Coaching Positives, Negatives And Learnings From 2018
For the first time ever, I have decided to share my annual coaching review with you.
Each year I aim to sit down at least once to look back at my coaching over the previous twelve months. I map out positives, negatives and what I learned. I also identify some areas on which to focus during the coming twelve months.
It is an invaluable experience, being vital for ongoing self-improvement. The reviews are also a marvellous resource to keep and fascinating to look back over.
I hope that you can take something away from my assessment of my performance and what I learned during 2018. If you don’t already do a similar exercise, I hope that it may inspire to do so in the future.
Positives in 2018
Some things that I felt I did well during 2018 are:
During 2018 I increased my focus on providing opportunities for athletes to take some control during sessions. This was done in the form of asking for their input, turning some decisions over to them, giving them choices and allowing them to select activities. Empowered athletes without doubt more readily buy in to the sessions. I became even more convinced that when given the chance and briefed accordingly, kids will more often than not make sensible decisions.
I certainly became much better at crafting coaching cues. I concentrated on using external coaching cues where possible and was convinced by the effectiveness of this form of cue. External cues focus attention away from the body or are targeted beyond the body on an external object. It has been found that external cues that are more likely to promote motor skill learning and performance improvement in an athlete, as opposed to internal cues which focus attention on an individual’s own body movement or muscle action.
I became much more aware of promoting a connection between the athletes in my sessions. When planning warm up games or drills, I deliberately constructed activities that led to interaction and cooperation between participants. I also made sure that the athletes had the opportunity to partner, team up and interact with a variety of people within the group.
I really challenged myself to discover new task constraints. My focus was on narrowing the space in which a skill could be performed in order to “squeeze” a movement into the required pattern.
5 items that were seen more often and used with great success during my sessions in 2018:
- Pool noodles – This was my favourite item to experiment with in 2018. Can be cut down to a variety of sizes. Are wonderful as part of an obstacle course, as corner posts to identify a playing area, for “taggers” to use during tag games, etc.
- Medicine Balls – Always in my car and used extensively in 2018. A very versatile piece of equipment.
- Skipping Ropes – Wonderful to use during a warm up, and far more interesting and beneficial than jogging. The movement challenges are endless.
- Adjustable Mini Hurdles – Multi-use and wonderful for giving the flexibility to regress and progress challenges.
- Ground Dots – Fantastic for guiding an athlete’s feet to a required spot and useful when marking targets or starting points.
First 5 Minutes
I became even more conscious of how I treated the time period of first contact with the athletes each session to the start of the warm up. This is a time that is crucial for connecting with the athletes and setting up the tone of a session. Further to the many strategies that I had already been using, this year I made sure that at every session, I greeted each athlete individually. With my younger groups, I initiated either a high five or fist bump with every kid’s on arrival. I replicated this at the end of the session prior to the kids leaving. I initially feared that this would be a bit “cheesy” until I discovered how well it drew smiles and resonated with the kids.
I enjoyed searching for ways to turn any drill or activity into a game. With my younger athletes, every single activity within a session had to have a game element to it. I created fun competitions, challenges, relays, obstacle courses and scenarios that disguised drills. It sometimes took a lot of thinking and planning, but I am happy to say that I moved away from drills, as often traditionally thought of, in my sessions.
I was happy with my willingness to continue to try new things and step outside of my coaching comfort zone. I believe that it is important for coaches to risk failure by stretching boundaries rather than staying “safe” and restricting growth.
I added so many new games, activities and challenges to my repertoire. Some activities were picked up from readings, videos and online courses but I am am proud to say that many were of my own creation. This was a result of me looking at ways in which I could make activities engaging, novel and beneficial to the athletes.
I am proud to say that I didn’t schedule a “traditional” strength circuit all year. The kids did a lot of strength work but it was disguised as games, challenges and obstacle courses. The strength activities that I used were very much based around “body weight management” exercises i.e. being able to control the weight of your body. These include bracing, supporting, balancing, etc and executed via challenges, games, obstacle courses, etc.
Negatives in 2018
Some things that I didn’t do too well during 2018 are:
Recording and Reflection
I started the year brilliantly when it came to formally planning, recording, reviewing and reflecting on sessions, but this drifted off badly in the latter parts of the year. I really regret this now, particularly as I write this review! I have scant records of some of my best sessions. remedying this will be a focus in 2019.
I’m generally good at curbing challenging participant behaviour but several times I got frustrated by, and impatient with, kids who were pushing behaviour boundaries and/or were showing signs of disengagement. I let it negatively affect my temperament on occasion, which I was disappointed with. Looking back, this mostly occurred during sessions that were not as well planned or constructed and my frustration was probably more at myself than the kids. This serves as motivation to consistently properly plan sessions and work hard to deliver an experience that fully and effectively engages the kids right from the very start.
I also was a couple of times disappointed with the way I handled participants who didn’t appear to understand instructions. I felt myself at time becoming exasperated at their lack of understanding when on reflection I should have really reconsidered my approach to communicating the information.
Learnings During 2018
The Creativity of Kids
During 2018 I increasingly gave the kids space within my sessions to be creative. Their ability to come up with fresh ideas and solutions continues to amaze me and I realise that I have not given the kids enough credit or trust in the past. It was a joy at times to just release the session to the kids and then to stand back and let them go.
Sources of Inspiration
I discovered how watching my own young kids at play could provide inspiration for activities and challenges to test out with the kids I coach. On many occasions I adapted ideas that my own kids had created – games and challenges that emerged during free play – to use during my coaching sessions as warm up games, or strength/skill challenges. I will continue to be alert to such sources of inspiration and quick to note down any ideas that pop up.
Tape As A Cue
I cannot emphasise enough how excited I was to discover the effectiveness of using a piece of coloured tape on an athlete as a supplement to strengthen external cues. The concept is that some external cues can be made more effective by placing a piece of coloured tape on the part of the athlete’s body that is related to the cue. It appears that athletes can respond better by focusing on the piece of tape, as opposed to the body part. For example, rather than asking a high jumper to drive up their knee, it appears that it may be more effective to place a piece of coloured tape on the athlete’s knee and cue them to “drive the tape up”. I experimented with this idea across a number of track and field skills, with amazing success. One of my biggest successes was with helping beginner scissor high jumpers remember which foot to drive over the bar first.
Some Focus Areas For 2019
I am determined to consistently keep good records of my sessions plans and reviews during 2019. I need to find a way that makes the information easy to record and also easy to retrieve.
I am keen to experiment with using more novelty at the start of sessions to grab the participants’ attention, draw them in and win them over early.
Cues and Constraints
I am really looking forward to experimenting and innovating with coaching cues (particularly analogies) and task/movement constraints. I expect pool noodles, ground dots and coloured tape will feature prominently!
I would love to experiment with creating an environment in which the athletes have the opportunity to teach each other. This may involve better debriefing games and challenges and asking athletes to share their strategies and ideas with each other.
Overall, it was a very positive coaching year during which I felt I grew and improved as a coach. I learned a lot and was really excited by some of the new things I tried and created.
Follow Up Task
If you are a coach and haven’t done so already, write a review of your 2018 coaching performance and experiences. What did you do well? What was not so great? What did you learn? Where will you focus your efforts in 2019? I would love to know what you come up with. You can let me know by leaving a comment/reply or by contacting me using the below details.
If this post helped you please take a moment to help others by sharing it on social media. If you want to learn more I encourage you to leave questions and comments or contact me directly.
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.