Don't let the visual mask the coaching point

When we observe a coach in action, a large part is spent on the visual. There are definitely benefits to this, (mannerisms, use of hand signals, demonstrations, seeing how responsive the players are etc.) however, the actual quality of the coaching point may be masked. We have recently been experimenting with how we evaluate our coaching points - strip away the visual, and just focus on the audio. It’s an uncomfortable way of reflecting - hearing the sound of your own voice is awkward, but there are some interesting takeaways from this new method of reflection:

1. You pick up on certain tendencies/words that are consistent.

As a coach, you use words or phrases as fillers - “okay?”, “does that make sense?”, “everyone understand?” These usually come as rhetorical questions, and may come subconsciously after a coaching point is made. It’s very rare for a player to reply with “No, hold on coach, I don’t understand this part”, and it would come as a bit of a surprise if they did ask that. You may not know these tendencies, but listening back to your coaching points will give you an indication.

2. You can reflect on whether the coaching point is aligned with the feedback you are giving

After making a coaching point, do you align your next phase of feedback to that actual coaching point? Doug Lemov’s excellent article here on ‘The Story of a Stoppage’ highlights this: ‘The teaching happens in the stoppage, but the learning happens only when there is a sustained opportunity to use the ideas we discuss afterwards.  Maintaining focus on ideas so that athletes can use them and think about them for sustained periods of time often means not moving on to the next idea when we’ve taught something well.’ By using the new method of reflection you can listen to the next minute of feedback after making your point to see if your feedback aligns with your coaching point.

3. Time spend coaching vs. time spent playing

I’m sure we’ve ’ve all been there as a player. It is so frustrating when the coach keeps stopping the play every 30 seconds to talk for 2 minutes. It kills the rhythm of the training session, and creates frustration for the players. Rather than them listening intently to the coaching point, they’ll nod their head just because they want you to hurry up and let them play. Upon reflection of the session, listen and actually time your coaching points vs time playing. Trust me, you’ll be surprised of how much time the players are actually spending on playing.

4. Language used - Is it efficient?

Building on the previous point, language needs to be efficient to maximize understanding. It’s a balance between taking the time to make a coaching point the players understand without rushing. There are many ways to say the same thing, but word choice is so important. Be efficient in terms of time, and in terms of knowing words the players will understand. Adapt wording to match the age/ability of the group, not just with the topic choice, but with sentences too. For example:

Can you be consistent in your execution of the short pass?” may not be the most efficient way to make a point to an 8 year old, but may be for a 12 year old.

5. Tone used - Are you inspiring or demeaning?

Huge one.  I had a great chat with Tom Owens about this in the downtime between our collaborative camp in Liverpool about this. I’d like to think we’re similar coaches in terms of mannerisms, and the energy we try to bring when coaching. When listening to him in a session, the passion in his tone encourages and challenges his players: Example here. Are you motivating the players with your tone or do you sound condescending? You may not know it, but using purely audio as a form of reflection will give you a greater insight into how you’re making the players feel with your coaching points.

Using this form of reflection has been pretty eye-opening in terms of the way we speak to the players. All points should be used to maximize their understanding while inspiring and challenging them to be improve. If you’re a coach, try it out and let us know what you find!

Thanks for reading,

James Beeston

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