Coaching Positives, Negatives And Learnings From 2019
Last year, inspired by @JamesClear, I decided to begin sharing my annual coaching review.
The review looks back at my coaching over the previous twelve months. I outline positives, negatives and what I learned. I also identify some areas on which I will 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 have completed this review later than I ideally would have liked, but I hope that you can take something away from my assessment of my performance and what I learned during 2019.
If you don’t already do a similar exercise, I hope that this may inspire you to do so in the future.
Positives in 2019
Some things that I felt I did well during 2019 are:
During 2019 I started coaching a weekly 60-minute session that focuses on “Athletics Fundamentals – Run, Jump, Throw” for 6 to 10 year-old kids. I have loved it. I was able to deliver the type of content that I deeply believe in. It gave me the opportunity to experiment with a wide range of new activities. I was challenged and I learned a lot. The sessions were consistently of a good quality and popular with the kids. A lot of this review is shaped by what I did in these sessions.
With the “Fundamentals” sessions that I mention above, I challenged myself to teach athletics-related fundamental skills without the use of any traditional equipment or facilities; just a section of a grassed running track and some modified items. I taught long jump skills without a sand pit and throwing skills without a throwing circle. It can be done and it can be done very effectively. In fact, getting away from the traditional event sites and implements gave me the space and freedom to include a much wider variety of activities than would otherwise be possible. It also forced me to stick to fundamentals coaching and not be tempted to fall back into event-specific coaching.
I consistently planned my sessions well, feeling prepared and in control when I arrived. I always had the equipment that I required and entered sessions with a real sense of purpose. The written plans also made it a lot easier to review the sessions, particularly if my chance to complete the review was delayed for several days.
Create & Innovate
I was happy with my preparedness to keep trying new things and push the boundaries of my coaching comfort zone. I tried new activities, games and challenges. I introduced new equipment and experimented with new ways to use old equipment.
I added so many new games, activities and challenges to my repertoire. Some I created myself; others were influenced by, or borrowed entirely from, the work of others.
One of my main influences was motorskilllearning.com.
Choosing Level of Challenge
I was really happy with my ability to step back and get out of the kids’ way and turn parts of sessions over to them. This sometimes meant that a session did not entirely go to plan; and it sometimes ended up better! I frequently allowed the kids to set their own level of challenge, suggest alternative activities, and create their own activities.
I created some of my best strength training activities during 2019.
Not many kids are overly thrilled by performing what we traditionally think of as body weight exercises. e.g. Push-ups, sit-ups and burpees. Frankly, they are boring for most kids, even if we try to dress them up into a circuit. Kids struggle to put them into the context of their daily lives or find an immediate reward in doing them. The exercises are just too repetitive and bland.
That is why I spent a lots of time experimenting with simple challenges that require kids to manage their body weight while performing a variety of manoeuvres as they solve a “problem”.
I made more extensive use of “strength obstacle courses” (see examples below – try bear-crawling through that!) and introduced “Though the Hoop Challenges” and “Under and Over Hurdle Challenges” for the first time. Click here to read more about these activities.
I felt I got good at planning and delivering what I came to term “entry” or “arrival” activities. These are activities that keep kids occupied as they are waiting for others to arrive prior to a session beginning. Having these activities up your sleeve helps to avoid kids standing around awkwardly as they wait for others. They also generate session momentum prior to the session even “officially” getting underway!
“Entry” actually became the first item on my session plan, outlined above the warm up. I planned what I would do in advance, and I made sure that I had the equipment that I needed. I even got to the point where I could merge the “entry activity” seamlessly into the start of the session.
For example, one strategy was to allow kids to “practise” the warm up game before it officially began. Another strategy is to deliberately save some minor setting up of equipment until the first kids start to arrive. Get them to help you complete the set-up to keep them occupied and engaged.
We can get carried away delivering what we think is important, but do we consider what is most valued by the kids? If we fail to consider our coaching from the kids’ point of view, we will fail as coaches.
I really tried to learn about what engages the kids that were coming to my sessions. I wanted to know what they would fondly remember about a session and what would bring them back.
As standard procedure, as part of my debrief at the end of a session, I asked the kids what they enjoyed most about the session. The insight and surprises that this generated was priceless!
Record Keeping & Refection
One of my 2019 coaching focuses was to consistently keep good records of my session plans and reviews.
While not perfect, I definitely improved in this area immensely during 2019. I began to publish the CYA Coaching Journal that contained full session outlines, associated comments, learnings and focuses for the next session. The material that I built up was invaluable. I committed to publish each entry and make them it available to CYA members. It was difficult and time-consuming – resulting in some late nights, but ultimately rewarding and hopefully helpful to others.
I started regularly using pop-up garden bins as a coaching aid. I found them really useful as a goal or a target. They are inexpensive, portable and versatile. They are wonderful for creating targets for athletes to throw, roll or drop objects into.
The ability of a coach to go with the flow of the session and allow some spontaneity is really important. Coaches must be prepared to deviate from the session plan.
Kids arriving late, lower or higher numbers than expected, wind, heat or rain can all cause the need to alter a plan. An idea or teachable moment can arise which will take you off course, but all usually for the positive.
You also need to be prepared to quickly change an activity if it is not working.
I was really pleased with my ability to alter course within a session without panicking.
Negatives in 2019
Some things that I didn’t do too well during 2019 are:
I am really bad at learning and remembering kids’ names. It is one of my biggest faults as a coach. It is actually quite embarrassing and I am very self-conscious about it. I pride myself in my ability to be able to connect with kids, but at times this is a big “black mark” on my coaching. I need to improve in this area.
Balancing Teaching With Session Momentum
At times I struggled with balancing session momentum and the teaching/correcting of technique. Too much time spent interrupting sessions to teach/correct technique can affect the flow of a session. But when I favoured session momentum I felt that I sometimes missed some opportunities to teach/correct technique. Later I worried that I had short-changed the kids. I really felt the dilemma of session flow vs pause to teach/correct. I wondered at times if it was a trade-off – momentum OR teach/correct, but found both can be done with careful management. It is not one or the other, unless the coach goes too far one way. Purpose and timing is crucial.
I think that I did it best when I combined a game “Tidy Up” with teaching standing sprint starts. This needs to be the standard to aim for.
Tidy Up Game
Set up a square playing area. Scattered 30 domes across the playing area and placed two pop-up garden bins on opposite corners.
The kids line up along one side of the playing area.
The kids run around the playing area, returning one cone at a time to either bin in as little time as possible.
We played this game three times with the kids trying to clean up in less time on each occasion.
Between each game I taught the kids how to perform a standing start, which they then used to run into the playing area to begin the next game. This worked brilliantly.
In my 2018 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 thought that this could be achieved by better debriefing games and challenges and asking athletes to share their strategies and ideas with each other. I completely flunked at doing this, never once utilising this idea. Let’s try again in 2020.
Learnings During 2019
Allow Kids To Work At Their Own Level Of Challenge
Kids will often work at their own level of challenge when you allow them some autonomy. Some will successfully attempt things that you thought may be beyond their capabilities and if left up to you, you wouldn’t have ask them to do.
I discovered a great new activity (“Jump the Noodle”) by being alert to what the kids were doing. This idea came from a 5-year-old! I now have a new activity that I never would have programmed myself – assuming it would be too difficult for the kids.
Another example is of the child who decided to complete one of my strength obstacle courses walking on her hands and feet while holding a back bridge position!
Adapting the Recipe
One activity can become multiple activities with some very small adjustments.
Just like in cooking, where you can have a base recipe, which can be “tweaked” by changing a few ingredients, in coaching you can have a base activity that can be tweaked by altering a few of its elements. One game can become ten games with enough thought!
Once I became familiar with this I visited this concept a lot during 2019.
The Value of Games
When debriefing a session with the kids, I am finding that kids often nominate the first and last items in a session as their favourite – which is commonly where I deliver vigorous game-based activities! It is always worth planning to start and leave the session on a high. Therefore the first and final activity MUST be fun, engaging and memorable.
For the first time ever, influenced by some of the material put out by Mike Boyle, I utilised 5 metre sprints with my youngest athletes. I’e always been a fan of short sprints for kids, but had considered 5 metre sprints too short – until I used them. They are perfect for young kids. The kids get lots of turns and the distance seems really appropriate for the age group. I will continue to experiment with them.
The Best Part of the Session
What the coach thinks is the best part of the session may not be the same as what the kids think is the best part of the session. This is critical to be aware of.
Some Focus Areas For 2020
Planning & Collecting Ideas for Sessions
I want to find better way to collect, collate and access my ideas and inspirations for sessions. While I was happy with my planning during 2019, and all was good by the time I arrived at the session, planning was often a stressful, last minute and time-consuming process during the lead-up.
At the beginning of the session, I need to more regularly ask the kids what they are looking forward to doing during the session. It is a golden opportunity to tap into why the kids are there and adjust your session to suit your audience if needed.
I need to commit to getting better at learning and remembering kids’ names. Doing so will even further improve my ability to connect with young athletes. I will put some strategies in place to make this happen. Some research into tips and tricks to learning names is on my task list.
As mentioned above, I would love to create an environment in which the athletes have the opportunity to teach each other. It is yet another avenue to engage them in sessions, connect them with their fellow athletes and development their character.
I would like to spend a little more time on adjusting faulty technique without slowing down the session. This is a real challenge and will require some thorough planning and research.
I love what I ended up with in 2019 – a wonderful record of my coaching, but it was a tough, time consuming and onerous process that I am concerned will not be sustainable. I need to find a better way to streamline the whole process of recording and reviewing my sessions.
Overall, it was an extremely 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.
Over to You!
If you are a coach, record a review of your 2019 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 2020? 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.