“I think making mistakes and discovering them for yourself is of great value, but to have someone else to point out your mistakes is a shortcut of the process.” (Shelby Foote)
For a coach, to be reflective and have self-awareness is incredibly important. It helps you understand where you come from, what has influenced you and appreciate your own actions. I came across a few of the questions below, linked to teaching, that can have great influence for your own development as a coach and before the new season kicks in it might be worth considering some of these. Ultimately, time spent thinking about the answers will help make it better for the learner.
1. Why are my most powerful sessions powerful?
You go to coaching, deliver a session and the children love it. You go home feeling electric, on a self-fulfilled legal high having organised some learning that gave some young people a wonderful experience and a great time.
Other weeks you deliver a different session, they aren’t well received, the children act up causing you more stress and you leave feeling deflated.
So what’s the difference? How can you take what works from the good sessions and extend to others? Was it you, your manner and approach? Was it the practice?
2. What simple tools are available to me to help personalise instruction?
Learning is a fluid process and different fads come and go but one thing that will never leave is personalised learning for individual learners.
Providing learners with the right environment to learn, whether this is through small group work to develop a tactic or strategy, the type of questions you choose to ask to different children, or using different methods of assessment to chart the development of the players is bang on current trend – a trend that is not going to go away. So what are the ‘easy to access’ tools that can help with personalising learning?
Some of these ideas increase in complexity quite quickly but having a look at a variety of concepts and matching them with your situation is the key. If you are volunteer coach, with a full-time job and a family, you may choose a different option to a full-time coach whose job is to develop players.
3. Where did I waste time last season?
There is something you do that wastes time and it may not be obvious. Letting a quick conversation with a parent eat into valuable practice time? Move cones around mid-session for different pitches that could have been planned better before? Start putting children in bibs once they are ready to play? Talked too long to the group on an intervention?
Try to highlight them, or work with your co-coach to spot them, and take them out the equation.
4. Where did my best ideas come from?
The practices and games that really flow, that captivate the attention of the players and hook them into a feeling of enjoyment and progression, where did they come from?
Your colleagues? A course or in-service training event? Books, the internet or social media? Other coaches you have seen work?
Select the ones that worked, do more of them, and less of the ones that didn’t. If in doubt, ask the children what they thought.
5. How can I use my strengths?
You may not be organised but you might be incredibly creative when making up practices. Your sessions might not look neat and tidy but you understand the game is messy and therefore vital for learning and development.
You have a personality that inspires children to want to try really hard but you aren’t so good at reflecting on what went well within the session.
So how can you use what you do naturally well to your advantage, recognise the other parts and work on them, to improve your overall performance?
6. How do I respond to stress?
This question appears a strange one but you know the season won’t be without it and if you have run a team or coached for a long time, you know it occurs! So what strategy do you employ when times are tough?
Do you shout at the children more often? Take it out on your own son or daughter more than the other players? Play the weaker players even less if you are trying to hang on for a draw? Think more about your coaching and game day plans? Complicate things a lot more than they need to be?
Be aware of how you respond in pressure situations and challenge yourself to act differently before it happens, pre-empting your behaviour and ensuring that it fits with your philosophy and goals for the season.
If giving equal playing time for children is what you stand for as a coach, find tactics to ensure this still happens in the games that might be closer in score line. How can you manage your own expectations before the event, and that of others?
7. What has changed since last year?
It is highly likely that a few things will have moved on, both from a process perspective in terms of how you go about running a team and possibly the actual foundations of this too – the format of football, the approach to competition, the rules that we play etc.
Understanding these are likely to change and what you need to do to prepare correctly can change how you planned for the previous season.
Equally, how have other things moved on, like technology? Can you work with your players in a different way by taking an iPad to training, loading up some clips from You Tube of Messi or Ronaldo in action and showing these as a means of demonstration when you are talking about improving their dribbling?
Better still, can you set them the task of finding out these skills and bringing along to coaching or match day to help improvement?
Every year things change – new software, new politics, new rules. Stay ahead of the game and adapt your planning and delivery accordingly.
8. What’s my focus?
Without doubt, your focus should be on helping your children. But what does that mean to you? And in pursuit of that, there are loads of other smaller goals along the way – to give game-based learning a chance, to improve the quality of questions the learners receive, to focus more on player-centred outcomes.
Plus you probably want to develop a better relationship with your players, get better at coaching and enjoy the experience more than the previous season.
Having a focus doesn’t mean you don’t make these sort of commitments to yourself, that’s also really important. So pick a topic, try and learn more about it and have a go – Google it, skim Twitter, ask colleagues, read books.
It’s crucial that you then reflect and think back and be honest with yourself about how it all turns out. Above all, enjoy getting better too!
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