The key differences between coaching teams and individuals

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If I said the word “coach” to you, you’d probably think of a person with a hat, working in a team environment. Or you’d think of a bus, or that guy from Survivor.

But there is so much potential for all coaches, whether they are already working in a team environment or not, to hone in on their skills when working with individuals. Regardless of the coaching context, you must work to tailor your coaching, feedback, and advice to each individual.

While you are able to more naturally find the time to devote energy and attention to the specific needs of the player when working 1-on-1, you need to find a way to connect with each of your athletes on the team, and ensure as though they feel that sense of belonging. They need to feel as though you care about them on a human level, and that you care about their development on a sporting level.

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So let’s establish this pretext right off the top: All coaches can devote energy and attention to both the team dynamic and individualized learnings in harmony. We already mentioned how coaches working in teams still need to prioritize the individuals that exist on that team. Inherently, that will then bring out the best in the entire team. But even coaches who dedicatedly work with individuals can still transfer those same teachings to an entire team. That will inherently bring out the best in each individual. If you’ve been following along, you can already see where that ‘harmony’ starts to form.

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Importantly, there are however a few key considerations when it comes to bringing out the best in each of the five corners. That is, a few of the corners have the potential to come to life more in a private setting, and others have the potential to come to life more in a group setting. We encourage coaches to continue focusing on all five corners in any setting, but recognize the potential power of both settings to bring out more.


When it comes to on-the-field work, the key strength to individualized sessions is the dedicated amount of time you can spend on the necessary skills and techniques for each player. In the team environment, you might start to notice that one of your players has an interesting technique for how they shoot the ball, that limits the amount of goals they will likely score (for example they bend their body forward too much the moment they strike). But it becomes more difficult to single that player out, and to spend enough time developing that skill with the player. It’s also completely ill-advised to separate them from the group to work on that skill in the training environment.

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I include that sentiment, as I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen players working 1-on-1 with a coach when the rest of the team is together working on a separate task. Usually it’s something that does not need to be prioritized in that moment, such as an U11’s ability to take the ball down out of the air. It’s humiliating to separate that player from the group, and not worth the time.

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If you feel it’s beneficial, you could have an assistant coach spend some time with each player on something that they need to improve, or to have a short discussion away from the group. But to only single one player out is completely demoralizing. When making interventions in a practice, you wouldn’t want to just call upon the mistake of one player, but you can use an individual moment to highlight a learning outcome for the entire team. In an individualized setting, you have more freedom to then develop the areas of improvement in a safe environment where the player does not need to feel embarrassed. That’s one reason why it’s so powerful to spend time with players working on skills and techniques outside of the normal practice environment.

In 1-on-1 settings, you can then focus all of your attention toward the specific needs of the player and highlight the finer details that they can improve upon. Players become absolutely captivated by your coaching feedback and advice, free of any other distractions pertaining to other players or the team environment. It’s a massively powerful tool to use if you have some spare time in your schedule, as it can help players hone in on specific elements in any corner (particularly technical, tactical, physical and psychological).

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But those individualized learnings then need to be taken back into the team environment. For the time being, football remains a team sport. The best technical wizards of any generation probably never made it to the pros. So while those finer details need to be developed, it’s best to then see how those new learnings evolve in the context of what we were developing those skills for in the first place!

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That is why when working with players off-the-field (such as their tactical IQ, game understanding and mental skills), I still want to see as much in the way of match footage as possible. We can talk tactics and the five corners all day; we can even help that player with the interesting shooting technique to develop better habits when they go to strike the ball. But if those learnings don’t then come to life when the player hits the field, more work still needs to be done. The best way to complete that work is within the scope of the team.

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The team environment is the one where players will spend the most time developing their skills and techniques, and where they frequently encounter game-realistic situations that can better transfer their learning over to the game. It’s also where players can see their role as part of the greater scope of the team, and understand how and where they fit from a social, psychological and tactical perspective. Other than the coach-athlete relationship in the social corner, I’d argue that all three of these elements are able to come to life more within team environments.

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When they’re alone, whether that be working at home or working with you, there is a better shot at developing technical and physical skills than what should be prioritized in a team practice environment – game-centered learning. At the very least, there’s more potential to delve into the finer details behind those skills than a typical team practice might allow.

That isn’t to say that you can’t develop the psychological, tactical or social components when working with players 1-on-1. Of course not! Similar to those technical skills, you can delve deeper into an athlete’s mental skills when you work with them individually, bringing the best out of their confidence, game understanding or sense of belonging. This is why I love coaching players individually – it’s still a multi-faceted art.

Players that make the leap to work with a coach or performance consultant outside of their environment are often keenly aware of their own strengths, but also their “weaknesses”. What if we could turn those weaknesses into strengths? What if we could turn a player’s confidence around a specific skill that they just can’t get right on the field, into something that they have no fear about without ever even needing to step on the field? This can be achieved with the right time and devotion at the individual level. It does not have to be all about technical prep. We can still work with players on all five corners when we work with them individually.


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At this point, you already know that the five corners can all come to life in 1-on-1 settings. But there is one side of the game that is better achieved in a group setting. That also happens to be the one that often brings athletes back to the sport year after year. That’s the ability to play with their friends, develop new relationships, and to be part of an environment that they enjoy. In individualized settings, the coach often has more work to bring out the best in their coach-athlete relationship, positive reinforcement, and feedback, ensuring the player enjoys their experience. In the team environment, other athletes can partially take care of that dynamic.

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The team (or small-group) environment still has the power to bring athletes together and create meaningful experiences and learning outcomes with others in their environment. Athletes can often learn from other athletes, and even use their friends as role models for behaviour. Sometimes that can work to the detriment of the coach in their quest to handle group dynamics, but it’s a super powerful aspect of the team dynamic that falls by the wayside when we isolate athletes from other athletes.

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As we noted right off the top, if there is one key conclusion from this article, it’s this: both team and individualized settings are useful in their own ways, and coaches can often do more to bring out the best in both the team and the individual.


Pivoting directions, we need to recognize the power of individualized attention and individualized sessions even within a team environment. An objective outsider who is not part of that set-up may know less about the ins and outs of your situation, but can work with the athlete or coach free of any emotional attachment to the experience. You as a coach could likely take more time to work with your players individually, to bring out the best in specific areas that they need to develop. I always try to book 1-on-1 sessions with my players outside the team practice schedule, ensuring we can continue to develop their own unique needs.

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But beyond that, aspiring coaches and professionals can also recognize that there are more pathways to exist in sports than as a team coach. Health & wellness, fitness, and mental skills coaches all work with athletes on an individual scope. As a sports performance consultant, I work with both teams and individuals.

Our typical lens is so focused on what the best coaches in the world do for the world’s greatest teams, that we forget about the power of individualized coaching, or that those pathways even exist for those aspiring to work in sports or the health & wellness industry.

So even though you might currently work for a team or even if that remains the main ambition, I encourage all coaches to think of other ways that they could bring out more for players on the individual level. Both can, and in fact should, exist in harmony.


I am currently accepting new clients in my coaching & mentorship program. I work with coaches and players from around the world! If you’re interested in learning more about my site or experiencing my coaching, feel free to reach out! đź‘Šâš˝

rhys desmond – founder of themastermindsite

Across the past decade, I have worked with thousands of players and coaches across multiple sports and disciplines. I recognize the value of diving deeper beyond the first glance, and uncovering the deeper-lying ways to enhance performance. I make a commitment toward positive reinforcement, research-backed insights, and making the experience fun for those that work with me.

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