How Do You Salvage A Coaching Session That Is Slipping Away From You?
I probably should have known better. I could feel my frustration building and consequently the session slowly slipping away.
It was the last session before Christmas. As a treat, I had decided to finish up by playing some parachute games with the kids. But it was windy and they were little kids: 5, 6 and 7-year olds. Anyone who coaches kids will tell you that kids tend to “lose it” a bit in windy conditions. “Yep – kids and cattle”, a teacher at a country school said when I asked him if he thought wind affected kids’ behaviour.
To add to the difficulties, I had fewer kids around the parachute than is ideal even in good conditions. So, not only was the group’s concentration challenged, so were their physical capabilities. Try getting a large playchute to do what you want it to do in windy conditions when you are 5 years old and haven’t got much help. It goes down when you want it to go up, and up when you want it to go down. It pulls the kids out of position and causes them to bunch up when you need them to spread out. It was not going well.
I was quite aware of all these potential problems before pulling the parachute out of its bag – but did so anyway. Within a minute of getting it out, I wished I hadn’t. The kids’ listening skills were off that day. They struggled to follow instructions, work together, and cope with what I was asking them to do.
We couldn’t even get past the first activity of creating a ”mushroom”. This is where the group – spread out around the parachute – crouch down holding its edge, then stand to lift and hold the parachute above their heads. Done right, the parachute billows out in a mushroom shape.
The session was flopping and I became frustrated.
I held my cool for a while, persisting with what I had planned . . . then almost gave up. I had had enough. I started berating the kids for not listening and finally threatened to put the parachute away. I almost finished on a failure – in the last session before Christmas. Not the ideal way to conclude a session and end the year!
But then, luckily, I paused and found my composure. I reassessed, and changed tact . . . and this saved the session.
I ditched trying to deliver a perfect parachute session. Instead, I used the situation to teach the group about working together and persisting in difficult conditions. I didn’t change the activity – I altered its purpose and adjusted my expectations.
I stopped and admitted to the kids that what we were trying was difficult but if we worked together and everyone did their job, we might be able to do it.
We went back to trying to make the mushroom again: Fail . . . fail . . . fail . . . SUCCESS! The parachute was up in the air. Shaped like a mushroom. We tried again, and we did it again, then again. Three times in a row.
I was so glad that I hadn’t thrown in the towel. What type of example would that have set? The group achieved success, the session finished on a positive note, and I felt that I had taught the kids (and myself) something valuable.
In summary, I:
- Stopped the activity to reflect with the kids on what was occurring.
- Admitted to them that the activity wasn’t going well and what I had asked them to do was difficult in the conditions we were facing.
- Pointed out to them that this was an opportunity to work really hard together – with everyone doing their job – to try to overcome the problems.
As a result I have learned, that when faced with a session that is slipping away:
- Admit to yourself and the group that things are not going well.
- Don’t stick doggedly to your original plan or expectations if things are clearly not working.
- Empathise with the participants – what is happening from their point of view?
- Avoid blaming the kids – it is probably your fault.
- Seize the opportunity as a teachable moment to emphasize persistence, creativity, teamwork, or some other character-based trait.
Over To You!
Have you had a similar experience? What are your strategies for saving a session that is failing? You can let me know by leaving a comment/reply or by using the contact details below.
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Darren Wensor is a sports development professional, coach educator, specialist coach of young athletes and founder of the blog coachingyoungathletes.com. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Anchor or via email.