Part 1 – A structured approach
Jeff Mitchell – Community Coach Advisor – Sport Auckland / GACU
This is the first article in a series of 13 on developing your coaching skills. For the full list of articles in the series see the articles page.
As a coach you take the development of your athletes seriously. You help them to set goals, to identify what they need to work on, and then put in place plans to help them to improve. But do you take the same approach to your own development? A lot of coaches will leave their own development to chance, assuming that they will learn and improve by default. Take charge by using a structured process, and treat your own development like you treat your athletes’.
Taking charge of your coach development provides you with ideas for how you can take control of your own development. Each article looks at an area of coach development that you can use to improve your coaching. Part 1 begins by highlighting the importance of taking a structured, proactive approach to your development. The use of a Coach Development Plan to structure your development is discussed, as is the role of qualification courses and workshops. Tips are given on how you can get the best out of the courses and workshops that you attend.
Why focus on your own development?
You are a busy person. Most coaches aren’t paid to coach, so you have to fit coaching around a job, family, friends and other commitments. Just finding the time to write out a plan for each session can be a challenge, so why spend more time planning and taking action on your coaching skills? Quite simply, taking the time to improve your coaching skills will make you a more organised and a more effective coach. And being a more effective coach leads directly to a better experience for you and your athletes.
If you are going to give up your time to coach, you want to ensure that you are spending your time well. For coaches this means that your players get as much out of your sessions as possible. By improving your ability to coach, you improve the service that you provide your athletes, and increase the likelihood that they will achieve their goals. Help your athletes to be the best that they can, by being the best that you can.
How can you develop as a coach?
The best way to develop as a coach is through experience – by doing it. To make the most of the experience that you gain you need to take a deliberate approach. By actively trying to learn from what you do you can progress your skills as a coach much faster. There are a range of tools that you can use to take charge of your development. We will start by looking at why you should take a structured approach.
Taking a structured approach
The key to making consistent progress with your coaching is to put some structure around your development. A Coach Development Plan is one way to achieve this structure. This plan could be developed with assistance from a mentor or a ‘critical friend’ that advises you. The Coach Development Plan may cover areas such as:
- your long-term goals
- your current strengths and weaknesses
- the short-term goals that you are working towards
- the actions you will take to achieve your goals, and
- how and when you will measure your progress and achievement of your goals.
Writing down your goals and the actions you will take are crucial to achieving them. By mapping what actions you will take to develop your coaching ability you are much more likely to make progress. The idea is to identify the areas that you would like – or need – to work on, and then determine what you will do to develop them.
A Coach Development Plan can be used to identify the actions that you will take and how these relate to your goals. Documenting your plan – and the progress you are making with it – keeps it current and ensures it remains a focus. By committing your plan to paper you are able to make sense of it and work at it consistently. Choose a format that works best for you, and remember to refer to the plan regularly, updating it as necessary.
Success comes from knowing that you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.
Qualification courses and workshops
Attending the qualification courses for your sport is an important first step in developing as a coach. These courses will expose you to the correct techniques and tactics for your sport and teach you about different coaching methods. They will also give you the opportunity to network with other coaches. If you are serious about coaching then you should continue to work through your sport’s coach development pathway, staying current and improving your knowledge through formal courses. Do you know what courses your Sports Organisation offers? Visit their website to find out.
In addition to the qualification courses offered by your sport there are also informal workshops. These cover a range of topics, and offer different perspectives on how you can achieve your coaching objectives. Looking outside your own sport can expose you to a variety of ideas and different approaches. These workshops often deal with ‘how’ to coach and are valuable for gaining insight into effective forms of communication with your athletes. Interacting with coaches from a variety of sports is another benefit, as sharing ideas is a primary focus of a well run workshop.
Some sports will offer informal workshops that are not part of their qualification structure, and some clubs will also put on workshops for their coaches. In Auckland the four Regional Sports Trusts deliver a range of workshops through the Greater Auckland Coaching Unit (GACU). These workshops cover topics such as leadership, developing skill, match day coaching, mental skills and safe coaching practice.
Getting the most from qualification courses and workshops
Learning is an active process; to get the most from courses and workshops you need to be an active participant. The following tips will help you to get the most from any course or workshop that you attend.
Take an active role in any workshop you attend. This means you should join in discussions, participate fully in group tasks, try to solve any problems that are posed and volunteer to have a go practically or to demonstrate. The more active you are the more you will get out of it.
Asking questions is a good way to be active in the sessions, and helps to deepen your understanding of the content. Ask questions if you are unsure about something. Don’t worry about looking silly – there’s bound to be other people in the room thinking the same thing. Just try and keep the questions relevant to what is being discussed, unless you enjoy finishing late.
It’s easy to sit there and assume you will remember everything that is said. You won’t. By taking notes you can refer to them after the workshop, which will help you to put the knowledge into practice. If you are really keen you will rewrite your collection of notes into a format that is more useable for you. Take notes on what is said, along with your own thoughts at the time regarding the material.
Be open minded
If you go into a workshop with a closed mind or thinking you already know it all, how can you expect to take much of value from it? Be receptive to new ideas and try and think how they relate to what you currently know. You don’t have to agree with everything you are told. However, before dismissing an idea, try and look at it from another angle, or make a note of it and have a look at it another time.
Talk to other candidates
Your coach educator will (hopefully) be knowledgeable and have a lot of useful information to provide to the group. Bear in they are not the only person in the room you can learn from. Talk to the other coaches to find out what they do and how they use the ideas discussed in the workshop. One of the strengths of a workshop is the ability to network and learn from other coaches – a good workshop will encourage this interaction. So learn what you can from whoever you can.
Relate what you learn to your own context
Throughout a workshop you should be trying to make links to what you already know. Part of this is relating what you learn to the context in which you coach. How does this work in your sport, with your athletes? Always think about how you can use a process or an idea with the athletes that you coach, in the environment in which you coach. The key is to always put it into terms that are useful for you – that you can apply to your own coaching.
Decide how to use what you learn
The next step is deciding how you will use what you have learnt. Be clear on how you can apply the ideas or principles to your next session or competitive match. What will you need to modify? What is useful and what can you ignore? With all learning the key is to transfer the knowledge into action. Be clear on how you will use what you learn.
Implement what you learn in your coaching
The final stage is to take what you have learnt and use it. The purpose of a qualification course or a workshop is to help you to coach better. To coach better you need to use what you have learnt. Try out the ideas, see if they work, and decide how to make them work better. You may not end up using everything you take from a course, but the key is to find what works and use it regularly.
Experience is a key factor for developing coaching competence, and taking a structured approach will ensure that you make the most of the experience that you gain. Don’t leave it to chance – make a plan for how you will develop. Treat every coaching session as an opportunity to learn and improve, and you will find that your athletes will reap the rewards.
There are a variety of tools available to assist you to develop your coaching skills, and we will work through these tools in future issues of Taking charge of your coach development. In Issue 2 we look at profiling. Don’t try and change your entire approach at once. Change one aspect or try one idea or tool, get comfortable with it, and then change another. Coach development isn’t a race; it’s a process.