Coaching Positives, Negatives And Learnings From 2020
One of the most important tasks that I undertake as a coach each year is my annual coaching review. This is a self-audit on my coaching performance over the previous 12 months.
Two of years ago, inspired by @JamesClear, I began publishing my annual coaching review on this blog.
I don’t suggest that everyone needs to make their reviews public but in trying to make it readable and helpful for others I feel that it has motivated me to produce a better quality resource for myself.
In the review, I outline positives, negatives and what I learned. I also identify some areas on which I will focus during the coming twelve months.
If you don’t already do a similar exercise, I hope that this may inspire you to do so in the future.
Positives in 2020
Some things that I felt I did well during 2020 are:
Coaching My Daughter
In the latter part of 2020, my 5-year-old daughter began participating in Little Athletics and attending my fundamentals sessions at the local Little Athletics centre. She chose to attend every one for which she was eligible, which I took as a positive sign! I never had to talk her into attending. Her involvement and subsequent comments and conversations gave me additional insight into my coaching. On one occasion, I even included an activity that she had created while she was filling in time prior to a session beginning. It was a great success. I wrote about it HERE. On a couple of occasions she drew pictures of the sessions, which was invaluable in showing me what stood out to her. In an attempt to learn even more, I started to experiment with asking my daughter for ideas for future sessions. I even asked her to help me create a game to use in a future session. We haven’t yet got around to collaborating on this, but I am curious as to what will eventuate.
I continued to get better at formally planning my sessions. I developed, refined and improved my planning template in Evernote. I love using an online note taking app and Evernote really works for me. It allows me to easily store all of my sessions and always have them at my fingertips.
I got better at beginning to plan my sessions days in advance. This allowed ideas to settle, grow and develop. I like how I have set up the planning template so as to encourage the recording of ideas for the next session when reviewing the current session. I have also set up the template with prompts to remind me to include certain items within a session.
Over the course of the year, at the top of the planning template I added a section entitled “Focus”. I used this section to record what the focus of each session would be, which encouraged an even stronger intent to what I planned to deliver. It also assisted with each review when I later determined if the intended focus had been achieved.
I became really consistent at debriefing each session at its conclusion with the kids. At the end of each session, I would gather the kids, sit them down and ask each one of them what they liked most about the session. This was a really wonderful learning opportunity, the results of which I would often record in my session review.
Record Keeping & Reflection
I got into a habit of reviewing sessions as soon as possible after I had delivered them. My aim was to always do this by the end of the same day, which I mostly achieved. This was made easier by me reviewing the sessions within the same Evernote template that I used to plan the session. Where relevant I added notes to the plan and filled in three reflective sections:
- Focus For Next Session
I found this to be a valuable part of the process, not only for the learning that I unearthed, but also because it led me to begin planning the next session as I was reviewing the last.
Consulting the Kids
I got a lot stronger at allowing the kids input into sessions. I often wrote reminders into my session plans to ensure I left space in the program to allow it to occur.
Creating Stories Around Activities
This was one of my strongest areas of development in 2020. I felt I became really good at weaving stories into games, challenges and activities to help make them engaging for the kids.
I even sometimes used a theme to connect activities within a session. On one occasion I linked the penultimate activity in a session (an obstacle course) with the final activity (a game). I told the kids that if they completed the “Ninja Challenge Course” they could progress to the “Monster Cave” (playing area) in which we played “Monster Tag”. The kids loved it.
A wonderful portrayal of engaging kids through story-telling and imagination can be seen in the Peppa Pig episode “Gym Class”:
Coaching in the Context
I got better at trusting my coaching instincts during 2020. I became more confident in taking the kids and the context of the session into account when making coaching decisions. I liaised with the kids better and passed over some decision making to them. In the past I have sometimes been a bit dogmatic about sticking to “proven” processes and scientifically-supported training methods. In 2020 I relaxed and often trusted the kids’ judgement. It made for happier young athletes.
Balancing Teaching With Session Momentum
In my 2019 review I admitted that I struggled with balancing session momentum and having to pause procedures to teach or correct technique. I felt both were important but one impacted negatively on the other if not done exceedingly well. A couple of times during the latter half of 2020, I felt I really nailed this teaching/momentum balance.
Smiles Per Hour
During the year, I read a suggestion that youth sports coaching sessions should be rated on “Smiles per hour”. This became a core focus for me and was often noted at the top of a session plan. It assisted in the selection of my session content and the positive demeanour of the sessions.
During 2020, I started using an app to regularly engage with the parents of the kids who attended my sessions. Prior to each session, I would send them a brief summary of what I planned to include in the upcoming session. Following the session I sent them a summary of what we did and what was achieved. The reaction from the parents to this was very positive and I will definitely continue this in 2021.
Negatives in 2020
Some things that didn’t go well in 2020 are:
I felt that I did a better job last year of prioritising strength development. I certainly was less creative in this area than last year and some of my sessions were completely devoid of any strength development focus. I really believe that this should be an area of priority, but a lot of my sessions did not reflect this.
One of my biggest disappointments in myself is that I didn’t improve in a couple of things that I pointed out in my 2019 review. I specifically set them as focus areas for improvement but failed to take any action. (See below).
I was also disappointed that I failed to remember and repeat some really good activities that had appeared in past sessions. For instance, I can see that on a number of occasions I mentioned in a session review how well an activity went and how much the kids enjoyed it, but it failed to appear again in another session. It frustrates me that a number of really good items went missing and I didn’t have a process to prompt their re-use.
I continue to be really inept at quickly learning and remembering kids’ names. I stated in my review last year that it is one of my biggest faults as a coach. I am really disappointed in myself for getting no better at this over the last 12 months, particularly as it was a highlighted in my 2019 review.
In my 2018 and 2019 review, I stated that I would love to experiment with creating an environment in which the athletes have the opportunity to teach each other. I wanted to encourage the kids to share their strategies and ideas with each other following the completion of a game or challenge. I still haven’t used the idea. I need to add a prompt into my session planning template to ensure the idea sees the light of day during 2021.
Learnings During 2020
Plans Are Pliable
When I reviewed a session, it often amazed me how many alterations and adjustments, some of them significant, that I had made to the original session plan. This may have occurred because of weather conditions, less or more kids turning up than expected, activities working better or not as well as expected, and ideas popping up during sessions. It confirmed to me that coaches need to be flexible and ready to adapt.
Kids Love Games, Especially Those Supported By A Story
It is becoming more apparent the longer that I coach that games enveloped in a story that utlise the kids’ imagination should feature prominently during a coaching session. They capture and draw the kids in, and guarantee that the “smiles per hour” count will be high.
Kids Love Being Given Creative Licence
I saw session engagement and energy levels explode when I gave the kids the opportunity to do things in their own way. They tried and achieved things that I would never have expected of them.
The First Activity Of A Session Should require Minimal Explanation
I learnt to begin sessions with games that require minimal talking from the coach. Save activities that require more explanation for later in the session once the kids’ have had the chance to expel some of that initial energy and excitement.
Don’t Pursue Session Momentum By Short-Cutting Your Explanations
This is related to the point above. In trying to get the kids moving as quickly as possible, on several occasions I found myself shortcutting my explanation of an activity. This inevitably resulted in the kids not fully understanding or misinterpreting what was required. This in turn often meant that I had to stop the session to put everything back on track. Ironically, by trying to save time, I ended up wasting it.
Kids Skills Can Surprise You
In one particular session with a group of 5-9 year-olds I decided to include some hopping, jumping and bounding skills. I did this by challenging them to complete a variety of combinations using hoops and ground dots as landing targets. One of the many combinations that I included was he triple jump sequence – a hop, bound, and a jump. Or as I like to teach it: land on the same foot, then the other foot, then both feet. Every child achieved the correct combination, which surprised me. Triple jump is an an event that is not introduced until the Under 11 age group in the Little Athletics Australia system. While I was not specifically teaching the kids to “triple jump” they were able to achieve the movement sequence with adequate teaching.
One of my proudest moments came when teaching a group of Under 6 children how to hold, handle and release a discus. By the end of the session, every single child was able to throw the discus using an underarm (past the hip) action correctly releasing the implement off their index finger.
You Can Save A Session
I learned to keep calm and maintain a cool head when things start to go off the rails during a session. A session can be turned around by reassessing your expectations and adapting to the situation. I wrote about a particular example of this HERE.
Some Focus Areas For 2021
Influenced by the below tweet from Daniel Abrahams, I will be putting on lots of “learning sessions” in 2021 and using this terminology as often as possible when describing what I deliver. It makes me think of coaching kids in a whole different way. For me, it shifts the focus from simply staging activities to a more precise intent.
How Did I Make The Kids Feel?
Influenced by the below tweet from Nick Levett, I will be trialling the question “How did I make the kids feel?” in my session review. I will also trial in my session plan template: “How will you make the kids feel?”
Collecting & Collating Ideas for Sessions
This was another thing I mentioned in my 2019 review, but really didn’t action. I want to find better way to collect, collate and access my ideas and inspirations for sessions so that good ideas are not lost. I need to do some solid investigation into the best way to create an accessible, searchable catalogue of ideas.
I need to develop some strategies/procedures to ensure that I action recommendations that emerge in my annual review.
I think that my session plan templates can play a role here. I can quite easily add prompts to the template. I also use Microsoft To-Do to manage my checklists. This app, or something similar, could be useful in ensuring that I action the goals that I have set.
Overall, despite the its challenges, 2020 was a positive coaching year during which I felt that I continued to grow and improve as a coach. I learned a lot and feel excited about the prospect of more learning and improvement in 2021.
Over to You!
If you are a coach, undertake a review of your 2020 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 2021? 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.