Schizophrenic coaching (Coaching series part 1)

It’s that time of year for many of us. Beginning to start the preseason again. Maybe you have a new group of athletes, or maybe just a few newbies, or maybe it’s a group you’ve been coaching for years.
Coaching youth sport can be a tough old game. Often this joy falls to the parent willing to step into the gap at the local sports club, most of the time this role is entirely voluntary with no recompense other than the satisfaction of enriching the life of the youth athletes in your care. If you’re lucky you may be getting some expenses or small income for your time. If you’ve really earned your stripes, this might even be a part-time or even full-time role for you!

If you are blessed to have a group of highly engaged, highly motivated and disciplined youth athletes eating up your every coaching point, then read no further! You’ve clearly nailed your coaching method (in fact – would you mind sharing it!).
However, as coaches we can encounter athletes during some of their most challenging years of physical and emotional maturation. This can often manifest itself in a less than optimal attitude, work ethic or application to the physical task at hand. So – how can we as coaches break through this impasse and create meaningful and fruitful coach athlete relationships. One of the things you might want to have a think about is your coaching style…
Autocratic or “Command” coaching
Think of the drill Sargent. This coach like things old school. “Do as I say,” is the basic tenet of their coaching style. This is usually accompanied by a loud voice or shouting. Often the athletes may be simply the pawns in a much larger chess game in the coach’s mind. This style of coaching is usually forwned upon these days, particularly with more emphasis being placed on involving athletes and helping them understand the process of improvement, rather than the coach says jump and you respond “how high?”.

However, this style of coaching can come in useful. If you are dealing with a very young or immature group, or if the numbers of athletes is high. This style of coaching can help in the most basic aspects of coaching, maintaining a safe environment. But in my experience a couple of things may happen. You either lose your voice, you lose influence or you lose a power struggle. Let’s face it most people don’t respond to being told what to do without adequate information, or “because I said so.”
Use this style sparingly, otherwise it loses effect. Consider when this might be effective, for example setting the standard in your initial sessions with a new group, then maybe you can ease off…
Democratic or “Reciprocal” coaching
This style of coach might be what we consider the “new style” of coaching. Rather than the shouty drill Sargent, this style of coaching requires two way communication with your athletes. This may lead to alterations in the session plan, coaching cues or performance goals. An appropriate way to integrate this style of coaching may be to ask your athletes what coaching cues they find most helpful, or asking for their feedback at the end of each session. Or using trade offs, such as if a drill is done with the right level of intensity, then playing a game they particularly like.

Allowing your athlete to have input is very beneficial, but ensure they don’t end up steering the whole ship. So again, be cognisant of when to use this method effectively. This may not be appropriate with young or immature athletes who are looking for simple leadership or clear structure. Sometimes this may appear to parents or to others that you are being weak and not controlling the athletes. Make sure to have defined boundaries, at the end of the day sometimes the work needs to be done whether they like it or not.
Guided Discovery or “Problem Solving” coaching
This is the “Yoda” of the sporting world. This coach seems to be incredibly wise but actually never tells you anything directly. They help you figure out the answers yourself. This coach believes failure is the best teacher and presents the opportunity to learn.

Consider how you could implement this technique in the form of questions. Don’t be tempted to stop a drill on the spot, but pull one player aside and ask “What do you think went wrong? What might have been a better option? What would you try next time?”. In my opinion this is the pinnacle of coaching – a self regulating athlete. However, some coaches never reach this stage for fear of making themselves redundant. Not all masters want the student to overtake them. This takes a high level of confidence as it can be viewed as lazy coaching, when really your building an athlete with the skills to answer their own problems.
Laissez Faire or “Organised Chaos” coaching
This is essentially babysitting. A successful session is characterised by everyone going home with all the limbs they came with. There is no real plan or end aim in mind, at least not one that has been thought through or communicated clearly. These coaches often have great intentions, but don’t really produce much more than the kids would do on their own.  At best it’s just a bit of fun for the kids, at worst it’s a waste of time.

Every had a session that was a bit like this?!


Hopefully, this has heightened your awareness of the different approaches available to you as a coach. You may already be aware that you rely too heavily on one of these styles. Why not ask a trusted coaching colleague to observe one of your sessions and give you some feedback? Often we are unaware of how we actually coach as we tend to think we present ourselves in one way, when often it’s another altogether!  Get some feedback and see how you can improve!

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