CARVER Coaching & Performance Newsletter

Hi, Paul here,

I hope this finds you well. This week’s theme is…

Supporting Coaches

I am not sure if this is a CARVER Essay or a CARVER Insight; I will call it a CARVER Insight.

CARVER Insight

work as a full-time, self-employed coach and athlete developer/mentor. It can be

challenging to explain to some people what it is I do for a living as many have a very limited appreciation of coaching (this alone tells a story). To date, I have worked across 15 sports and much of my work is now evolving into helping people to develop coaching as a behaviour in the workplace. I know I repeat myself on this… but wherever there are people, there will be performance, and wherever there is performance, there is the opportunity to influence it i.e. coaching.

I primarily discuss sports coaching in this newsletter, but as it is a principle based practice, the principles hold true to any performance domain. We are now in April, and traditionally in the Northern Hemisphere the coach development months are largely November through to March (this also tells a story). I am lucky in that I often work with coaches, clubs and organisations who are aiming to support their coaches and coaching practices in a meaningful, sustainable, impactful manner, so my work in sport runs year round.

None-the-less the busiest time of the year for me in sports coach development is still November to March. The exposure these months give me to on-the-ground, volunteer coaches is massive. You meet every type:

• The ones that don’t know, that they don’t know.

• The ones that do know, that they don’t know.

• The ones that don’t know, that they do know.

• The ones who really want to know…. and

• The ones that don’t really want to know.

And so on…

All are good people… I have learned that people behave as they do because we are all just trying to survive.

So as I come off the back of this intense period of supporting ordinary volunteer coaches I reflect on my learnings; reflection is a key separator in all performance domains. Today I will share with you the one stand out learning from this period.

In my humble opinion we are completely underestimating the amount of support the

average volunteer coach requires to reach any level of coaching mastery or rate of continual improvement in coaching. I come at this not from the “it’s not good enough” angle… I come at this from the “wow… if we got this even half right” point of view. Because I fundamentally believe we completely underestimate the power, potential and scope coaching in sport offers a society, I feel there is little conversation on how to optimally support the coach.

In simple terms, great coaches create great sporting environments for young people,

therefore we must ask ourselves what does it take to empower the average volunteer to be a great coach. No doubt we may not always get there, but that ambition is a great starting point.

The average current coach development model looks like one, and maybe two, coaching workshops annually (and often less if any at all). If we expect this alone to be enough to illicit a significant improvement in the average volunteer’s coaching practices, I fear we are sadly mistaken. I have come to learn that the average volunteer coach needs ongoing, systematic, structured support. Just like their players, they need to be continually challenged and assisted. Often there are significant knowledge gaps in the fundamentals of coaching such as age-appropriate session design, coaching philosophy, coaching language, coaching skills, reflective practice and so on. In some cases, the knowledge gaps are frightening; again all are good people.

On top of this, young people’s sedentary lifestyles, and excess use of social-media is making the coach’s challenge progressively greater. Furthermore, the games we are challenged to coach are becoming increasingly sophisticated with tactical nuance. In truth our challenge is to coach more and more, to players who are often able to learn, less and less. I see coaches drowning… good people. The coach is suffering and by extension the players suffer.

I have heard it said that there are two types of people: problem identifiers and problem

solvers. My ambition is to be a problem solver, therefore here are some solutions club

administrators and leaders can look to in order to support and empower their coaches to be the best can be.

 Improve the environment within which the coach operates.

In simple terms the environment within which the coach operates impacts how they coach which ultimately, impacts the playing experience. When a coach coaches in a club or organisation that values good coaching practices they will improve organically. The club or organisation that prides itself on its coaching, will be good place to learn effective coaching practices. 

The Club’s Purpose, Values and Visions are critical fulcrums and must be developed with care and attention through a facilitative process. This provides the club or organisation with a Coaching Philosophy which acts as a foundation for quality coaching practises. In simple terms… if you want to go high, you must do deep. If the club doesn’t have a Coaching Philosophy, there will be a void. This void will be filled with behaviours that are coming from a place of ‘not knowing.’ If the club has developed detailed Coaching Philosophy around Purpose, Values and Visions this needs to be communicated clearly, frequently and through multiple mediums to the coach.
The Visions section of the Club Philosophy should provide a vision for successful coaching which sets out how successful coaching is measured. There are many means and ways to measure successful coaching but the simplest one is player retention. Successful coaching at youth level is retaining players. If a shepherd came down a hill with half (or less) of the sheep they went up with, I don’t think this would be classified as good shepherding.

• Centralise information for the coach.

Clubs and organisations need to provide age- appropriate resources and information for their coaches to access in a simple manner; a curriculum. The content the coaches deliver must be age-appropriate and in my experience there are significant gaps here. In striving to provide age-appropriate content for our coaches we aim to avoid the famous cycle of:

“When they were 6, we wanted them to be 10. When they were 10, we want to them to be 14. When they were 14, we wanted them to be 18 and when they were 18, we wanted them to be 6.”

Age appropriate content can be included in a club coaching manual, YouTube channel, a website or app etc. The important thing is to make it as accessible as possible and update it frequently to keep it current.

• Provide cyclical support with a coach developer.

Ambitious clubs invest in quality coach development! I honestly feel the majority of volunteer coaches need support every 3 to 4 weeks with a mentor or learned other. This support will cover areas such as session planning, reflective practice, age appropriate content, information on skill acquisition and coaching skills etc. The support needs to be consistent. The coach developer needs to be good.

• Build coaching teams where there are a diverse range of skillsets, people know their role and contribute in a meaningful manner.

As the African proverb says, “It takes a village to support a child”. The ‘Vison for our Coaching Teams’ should be in the Coaching Philosophy document.

I honestly feel we must get real about the potential for good, high-quality volunteer

coaching offers our communities and society. With this will come a drive to get real about how we support our coaches. Coach development is the best form of player development.

That’s how I see it anyway,

Paul

Copyright Paul Kilgannon 2021
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