge them to help with the outcome.
4) Observe, reflect and pick someone new!
An example of this may be that you want to help someone with their 1v1 defending within a defending topic. Therefore you look at what individuals you feel will either help model what skill that you want them to work on, or challenge them with an individual which is going to provide them with lots of opportunities to practice the skill.

Conclusion

More advanced players can experience satisfaction of helping less-able learners or players by modelling more complex ideas as well as challenging them to work with others to complete a task. This will help you to build confidence in more advanced players, giving them a platform to help them to progress and extend their learning further. Therefore when planning consider what you want the outcomes to be and think about how you can use peer-peer work to help extend the learning of the more advanced player but also use this help the other learn too.
By placing individuals with other players of similar abilities or needs, it will enable you to create environment which will help them to challenge one another and share their ideas as well as make them think and challenge themselves to improve and find another way to their peers.
The use of individual and small group work helps individuals to select their pace to explore their learning and ideas. This may be something you wish to consider for those that are striving or struggling within your sessions.
There isn’t a right or wrong way and whilst there is plenty of research to suggest mixed ability learning has plenty of benefits, making sure that you vary your sessions and provide players with appropriate challenges is also important too. Think about each individual, what challenge is right for them based on the task and their needs to give them an opportunity to practice and progress if needed and let them have a go with different peers.
For some further information about player learning checkout this blog from our partners WWPIS