Part 5 – Reflection
Jeff Mitchell – Community Coach Advisor – Sport Auckland / GACU
This is the fifth article in a series of 13 on developing your coaching skills. For the full list of articles in the series see the articles page.
In the previous issue we learnt how you can use goal setting within your session plans to improve your development as a coach. To really make goal setting work you need to review and reflect on the sessions you deliver and the goals you set. It is through reflecting on your coaching that you really start to grow as a coach.
What is reflection?
Reflection is the process of stepping back from your coaching and taking a deeper look at it. It can be seen as a form of problem solving which helps you to turn your experience into knowledge. Reflection requires you to think about what you are doing, how you are doing it, and why you are getting certain results from your athlete(s).
To reflect requires you to ask questions about your practice and then examine your practice to determine the answers. This will allow you to address the issues you face in future sessions more effectively. As you further understand the coaching process you will become a more effective coach. For this article we will look at reflecting on issues that arise when you are coaching and on your coach development goals.
Reflecting on coaching issues
You are probably already reflecting to some extent. While you are coaching a session something will go wrong and you will look at what is happening, think about how you have addressed this in the past, and then try to do something about it. If the issue is serious enough then you may want to do some further reflection on it following the session. To do this you would look at what happened, try to understand what led to the issue, examine what you can learn from the situation, and decide how you will approach the situation differently in future.
There are a number of areas which often cause coaches to reflect on a situation. These areas include:
- Issues with athlete behaviour.
- Issues with athlete performance.
- Actions you take when coaching.
- Parental influence.
- Team organisation.
Let’s look at how you can reflect on an issue following a session. Coach Jill is delivering a session to her school hockey team. During the session one of the players (Kelly) struggles to perform a technique that Coach Jill thought should be easy for her. Following the session Coach Jill reflects on the issue by asking herself a few questions (Figure 1).
By working through these questions to examine the issue Coach Jill will have a better understanding of why Kelly struggled with the technique. She will also be clearer on how she could help her with it in the next session.
The questions Coach Jill reflects on will obviously dictate what answers she arrives at. Based on her questions, what do you think could be one of the reasons Kelly struggled with the technique? What might Coach Jill learn about Kelly and about her own coaching? Some possible answers could include:
- She had misjudged Kelly’s ability level and should give more thought to her players’ previous training experience.
- Some events earlier in the session had led to Kelly being distracted when it came to performing the technique.
- Kelly had been subdued throughout the session. Perhaps there had been an issue that Coach Jill was not aware of? This could cause Coach Jill to think more about the impact of her players’ attitudes and mental status on their performance during a session.
- Coach Jill may have used a very instructional approach to teaching the technique – maybe Kelly would have benefited from a more discovery-based approach?
- Upon reflection it may have been that Kelly was trying to use the technique in a situation with a lot of pressure from opponents. Perhaps it was this pressure that was causing Kelly’s technique to break down, rather than an inability to perform the basic technique.
It is important that Coach Jill takes what she has learnt and applies it to her future sessions. This way she continues to develop as a coach and is able to address this situation more effectively in future.
Reflecting on your coach development goals
Evaluation is about assessing your goals, reflection is about finding meaning and learning. To reflect on your coach development goals you will look deeper into them, asking yourself what happened, why this happened, what it means and what you will do about it in future.
A good way to structure your reflection is to ask yourself a few questions that will require you to think about your coaching and examine your experience. This could be done by adding a few questions to the evaluation box on your session plan for you to reflect on. It is important that you then use what you have learnt by applying it to your future sessions.
Let’s have a look at how Coach Gary has incorporated reflective questions into his coaching plan (Figure 2).
Coach Gary would evaluate the session by identifying that he did in fact ask more than ten open questions. This evaluation by itself does not tell him much that will help him to improve his coaching. To make use of this evaluation Gary needs to reflect on his use of open questions during the session.
Following his session Coach Gary would reflect on the impact of the questions he asked his players. The questions he has listed will help him to better understand the process of asking open questions, and to then take what he has learnt and use it in future sessions. This ensures he continues to develop his coaching skills. To help you understand the reflection process some sample answers that Gary may come up with following his reflection on his use of open questions are provided in Figure 3.
Using a mentor
Another way of using reflection is to have a discussion with another coach. This could include describing the issue that occurred and then discussing what the issue means and what actions could be taken. This discussion could also occur with a mentor that is helping you to develop. Your mentor would ask you questions to help you to reflect, and together you would examine what can be learnt from the situation.
Having someone mentor you is a great way to further your development. Another way to gain ideas and to have someone to discuss coaching issues with is to work as an assistant coach. Not only will you learn by observing another coach in action, you will also have someone to share and discuss your coaching experiences with. The questions that you ask yourself in your reflection you could also talk over with your head coach.
Keeping a journal
You will want to have some way of recording the insights you gain from working with another coach. A good way to achieve this is to keep a journal. To do this you record your observations and reflections in a journal, which you can refer back to. By using a journal you could examine an issue and identify alternative courses of action that you could take. You could put these into action and then reflect on how well these actions have worked. By having it recorded in a journal you have a record of what you have learnt.
In the next issue of Taking charge of your coach development we will look at using a mentor and working as an assistant coach.
Do you reflect on your coaching? What questions do you ask yourself to guide your reflection? Leave a comment telling us how you reflect on your coaching sessions.