Player-centred coaching – can it work with 7-year olds?

I posted a couple of weeks ago about my experience of Coaching in the Knowledge Era, an online coach education course from Deakin University delivered by Paddy Upton, on

I have just completed the follow-up course, Player-Centred Coaching – just as thought-provoking, and I have been left with a lot of ideas to think about.

For me, there were perhaps two main takeaways from the course.

  1. The importance of “individual-invisible” attributes – attitudes, emotions & thoughts — in player development.
  2. That explicit inclusion of players with some existing knowledge of their own games in review and planning phases of the learning cycle [play-review-plan-practice- and repeat] delivers more accurate review, more relevant planning, and better player buy-in to the whole process.

But perhaps, for the young players I mostly work with, direct involvement with the planning and review phases might be asking too much, just yet.

That still left me with a challenge for my own coaching practice – what strategies can I use to help the players I work with to begin to understand and develop the positive attributes in that individual-invisible sector?

Coaching interventions – what can we influence?

During the course, we were introduced to Ken Wilber’s Integral Approach to defining and understanding human potential as a tool to describe the different interventions that coaches can deliver.


Most coaching focuses on the quadrants on the right, developing individual skills, performance and behaviours, and devising team policies, systems and strategies.  Attributes in the lower left (collective-invisible) quadrant can certainly be influenced by the coach, but will develop and change over time according to the team members.

But the individual-invisible quadrant, upper left, probably gets looked at only in terms of remediation – when emotions or attitudes get in the way of performance.

And that is the space for player-centred coaching.

Why player-centred?

I am convinced that a player-centric approach can allow the coach to help a player to develop beyond the technical/tactical/physical.

  • Player-centred coaches address the needs and aspirations of the players.
  • Players who find that their own needs and aspirations are being met are more likely to engage with the coach, with other players, and with the learning process.
  • Players who engage with the learning process are more likely to practice by themselves, to come back next week, to encourage others to join, to stay in the game longer.

What’s Important Now?

If challenged by employers (or parents) over the importance of the individual-invisible attributes, I can reply as follows:

Outstanding performers always seem to find a way to WIN – that is, they know What’s Important Now! And that intangible ability – call it intuition or anticipation, game sense, or street smarts – needs to be nurtured, alongside technical & physical attributes.

Whilst players will present with different levels of these intangible gifts, they should all be encouraged to develop their understanding of What’s Important Now. That requires their coaches to provide technical and practical support (the science bit) and to support appropriate development of those invisible individual attributes, such as attitudes, emotions & thoughts, that contribute to that WINning insight on the pitch.

Can it be done?

But how to start to instil those desirable attributes?

I want to work with players who believe that they can get better if they practice “smart” (growth mindset), and also take on some responsibility for their own development.

I suspect that players I work with are more likely to take on that responsibility if they are working with a coach who models the same behaviour i.e. one who demonstrates a willingness to explore alternative coaching methodologies to support better outcomes. If I turn up with a session plan, deliver it, and leave, the example given to the players will be that there is just one way to get better, and it is my (the coach’s) way. They should demand (and I should deliver) more than that.

To support this, I want players to become self-analytical (not overly self-critical – unless a sloppy performance deserves criticism, perhaps), and to that end I try to introduce them to the review process.

It’s not easy (and, no, I certainly haven’t nailed this review process, yet, by any means). But the 15 seconds after a player gets something wrong (or right) in practice sessions is often the only time to get in with a quick CFU question – “why was (or wasn’t) that a good pass?” “if you had that play again, was there a better option?”.

I try to build this in to affirmative praise – “you just did X [which had a positive outcome] – why did you do that/why did it work?”, first confirming a (successful) action or decision, then affirming that action or decision taken by the player as a sound one.


So – can a coach working with 7 year olds really start to introduce them to the individual-invisible attributes that contribute so much?

Explicitly, I don’t think so.

Implicitly, by example, by questioning and sowing the seed of self-review?


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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