10 mistakes of a beginner coach – Part 1

Part 1 of 2

Jeff Mitchell – Community Coach Advisor – Sport Auckland / GACU

Making mistakes is an important part of developing as a coach. Which is good, because as a beginner coach I made a lot of them. However, mistakes are only good if we learn from them. As athlete-centred coaches we give our players the freedom to make mistakes, as we know that from these mistakes they will grow and become better players. As coaches it is important that we too learn from our mistakes.

To learn from our mistakes requires us to firstly acknowledge them, and to then look at what we can learn from them. It can be difficult to admit we are wrong, however, to continue to grow we need to embrace the mistakes that we make. In this two-part article I will discuss 10 mistakes that I made as a beginner coach, and through this examine some elements of effective coaching.

Here in Part 1 I will discuss the first five mistakes that I made as a beginner coach. Part 2 will then discuss the remaining five. By providing my own experience, I hope that other coaches will reflect on their own mistakes. Which of the ten mistakes that follow can you recognise in your own coaching past? Which are you still guilty of? And most importantly, what can you learn from this?

Mistake #1: Being naïvebeginner coach

I started coaching while studying towards a degree in Sport Management. Upon graduating I was fortunate enough to secure a part time coaching job at a large football club. I also completed a football-specific coaching qualification. I was now a coach.

Having completed my study, I felt that I knew most of what I needed to know about coaching. I didn’t. I still don’t. With coaching there is always more to learn and you can always improve your effectiveness. Any time that you think you have it sorted you will stumble across a whole area of coaching you hadn’t even considered. There are layers and layers you can go through on any one aspect of coaching. No matter how much you know or how good you think you are, there is always more you could do.

What’s the problem?

Being naïve about how much I knew and how good I was certainly limited my early development as a coach. You need to be driven to keep learning and improving, which is hard to do when you think you already know it all. Self-awareness is an important attribute for a coach, and being naïve is a sure sign of a lack of self-awareness. My development over this early period was much slower than it could have been, due to the fact that I was not actively trying to better myself.

As I thought I was a pretty good coach, I didn’t take opportunities that would have sped up my development. I read a lot about coaching, as it is a topic I enjoy, but I didn’t look outside my own practice for what I could learn from others. When you are naïve about your own ability you are less likely to take advice from other coaches, or to observe other coaches delivering. Both of these opportunities can be great ways to develop, if you are open to them.

What’s the solution?

The first thing you need to do is to recognise that you have been naïve about your knowledge or coaching effectiveness. Once you recognise this you can then take steps to address it. It is important that you have a good understanding of what your current knowledge and abilities are. A good way to do this is to profile yourself. Developing your self-awareness in this way is key to preventing further naivety in the future.

Talking to other coaches and observing what they do was one way that I came to recognise my naivety. Reflecting on my practice had the biggest impact. When I thought back to what I did as a novice coach, and how I viewed myself, it became apparent quite quickly that I was out of touch with reality. Reflecting regularly on your coaching will help you to have a better understanding of what your abilities really are. The sooner you can recognise that you have been naïve, the sooner you can start the process of improving your coaching.

Mistake #2: Not spending enough time planning sessionsfailing_to_plan_is_planning_to_fail_by_igorcheb-d4gjujn

Even from the earliest days of my coaching I wrote out session plans. These initial plans, however, were brief and often by-the-numbers. Planning isn’t fun, and you don’t coach from behind a desk. So I was always more interested in actually getting out and doing-the-doing rather than planning for it. This meant that the sessions that I designed weren’t necessarily the ones that the players needed.

What’s the problem?

Failing to plan is planning to fail. We all know it, but how well do we do it? Planning is critical for delivering an effective session. There are numerous elements of a session that can go wrong if we haven’t planned well enough. These are some of the issues I faced as a beginner coach that could be put down to a lack of planning:

a)      Struggling to deal with a lack of players turning up to training;

b)      Running out of ideas during the session;

c)       Not having enough equipment to run the session properly;

d)      Not taking advantage of coachable moments;

e)      Talking too long when giving instructions; and

f)       Sessions that were aimless or that I did not feel achieved anything.

By not investing enough time into planning I reduced my effectiveness, which in turn reduced the quality of the session for the players. Focusing on planning – and doing it well – will provide significant benefits for both your players and your own coaching ability.

What’s the solution?

The first thing you need to do is to recognise the importance of planning. Recognise its value and look at it as something that will enhance your coaching, rather than a necessary evil. Make the time to plan, and learn how to do it effectively.

Proper planning has helped me to address the issues that I faced as a beginner coach when my planning wasn’t up to scratch. This is how I improved my planning to address the issues I faced:

a)      In my plan I identified modifications I could make to activities based on the number of players that turned up;

b)      I planned some additional activities to use as ‘back-ups’;

c)       I identified what equipment I would need, and made sure that it was available;

d)      I wrote down my coaching points and made sure I was aware of what I should be looking for;

e)      I planned what I would say to my athletes and identified the key words to use that would get my points across succinctly; and

f)       I had a clear objective and then wrote the session so that it met this objective.

Investing a bit of time in planning your sessions will be time well spent.

Mistake #3: Not reviewing my sessions

My first coaching job involved coaching 12 teams per week. This kept me busy, and coaching until late into the evening didn’t leave me with the energy or motivation to then review my sessions. In fact it took a long time before I came to realise the value of reviewing the sessions I delivered. I now view the process of reviewing sessions to be as important as that of planning them.

What’s the problem?

As coaches we should be continuously trying to improve what we do. Reviewing the sessions that we deliver is an important part of this process. Because I was not reviewing my sessions, I would regularly repeat the same mistakes. I wasn’t really aware of what was working in my sessions and what was not. Without reviewing my sessions, I often wouldn’t even know if I had achieved what I set out to achieve. If I had reviewed each session, I would have been able to improve every session I delivered.

What’s the solution?

The coaching cycle involves Planning / Delivering / Reviewing. By spending time on each aspect of the cycle you will improve the effectiveness of your coaching. This means that you need to set aside some time to review your sessions.

Reviewing a session can be done quite simply, by asking yourself some questions, and looking back over how the session went to answer these. You shouldn’t ask lots of questions for every session; rather pick one or two per session to look at in a bit more detail. Some of the questions that I use when reviewing sessions I have delivered include the following:

  • Did I achieve the objectives for the session?
  • Which activities did the players enjoy or respond well to?
  • What changes could I make to the activities?
  • How active were the players during the session?
  • What could I do different next time?
  • What parts of the session did the players struggle with?
  • Did I stick to the timings? Were the timings realistic?

Make it a habit to review each of your sessions and your coaching will go from strength to strength.

Mistake #4: Not reflecting on my coachingreflecting on coaching

Reflection would have to be one of the greatest tools available to a coach who is trying to improve. Reflection goes deeper than just reviewing your session, as you will look at the underlying issues and try to understand what you can learn from what you reflect on. A session review will look at how well a session went; reflection on a session will look at deeper coaching issues and what you can learn about yourself.

What’s the problem?

Reflecting on your practice will raise your awareness of how you coach. I was naïve early in my coaching career and it wasn’t until I started to reflect on my coaching that I was able to lift this veil of ignorance. By not reflecting on my coaching I was failing to see a number of areas that were holding back my progress. Failing to reflect meant that I was unaware of how I was coaching and the effect that this was having on my athletes. In short, by not reflecting on my coaching I greatly slowed down my own rate of progress.

What’s the solution?

To start reflecting on your practice it is a good idea to set aside some time each week to reflect on your coaching. Reflection is the process of examining a situation and identifying what the situation tells you about your coaching. Reflection is a form of inquiry, so the best way to reflect is to ask yourself questions.

There are a few different angles that reflection can take. You could reflect on an aspect of your coaching, such as your use of questions or demonstrations. Here you would try to understand your use of the aspect and how you could make it more effective. You could reflect on an issue that occurs during a session, such as a problem with athlete behaviour. In this case you would try to understand what has caused the issue. You might choose to reflect on your reactions to a session and how you felt about something that occurred. Your reflection could also be at a critical level where you look at the wider issues around your coaching and role as a coach. Whatever level you reflect at, the important thing is to identify what you have learnt and how you will change your coaching as a result.

As with reviewing your session, the solution with reflecting is to make it a priority. Spend some time reflecting on your coaching. It took me a while to start reviewing my sessions. It took me even longer to start to reflect on my coaching. If I had one piece of advice for a developing coach it would be this: reflect on your practice. If you can get into the habit of reflecting regularly you will find your development will really take off.

Mistake #5: Ignoring parentsparents on sideline

In the early days of my coaching there was only one group of people I was interested in: the players. I was there to coach them, not their parents. Apart from being friendly with them, I did not really see the need to engage with them, and I certainly didn’t see the need to try and meet their needs. Once they dropped their children off it was my responsibility to look after and develop them. I didn’t see that my responsibility extended to the players’ parents also.

What’s the problem?

The problem is that if you don’t manage your players’ parents then they will become a problem. Parents have much more influence over their children than the coach does. You may get to train them for a couple of hours a week (if you’re lucky). Their parents will spend a lot more time with them, and their parents will play a much larger role in shaping their beliefs and attitudes.

A great example is the role of winning. As a coach I placed the development of my players above winning. Unfortunately, not all of my team’s parents shared this view. Because I hadn’t spent enough time engaging with them and getting their buy-in to my philosophy, they did not reinforce the messages I was trying to give to my players. If a child has to pick between the instructions of their coach and those of their parents, who do you think they are most likely to follow? Instead of working together for the benefit of the players we were working against each other.

What’s the solution?

It’s pretty simple: you need to engage with your parents. Accept that they are part of the team, and find out what their needs and expectations are. Communication is key: be open and encourage your team’s parents to approach you with any questions or concerns. Also be clear on the boundaries: as coach you have responsibility for areas such as team selection and playing strategy. Let them know what you are and are not prepared to discuss.

A pre-season meeting with your team’s parents is a great way to open up the communication lines. Inform them of your philosophy and how you intend to coach the team. Use this opportunity to explain your expectations of parents and what is required for the season to go smoothly. Also let them know how they can help out, by providing them with roles. Many parents are keen to help; they just aren’t sure how to do so.

In Part 2 I will discuss the next five mistakes that I made as a beginner coach and look at how you can improve your coaching by avoiding the same mistakes.

What mistakes did you make when you were starting out as a coach? What mistakes do you see other coaches making? Leave a comment with your thoughts.

7 thoughts on “10 mistakes of a beginner coach – Part 1

  1. Really enjoyed reading this and was certainly guilty of all 5 at points early on in my career.
    Regarding point 5, it can’t be stressed enough. The role of the parent is extremely important in the continued development of our players.
    Having worked for a couple of years in the states I would say it’s even more prevalent an issue there. Parents have such a lack of understanding of the game that I would regularly here shouts of ‘kick it!’ or ‘good kick’ (when the ball has been aimlessly humped to the opposition)
    I had erroneously thought that making sure my players knew this was wrong would be enough. It’s not. What happened was a culture of disrespect towards their parents with regards to what they didn’t know about the game. I certainly don’t want to breed any disrespect towards parents or indeed anyone.
    I have found that providing parents with regular feedback after games has been one of the best ways to solve the issue. It’s less confrontational and doesn’t attack any one parent which can make them feel alienated. Although sometimes getting the courage to speak to an individual parent is necessary.

    Loving your articles, keep ’em coming!

    • Hi Tim, thanks for the comment. It is definitely true that it is a common occurrence to hear parents celebrating what they think is good play (kicking the ball away) when really they are only reinforcing what we don’t want the players to be doing. A meeting with the parents at the start of the season outlining your coaching philosophy – and the behaviours you want your parents to celebrate – can go a long way to helping them to cheer appropriately from the side line.

      One idea is to have one or two areas that the team is focusing on for a game. In football (soccer) this could be to take a first touch or to pass to a team mate’s feet (or just in front of them etc). You would work on this in training and then theme your match day around it. Prior to the start of the match you would meet briefly with the parents and let them know what the team is focussing on (even better if one of the players can explain it to them). You then let the parents know that when they see this happen in the game they should cheer for it. This gets them reinforcing the areas you want the players working on, and gradually educates the parents on what effective play is.

      • Thanks Jeff I like your ideas.
        I have met or spoken to parents prior to a season but have yet to meet with them prior to each game. (would potentially have created a conflict regarding those that can make on time and those that can’t – not a professional club I was working for :P)
        In any case, an email out to the parents would create a similar affect

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