Towards a philosophy of coaching

Back in the summer, Mark Garaway, writing on PitchVision, posted on how having a coaching philosophy will make you a better coach.  Mark’s conclusion – it’s not only about the words (having a “mission statement” for your philosophy), but whether the coach lives and breathes their philosophy.

Adam Kelly has just taken a look at how the successful coaches define their philosophies.  Truly inspirational.  And the results of applying these philosophies proves their relevance – Gold medals, World Cup wins, Tour de France success.

So, perhaps I need a philosophy for my own coaching.

It needs to be simple (I can’t remember anything too complicated).  It needs to be jargon-free (it needs to be readily understood).  And (because they always are) my statement of coaching philosophy needs to be short.

OK.  With due acknowledgement to a colleague at work who, when asked to propound his sales philosophy, replied simply “just sell”[1], here is my philosophy of coaching.

Get Better

It is simple, jargon-free and short, but (I hope) at the same time more subtle than it might at first appear.

There is simply no point just practising.  Even less just dreaming.

Every session, every action (I hesitate to say this, but every waking moment), should be focused on one thing, and one thing alone – improvement.

Dave Brailsford, Performance Director at British Cycling and Team Sky, demonstrates the success of an almost fanatical incremental approach.  Pay attention to individual details that yield a second, or a fraction of a second.  Training, equipment, biomechanics, sports science, nutrition – anything (legal) that can make a difference to performance.  Put them all together, and do them better than the competition, and you have a far better chance of finishing first.

Matthew Syed, in “Bounce – The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice“, expounds the theory of 10,000 hours of purposeful practice (it has to be purposeful) – you cannot be truly proficient (at anything) without honing your skills to the point that they become instinctive.  And that practice needs to develop the skills that matter.  Games-based learning – skills-in-context – rather than (just) skill drills.

an aside – could it be possible to short-cut the 10,000 hours by identifying the true core skills?  Applying the Moneyball approach, but to training.  Don’t just practise.  Concentrate exclusively on the skill(s) that really matter.

Maybe…but if you have not put in the hours, you will probably lose to someone who has spent those 10,000 hours on the core skills.

This is not the same as “be the best you can” or “give 100%” – both OK as match-day mantras, but also both limiting for long-term development.  Both assume that there is some maximum level of performance, and that the responsibility of player and coach is to deliver that performance on the field of play.  It is, but the role of a coach has to extend beyond current peak performance to the next peak.

So, for the coach, “get better” means designing practice sessions and plans that allow (that demand) incremental improvement in skills, in physical and mental strength, in tactical awareness.  It means never accepting “good enough” or “best ever”, but always looking for the next step up.  It includes all levels of the LTAD model – “getting better” for a player approaching retirement might mean learning to be (even) more supportive of younger players, or of the game in general.

You can never stop getting better.

Now that does start to sound a little philosophical…

[1]  Even this “philosophy” had slightly more thought behind it – more correctly, it should be read as “just SELL”…acronym time – Sell Everything by the Lorry Load.  I did say it was only slightly more subtle…

Published by Andrew Beaven

Cricket coach, fascinated by the possibilities offered by the game. More formally - ECB level 2 cricket coach; ECB National Programmes (All Stars & Dynamos Cricket) Activator Tutor; Chance to Shine & Team Up (cricket) deliverer; ECB ACO umpire.

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