The First Step

“Coaching is unlocking a person’s potential to maximise their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them” This is a quote from Sir John Whitmore from his seminal book, Coaching for Performance. I was trained by John over 12 years ago and I am still using the techniques he taught me back then. I still use the GROW model although I have adapted it over the years and hopefully improved the process and resultant behaviours.

As stated above, the key to it all is learning. How can we help our players to learn? Are they learning when watching a game? Are they learning if playing against an opponent who is clearly poor? Are they learning if continually being told what to do? Real learning happens when players are tested and even failing. This failure allows them to learn what to work on. In response to my blogs many have asked ok, it is clear what shouldn’t be done but what should we do? This is the first attempt to try this, and I believe, it is all about learning as encapsulated in the quote above.

In my early career I hated public speaking (most of us do) but I knew if I wanted to improve then I needed to put myself into these situations more and more. It was painful at the start and I crashed and burned many times. But I just kept getting back in the saddle. I now love to do it. I have spoken in front of a wide variety of audiences. I have shared a platform with Lord Cullen (of Piper Alpha fame) when he whispered to me ‘Great talk’ When speaking, I still get nervous but I try and use the nerves to deliver a great talk.I have heard the same from top footballers who need the pre-match nerves to spur them on. Knowing you have worked on your skills to gain competence gives the confidence to deliver but there is still that inner voice that generates nerves and questions your ability. This is all part of learning. This is the first step and it is about AWARENESS. I will come back to this key first step.

Coaches need to work with players and try to introduce and develop their own learning process. I have been taking a small group of volunteer players and now always ask them at the end what they learned from the session. The first few weeks were met with silence as they are not used to being asked such questions. I persevered and now I am getting some great responses. I really do believe players hold all the answers and we as coaches need to learn how to draw this out. We need to set the environment so learning occurs.Putting in conditioned games and getting players to solve the problem is a great way of doing this.

I truly believe that Football offers a wonderful chance to create learners. As mentioned above, the first step is AWARENESS. Over the years I have seen literally hundred’s of coaches in action. Many have achieved results despite their coaching style. I have seen the full spectrum from the autocratic disciplinarian to the laid-back fully democratic coach and everything in between. Most follow the traditional model (Even the democratic ones) of telling players what to do and do as I say. As I said, I was taught coaching by Sir John Whitmore. One of my abiding memories was going on the driving range and being coached by John. There was absolutely no technical instruction. John just asked what we were experiencing and giving it a score from 1 to 10. After 30 minutes every person using this method improved their golf shots. This wasn’t by magic! Awareness was the key.

Awareness is focussed attention. This is where we all need to start if we are to improve our own coaching and the performance of our players. I want to be a more self-aware coach and I want my players to learn that awareness is the first step to development. Let’s look at an example we have all experienced. A player doing a shooting drill blasts the ball over the bar. The traditional call from the coach which I have heard a least a thousand times is ‘You were leaning back and you need to get your body and knee over the ball’ This is comfortable for the coach who focusses on technique from the players external position (The coach is telling) To get the player more aware, can we ask the player what he felt when he had the shot? What felt uncomfortable? I hear everyone now saying what is this  new age, hippy BS!! What we are actually trying to do is engage the player and getting him to think for himself and make his own corrections. The problem now is with the coach as he loses his traditional position power (I am the expert and I am telling you how to do it). The traditional method does not threaten the coaches ego, in fact it enhances it. The new way does, as it puts all the focus on the player and the coach can feel threatened.

Players need to use everything they have if they are to improve. This kinesthetic awareness is crucial if we are to develop players who can eliminate their own faults. The beauty of this is, they adapt their skills to their own body rather than the way the ‘book’ teaches it. The book teaches the ‘average’ way but are we really aiming for average? To back this up. Think of all the top players (Messi, Xavi, Ronaldo, Neymar, Iniesta etc). Many were brought up and learned through street football where it was all about awareness and no coaches telling them what to do. They felt it. They have unbelievable spatial awareness. We need to change the way our young kids learn. If they come into our environment then we need to teach them awareness.

To conclude, I would like to quote Sir John again:

  • Awareness is knowing what happens around you
  • Self-awareness is knowing what you are experiencing

So if this is the first step to learning then how many coaches have the courage to move to a new way of coaching. Like my public speaking, it will feel totally alien at first but I can testify it only works and you will be starting a local revolution in coaching the new way.

Remember, be aware. Action takes courage!!

Let me know how you get on?

The First Step

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