Over the summer, a Twitter correspondent asked me how I learnt about coaching.
I do (probably too often) post quite definitive statements to Twitter of what I believe to be the reality of coaching. I am happy to express an opinion on subjects “way above my pay grade”. Even when those “opinions” are dressed up as questions, it’s easy enough to spot what I think the answer should be.
So what are my coaching qualifications?
I have an old level 2 coaching badge (2011) and quite a lot of hours actually coaching.
And I have so much CPD on my CV that I need to prepare an edited version, or it looks as if I spend my life on courses…
But I’m not sure how much of what I believe about coaching has been learnt from gaining badges or formal (and informal) CPD, and how much has been shaped by prior experience at “the University of Life”.
My life before coaching
Before doing any serious coaching, I spent nearly 30 years in specialist publishing, the last 16 in marketing and not doing a very good job of managing a small team.
One consistent theme throughout my office-based career was trying to work out what is important now (Paddy Upton’s WIN). Both for myself, but also when delegating tasks to others — the non-negotiables (deadlines, mostly) — without over-specifying how the job gets done.
And I am sure that now feeds into my coaching.
Content & style
My first job after University was writing abstracts of scientific papers, reducing 4-5,000 words in the original to a 100-word summary, then applying appropriate index terms so that anyone trying to find new treatments for grey mould in soft fruits (I worked for an information provider to the pesticides industry) could be confident of finding the latest published research.
Marketing is also about finding the right words, to describe a product or service, to convince the reader that the product is right for them.
As a coach, I want to be sure that the solution matches the problem — it has to work for the player.
Knowing the answers
I came to realise that things that were obvious to me might be obscure, in the extreme, to colleagues (and vice versa). Hence my failure as a team leader — too often, I knew how I would do a particular job, and assumed that everyone else knew, too. How wrong!
And it can make me an unsympathetic listener. Too often I’ll run ahead to look for a solution — “have you tried…” — rather than “where do you want to take this?”
So when coaching I try to put the player at the centre of the process — coaching is not about what I know, but what the player wants or needs to know.
What, then, is coaching?
Coaching, to me, is identifying what is important now, and then helping the athlete to work towards what is needed now and tomorrow.
Which requires a close observation of the individual player’s current technique and skillset, not a dogmatic adherence to “the right way to do things”.
A key skill for the coach is the ability to instil confidence in the athletes who he works with. Coaches have to be so careful not to “break” something that perhaps only needs a little refining. So knowing when to intervene, when to adapt, when to leave well alone, becomes vital.
Maybe by helping a player develop a more resilient or more adaptable technique, perhaps modelling a growth mindset.
Increasingly, I find myself asking questions to which I don’t already know the answer. More akin to a scientific experiment, designed to test an hypothesis:
- how would it be if you opened up your batting stance a little?
- maybe pick the bat up later, but higher?
- what happens if you hold your non-bowling arm higher/lower/straighter/more bent in the “gather” phase?
It’s not that I don’t have an answer, an “ideal” in my head. But it’s no good just telling the player “do it this way” — they have to “find” the solution for themselves (even if I have to give a hefty steer in the “right” direction…).
What do I know about coaching?
Not a lot, in truth.
But I’m happy to keep asking better questions.