Coaching Various Skill Levels at Once

Today’s post will be a quickie, and will touch on one of the biggest questions that face coaches: With smaller leagues with highly varied skills, how do you meet everyone’s level of challenge in one practice?

This post will cover definitions of the types of advanced or beginning skaters you may have, as well as how to work your drills so that everyone is getting the appropriate level of challenge.

Advanced Skaters:

This is a relative term, so you need to know exactly what you’re dealing with. Your most advanced skater might be strong on the track, but missing some essential basics (can they truly plow stop on a dime?) Other advanced skaters may have years of speed or artistic skating in their background, with excellent footwork and stopping abilities, but might lack game play finesse.

Either way, your league will lose your advanced skaters, or stagnate as a whole if you don’t have a progression path for your advanced skaters. As far as skater retention is concerned, unless your league is in the top 100, consider your advanced skaters an endangered species.


This will be most of your league. These skaters have skills and finesse (with plenty of room to grow) and represent the median skill level of your league, therefore, they get the most attention and needs met at practice.


Still working on passing Minimum Skills, or they just passed and are trying to use the skills in a sentence at practice. Newbies benefit most from skating with partners or packs more advanced than they are. There will be a need for lots of skill review and practicing the skills in different ways than when they were just working on passing a test. Newbies are less of a retention risk, but more likely to get injured; practices must allow them lots of opportunities to safely practice new movements to keep them on the track and away from urgent care.


Setting Up Practice:

Your practice will always get best results (and league unity) when the entire group is working on the same thing during the whole practice. The differences between each level is not so much in intensity as it is in element. Advanced skaters will have more elements to their routine than intermediate skaters. Do not just tell advanced people to push themselves. Give them a specific progression. Beginners may need several elements removed from their practice, so that they are focusing on only a couple major pieces of the drill.

When you plan your practice, set a base skill set that you are working on with the intermediate skaters in mind (if that’s the bulk of your skaters). Then, decide what elements will be added for advanced skaters, and what is the simplified version for newbies.

For example, if we need to practice holding a jammer within 20 feet for 15 seconds or more, it would look like:

  • Intermediate skaters: Be able to hold a jammer within 20 feet for 15 seconds or more with a 4-wall
  • Advanced: Be able to hold a jammer within 20 feet for 20 seconds with a 3-wall
  • Beginner: Be able to hold a jammer for 3 seconds when the jammer is engaging on their part of the wall

The nice thing about having the clearly defined objectives for each skill level is that you can run the same drill, but have different objectives for each turn, depending on the level of the skaters. As the coach, you have to be on top of who is practicing what, and reiterate it before each turn as necessary. While this may feel like micro-managing in the beginning, everyone will quickly get used to it.


Now we are going to look at some basic strategies to structure a mixed drill, depending on a few common types of issues.


Use: When a base skill (such as a plow or blocking technique) needs improvement among some skaters.

Step 1: Have entire group demonstrate the base skill (eg. plows on whistle) to determine the advanced, intermediate, and beginners. Take note of where the deficiencies are in skaters who need improvement. Remember that advanced skaters may also require refining on the skill.

Step 2: Group the advanced skaters together and give a progression for them to practice (for example, stopping within 5 or 10 feet from a true sprint, or plowing with only one skate on the floor, etc.) Give detailed instructions and allow them to practice on their own.

Step 3: Group everyone else together. Provide detailed coaching on how to improve the plow based on what you saw during Step 1. Have individuals work on plows, then add challenge by grouping an intermediate skater with a beginner, and having them attempt to plow in a loose line (in a skewer, but not necessarily touching). Coach gives direct feedback to skaters during this time. Intermediate are encouraged to provide feedback and coaching to newbies, too.

Step 4: Coach checks on advanced skaters, gives feedback and if needed, modifications

Step 5: Coach has advanced skaters and intermediate skaters switch groups. Advanced skaters are now working with beginners, while intermediate skaters are working on some progression you set for them for plows. This practice time is only about ⅓ or ½ what was spent on Step 2.

Step 6: Put whole group together and practice plows again. You should see some improvement. Any skater who cannot execute the plow enough for further progression in upcoming drills for the night can use Fifth Wheel to continue practicing.


Fifth Wheel

Use: For skaters who do not have the skill set to properly execute a drill. For example, a non-contact newbie skater who is at a practice where a contact drill is being practiced

Setup: For this example, we will use the drill of a 4-wall “catching” a sprinting jammer at the pivot line. The wall holds the jammer until the jammer passes jammer line.

Play: The 4 blockers will set up as normal on the track. The non-contact skater will be on the outfield, acting as a “fifth wheel”, pretending to be involved in the drill. Their goal is to use skate skills to follow the walls movements (can be either an individual skater, the wall, or the jammer). This allows the non-contact skater to practice the practical applications of sprints, stops, laterals, changes in direction, stance, and other skills to be “part of the wall” (or the jammer’s shadow).

Depending on the flow of the drill, it may make sense for the shadow to be behind the pack. Experiment!


Variety Pack

Use: Getting lots of reps on a specific drill with all levels, without randomizing the skill level of each rep

Example Drill: 3-wall or 4-wall is working on containing a jammer from the start line to pivot line for at least 15 seconds

Setup: Have everyone line up, with beginners in the front, intermediate in the middle, advanced in the back

Use the advanced skaters to demonstrate the drill, then have them go practice on their own while the beginner and intermediate skaters get about 5 minutes of detailed instruction about how to make the drill successful, as well as some practice runs and modifications. Bring the advanced skaters back.

Run the drill, starting from the beginner skaters in a 4-wall together. Depending on the size of the group, have that same wall block anywhere from 4-5 different jammers from the group, making sure to give them exposure to all levels of jammers.

Cycle through each group, making sure the skill level of the wall is similar. The skill level of jammers can be varied.

Depending on the level or success of the wall, you can change them to 3-wall or 2-walls to increase the challenge. If a newbie jammer is hitting an advanced wall, have the advanced wall work on precision and complete legality of contact.

This is also a good time to made individual modifications for each wall:

  • Intermediate skaters: Be able to hold a jammer within 20 feet for 15 seconds or more with a 4-wall
  • Advanced: Be able to hold a jammer within 20 feet for 20 seconds with a 3-wall
  • Beginner: Be able to hold a jammer for 3 seconds when the jammer is engaging on their part of the wall

If a newbie wall is taking an advanced jammer, you may want to stop and give them instructions on how to handle an especially pushy or agile jammer.


In closing, when working with a mixed level practice, you will get better results when the entire group is working together. You can tailor your feedback or drill intensity directly to whoever is practicing at that moment. Advanced skaters should have designated time to practice on their own before they are required to help new people. As the coach, you must assess each rep that is about to happen to make sure that you are assigning the correct areas of focus to each group.

Feel free to contact me with questions or feedback!






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