Using your learning edge
Part 10 – Maximising your learning
Jeff Mitchell – Community Sport Advisor – Sport Auckland
Throughout this series we have looked at how you can use a learning plan to improve your coaching effectiveness. In this final issue we will look at how to get the most from your learning plan and some ways to troubleshoot the most common issues that can prevent your from achieving your learning goals.
Getting the most from your learning plan
A learning plan can be a great tool for developing your coaching ability. It can also be applied to any other aspect of your life where you are looking to learn and improve. To fully benefit from the plan you need to use it appropriately and regularly. Here are some ways that you can get the most from your plan.
Your learning plan won’t be much help to you if you don’t use it. Plan your week around activities that are linked to the plan. Update the plan as necessary, and regularly review your progress against the plan. You need to actively engage with the plan if it is to help you to improve your learning.
It is important that you challenge yourself to move out of your comfort zone. Find your limits and work at extending them. To really learn you need to spend time in your learning edge. Look for tasks that are difficult and put yourself into challenging situations – and learn from them.
Goal setting is a great way to force yourself into the area where you will learn the most – your learning edge. Set yourself challenges that will extend you and then track your progress against these goals that you set. Identify areas that you are currently struggling to perform with consistency and set goals to improve in them. Goal setting is also an effective way to maintain your motivation while tracking your progress.
Have a growth mindset
How you approach learning and the challenges you face in coaching will have a big impact on the benefit that you take from them. You will get the most benefit if you are positive and actively seek out opportunities to push and develop yourself. This growth mindset is essential if you want to really improve while using a learning plan.
Have a research process
Finding a research process that works for you is essential for gaining and then using the information that you need in order to grow. There are a variety of ways to conduct research and it is important that you find a process that works best for you. You want to be able to find the information that will help you, record it in a way that is accessible, and then be able to use this information to inform your practice. Find a research process that works for you and implement it when trying to learn about a topic.
Reflect on your learning
Take the time to think about what you have learnt – through your research, from your experiences, and from the challenges that you face. Reflection will help you to identify more learning points and to develop a fuller understanding of the area. To make your reflection really useful it is a good idea to record your key learning points. This could be in a learning journal, a lessons learned form or another system for recording ideas.
Review your learning plan
Your learning plan should be dynamic – it should change as your learning needs change. You need to make sure that the goals you have set are appropriate, the actions you select are actually helping you to achieve those goals, and that the plan is helping you to learn. Regularly reviewing the plan will help you to ensure that it is helping you to learn effectively.
Even with a well-written plan it can be difficult sometimes to make the progress that you desire. There can be challenges in implementing the plan and sometimes you will find that things are just not working. Here we will look at potential solutions for some of the issues that you may face as you try to implement your learning plan.
Failing to achieve your objectives
It can be frustrating if you are consistently failing to achieve the objectives in your learning plan. To address this situation you should have a closer look at the objectives that you are setting:
- Review your objectives: are they appropriate? Why are you not achieving them? Are the actions that you have identified capable of achieving the goals? What could you change to help you to achieve these goals? Review your objectives to see if they are appropriate.
- Evaluate your learning plan: see if you can improve the plan so that you are more likely to achieve your learning goals.
Failing to improve
Learning occurs when there is a permanent change in your behaviour. You may find that despite working through your learning plan you do not seem to be making any visible improvements. It may be that you are still struggling with the areas that you are working on. It could be that even though you are learning you are not able to improve your coaching performance. It might even be that you are continuing to repeat the same mistakes. If you find that you are failing to improve then you could try some of the following:
- Apply your learning – make sure that you are actually using what you have learnt. It may be that you are continuing to use your previous coaching methods without incorporating the new knowledge that you have gained;
- Replicate your learning – look for opportunities to use what you have learnt while you are coaching. Put yourself into appropriate situations and try using the processes that you have researched;
- Profile yourself so that you know your starting point and then track your progress. It may be that you actually are improving and just don’t realise it; and
- Set goals and identify small actions or steps that you can take that will help you to improve towards them.
You could try the following if you are having trouble integrating your learning into your practice:
- Working at your learning edge by using tasks that are challenging and just out of your current competency level;
- Setting goals that require you to apply what you have learnt; and
- Identifying actions in your learning plan that involve implementing what you have learnt.
Lack of consistency
It can be frustrating when you are learning a new skill and you are not able to perform it consistently. Likewise, it can be disheartening if you are unable to implement your new knowledge on a regular basis. There are a few steps you can take if you are lacking consistency:
- Take your time to work through your learning zones – moving from conscious incompetence to unconscious competence. Recognise that you will make a number of mistakes until the learning is truly embedded;
- Regularly practice using what you have learnt and gradually increase the challenges you face;
- Examine why your performance is inconsistent and then look to address this;
- Think about whether you need to learn more on the topic or tackle the situation from a different angle;
- Keep the issue as a focus area until you move from conscious incompetence or competence to unconscious competence;
- Examine your mistakes by looking at your objective, what the outcome was, and what the cause of this outcome was; and
- Remember that working at your learning edge will result in inconsistent performance. Keep working to move the skill to a level of consistency and then work on something harder that puts you back into your learning edge.
It can be hard to remain motivated while working through your learning plan. You will find it very hard when you are lacking motivation to follow through on your plan and achieve your learning objectives. To maintain your motivation to work through your learning plan:
- Stay out of the boredom zone – tasks that are too far below your current ability level will not provide a motivating challenge;
- Identify how the learning will help you to become a more effective coach; and
- Focus on issues that you are facing in your coaching – these will provide a direct benefit to you, your athletes and your coaching.
Not finding time
To reap the benefit of a learning plan you need to take the time to implement it. A lack of time is a common excuse for not following through with a learning plan. No doubt you are short on time and have many commitments, people and activities vying for your attention. You can try the following if you are struggling to find the time to use your plan:
- In your weekly planning set aside time each week for working on your plan;
- Each week look for opportunities to implement the plan and programme these into your week-plan;
- Keep focused on your goals – use these to motivate you to find the time;
- Work with a mentor who you are accountable to and who will keep you on track; and
- Debrief your sessions – programme in time to conduct session reviews and make it a habit to complete them.
Another issue that you may face when working through a learning plan is information overload. You might be confronted with a slew of information while researching a topic – to the extent that you don’t know where to start, what is relevant and how to implement any of it. It is important to have a process to help you to come to grips with the information that you need to sift through:
- Reflection can help you to centre on what is important so that you can filter your information and pull out what is relevant to the achievement of your learning objectives.
- A system for recording relevant information can make it a lot easier for you to identify and record the information that is most useful. This system could be a lessons learned form, a learning journal, a mind-map or a Dictaphone.
Sometimes the struggle is not dealing with information overload but instead to find resources to help you to gain new information. If you find this to be the case then you can try some of these strategies:
- Be clear on what you are looking for. You will then be in a better position to decide where you are most likely to find the information you are after;
- Look at a range of sources including books, blogs, the internet, other coaches, courses etc.; and
- Use your network to help you to find sources of information – ask other coaches for books, magazines, articles, videos and internet resources that they have found beneficial.
Sometimes you will face challenges in your coaching that are difficult to overcome. If you are struggling to find appropriate solutions, you may need to examine the assumptions you are making regarding the problem:
- Test your assumptions as it may be that your current way of viewing coaching or your deeply held beliefs are getting in the way of finding a solution; and
- Try going outside the square – look to another sport or another area of knowledge to gather new ideas.
Lack of support
Learning is most effective when it is done in a collaborative fashion. You will probably have a number of objectives in your plan that can be achieved with the help of others. You could try some of the following options if you are struggling to find people that can support you in implementing your learning plan:
- Find a mentor who can support you with resources, point you in the right direction, and help you to make sense of what you are learning;
- Work with another coach who can act as a critical friend or be someone that you can share ideas with; and
- Share your learning plan with your players, other coaches, friends and family. If they know what you are trying to achieve then they may be able to help you to achieve it.
It is important that you are continuously learning and striving to improve your coaching. Through this series of articles we have looked at how you can use a learning plan to enhance your coach development. A detailed learning plan is an effective tool to guide your development and keep you focused on the tasks and information that can help you to achieve your goals. Use your plan to learn about the topics that interest you and that will help you to become a better coach.
This will be my last post on the topics of coaching and coach development, as I am shifting my attention to other areas. Thank you for reading this blog and I hope that you have been able to use some of the ideas to improve your own coaching.