Jeff Mitchell – Community Sport Advisor – Sport Auckland
It can be challenging being a coach. You are constantly being asked to make decisions which impact not only yourself but also your athletes and your team. You need to find a balance between player development and winning, and you need to meet the needs of your athletes. Doing these effectively, in a consistent manner, requires that you are clear on your coaching philosophy.
This article looks at what a coaching philosophy is, why you need to have one written down, how you write one, and how you then use it.
A coaching philosophy is a statement of what you value and how you will approach your coaching role. It covers your purpose as a coach and how you will approach player development and winning. Your coaching philosophy consists of your major objectives and the beliefs and principles that you adhere to in order to achieve your objectives.
Your coaching philosophy guides how you behave as a coach and how you interact with your athletes. It should reflect who you are and who you want to be. It is based on your experiences, knowledge, values, opinions and beliefs. Of these, your values have the greatest impact on your coaching philosophy, as it is a statement of what is important to you.
A coaching philosophy will usually be a couple of sentences. Some people are able to capture their philosophy in a couple of words; other people have philosophy statements that run into several paragraphs. All good philosophies, regardless of their length, explain the purpose of coaching and the beliefs and principles that the coach follows to achieve their goals. Below are two examples of coaching philosophies to give you an idea of how they can look.
As a coach, you need to be clear on where you are heading and how you will get there. Your coaching philosophy forms some guiding principles that help you to identify where you want to go and what methods you will use to get there. This will impact on how you design and deliver training sessions for the development of your athletes. It also guides how much emphasis you place on winning versus player development.
Coaching is challenging, as you will often need to make ethical decisions. By having a clear philosophy you are able to make appropriate decisions and to coach more effectively. Being consistent is an important quality for a coach; a clear coaching philosophy helps you to make consistent decisions, and to stay firm in the face of external pressures. For example, if you have a philosophy of developing all of the players that you coach, you are less likely to cave in to the pressure to field your strongest athletes.
As well as promoting consistency, a clear coaching philosophy will remove uncertainty around areas such as team rules, style of play, player discipline, competition and your long-term objectives. Each of these should be based on your coaching philosophy and you should be consistent in applying them. A clear philosophy statement will also help your athletes, their parents, and other people within your coaching environment to understand the decisions you make.
Everyone that coaches has a coaching philosophy; not everyone has taken the time to examine it and write it down. If you have not examined it, then your coaching philosophy will be at a subconscious level. It will still be impacting on how you coach, however, without a clear understanding of what it is you are unable to ensure that it is appropriate. You will also struggle to use it to guide you in your coaching practice. It is an important step for all coaches to write out their coaching philosophy.
How do you write a coaching philosophy?
To formalise your coaching philosophy you need to write a statement that explains your coaching objectives and your coaching approach, which is based on your values. This requires you to identify:
- Your coaching objectives, and
- Your values.
Your coaching objectives should cover what you want to achieve, what you want your team to achieve, and what you want your individual athletes to achieve. Before you can identify appropriate objectives you first need to be clear on your values, as these will inform the objectives that you set. Getting to know your values involves raising your self-awareness.
Raising your self-awareness
Self-awareness is the process of understanding your strengths, your weaknesses, what is important to you, and how you react to different situations. It also involves identifying the level of importance you place on player development and winning. To raise your self-awareness you need to reflect on your coaching and on yourself. This is often done by asking yourself some questions, and then looking at your coaching and the reactions of the people around you to determine how to answer them. These questions could include:
- What is my objective?
- How should I react?
- How do I react?
- What does this tell me / what should I change?
An example will help to illustrate this process:
Reflecting on your responses to situations will help you to understand yourself. To help you to get a better understanding of your values, and to start thinking about what your coaching philosophy could include, consider how you would answer the following questions:
- Why do you coach?
- Who do you coach?
- What kind of coach do you want to be?
- What is the most important thing to teach?
- What do you want your players to get from their sporting experience?
- How do you define success?
Through reflecting on your practice and thinking about what is important to you, you should be able to come up with some values that you feel strongly about. These values should underpin your coaching, and be a key part of your coaching philosophy. They should help you to identify the emphasis you place on development and winning, player participation, how you communicate, and what you will focus on. These values are important and personal, however, your coaching philosophy also needs to operate within the context of your coaching environment.
Understanding your environment
As well as understanding yourself and your objectives, you also need to understand your environment and the limits that you are working with when devising a coaching philosophy. Who you are coaching and where you are coaching will impact on what you can do, and therefore must inform your philosophy. For instance, having a performance-focussed philosophy will not be of use if you are coaching six-year olds. Being firm and expecting strict discipline may not be appropriate if you are coaching a social team. Before you identify your objectives and how you will coach your athletes, you first need to understand those athletes.
Having identified your values, you are now in a position to set some objectives that will inform your philosophy. Coaching objectives should generally address three areas:
- Competitive performance (e.g. winning)
- Player development
- Player enjoyment.
You need to identify what your objectives are for each of these components, and which you will place the greatest focus and emphasis on. This decision should be based on your values, the needs of your athletes, and the environment in which you coach. Once you have done this you should write a statement that encompasses your values, your objectives, and how you will coach your athletes.
How do you use a coaching philosophy?
While the process of writing a coaching philosophy will help you to clarify your values and what is important to you, just having it written down is not enough. Too often coaches write a philosophy statement and then leave it in the drawer. To be effective the philosophy needs to be used, which means that you live it day in and day out. This also means that you abide by it late in the season, when the pressure is on, as much as you do the first day of training.
You should use your philosophy to help you to identify the objectives that you pursue. This will be across a season, during training blocks, and down to individual training sessions and matches. It should also be used to help you to make decisions. If you are unsure what to decide or what action to take, have a look at your philosophy. If it is well written, it should guide you in making the correct choice.
It is important that you inform your players and their parents of your philosophy. This will help them to understand how you will coach them, and explain the objectives that you set. By communicating your philosophy to your athletes, you will reduce confusion, and it will be easier for you to explain the decisions that you make. By informing people of your philosophy you are making a commitment to follow through on it. This will increase the likelihood that you will adhere to it.
It is important to recognise that coaching philosophies grow and evolve over time. This is due to the experience you develop, the knowledge you gain, and the changing profile of the athletes that you coach. It is important that you adapt your philosophy so that it matches the athletes you are coaching. This requires you to regularly take time out to reflect on your coaching philosophy and make sure that it is still accurate and relevant.
One way of maintaining your philosophy is to reflect on the challenging situations that you face. Ask yourself if the way that you approached it matches your philosophy. If it did, then you will reinforce your philosophy. If you did not, or if adhering to your philosophy had a negative result, you will need to reassess your philosophy. If you are regularly getting a negative response, it may pay to identify what you need to change about your philosophy or your approach to coaching.
A coaching philosophy is an important tool for guiding how you coach. It provides you with some clear guidance on the objectives that you should pursue and the approach you will take to achieve them. It helps you to make effective, consistent decisions, and to coach in a way that adheres to your values. By taking the time to clarify your philosophy, and then following through with it, you will be a more effective coach.