A few weeks ago we were lucky enough to meet the England Manager, Gareth Southgate, and chat about coaching. Whilst there were so many interesting aspects of coaching discussed and personal insights given we have summarised some of the key aspects and offer suggestions as to how these can be applied by coaches.
Every coach has a unique developmental pathway. Whilst coaching badges and qualifications provide a structure and a framework for formal development there is much learning and experience that can, and should, take place outside of these structured programmes. As coaches we should be striving to learn not only from those within our own sport environment, but we should look to gain access to individuals who successfully connect with and influence others around them. We should look for opportunities in other spheres of life, for example, in education, health, industry to learn what it is that distinguishes people who are successful in their work from those who are not.
To develop both as a person and as a coach requires reflection, and lots of it! We have to develop an understanding of why we do what we do, the effectiveness of what we do, and also to consider the alternatives. In most cases it is the process of reflective practice that aids our growth, not the actual outcome. It is important to become comfortable with self-analysis and questioning, not in an overly critical way, but in a way that allows exploration of thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. It is important to set aside some time every week for self-reflection. Find an approach that works best for you; there are lots of established frameworks that can be used as a guide or alternatively set yourself a few questions that enable you to reflect on a particular situation, an event, or an interaction. The most important thing is to be open and honest when evaluating your own practices. Be prepared to acknowledge that things will not be perfect and it is from these imperfections that we learn!
Space & Self-Direction
Every sport has its own unique psychological demands and with this understanding it is vital for coaches to determine what these are and how they can influence different personalities. As coaches we can very quickly intervene to help the player to ‘correct’ things, but often the challenge of a coach is to stand back and watch things unfold without offering any input or direction. For many coaches this can be difficult to achieve; after all we are paid to improve our players! But by providing ‘space’ for players which is free from input and intervention creates an opportunity for coaches to learn more about those with whom they work.
What are their strengths and weaknesses?
How do they cope in situations when there is no structure, direction, or input?
Can they coach themselves?
Once coaches start to embrace the concept of ‘space and self-direction’ players can be empowered to solve problems independently. Of course, as a coach it is about knowing your players and knowing how and when to give them ‘space’ and freedom to explore (without creating any expectation or judgement). It is also about understanding what ‘thriving’ looks like for a player and then, as their coach exploring with them how they can address pressure and personal expectations in positive and productive ways. The first step is to establish an awareness and understanding of these things. Communication addressing these issues is key if coaches are to engage players and successfully integrate psychological skills into training and competition environments.
Be Clear on your Approach
It is important to have a philosophy which underpins your coaching.
What are your values and beliefs?
What motivates you to improve?
How do you define success?
What influences your interactions?
These are questions that are important for coaches to ask and consider at all stages of their development. It is important to be able to explain your ‘approach’ to others and to clarify your coaching stance. In simple terms, coaching is about building relationships and creating positive and enriching environments. Reflect on your coaching practices and begin to explore in detail how well you connect with your players.
How well do you know them?
How do you support them when they are playing well?
What sort of interactions do you have with them?
Does your approach change when they are ‘underperforming’?
What would players pick up from your body language in these situations?
As a coach it is important to try to create an environment where ‘people can be themselves’. An environment that is full of opportunity to learn and develop is better
than one that creates a fear of failure. As a coach your job is to create a learning environment that has expectations, but also boundaries. Through your interactions and coaching style create a culture which lays the foundations for what is acceptable and unacceptable. As coaches we have to be innovative, finding new and interesting ways to challenge our players to be more creative. ‘Challenge’ should be present both on and off the pitch, court, course etc. Explore ways in which you can ‘stretch’ your players technically, tactically, physically, and mentally throughout the week. Where possible ask players to suggest ideas themselves as engaging them in this process can be beneficial and aid their creativity and decision making skills.