Coaching Philosophy – What’s Yours?

What a jam-packed sporting week we’ve just had – Formula 1, Champions League, Premier League, County Cricket, Davis Cup….and now The Masters kicking off tomorrow! With such a broad range of sports to choose from, this week’s topic took a little time deciding!

I was however drawn to a particularly enlightening article in The Daily Telegraph, featuring Brendan Rodgers that I wanted to share. The article describes the journey Rodgers went through after being sacked by Reading in 2009 and on the brink of managerial exile, to within five games of steering Liverpool to their first title since 1989/90 – quite an achievement I’m sure you’ll agree. How has it happened…..a better group of players? Luck? Some football fans may argue both, or indeed neither! What was interesting though, was reading how Brendan took himself off to Dubai for ten days after his sacking from Reading to reflect on his experiences. During the article he explains how he critically dissected his coaching philosophy down to the bare bones, from the good times to the bad ones had at Reading; what he could have done differently, and what he could take into his next job.

It may not seem much, but think about it for a moment – ten days albeit in the sun of Dubai is a lot of reflection. I wonder how much we as coaches would gain from such a dedicated exercise, especially if we can do it in the sun! It did raise the question in my head however – how sure of our philosophy are we as coaches? Do we even have one? Do our players know and understand our philosophy? During my University days the topic of coaching philosophy often crept up during themed seminars. The abrupt response to ‘do yo have one’ obviously being ‘yes’. When asked however, it seemed slightly more complicated and difficult to convey simply. Surely if it’s that difficult to get across then perhaps your players don’t understand it as well as you think. So there’s a challenge for you – what is your coaching philosophy? If you’re stuck for words on the spot then some reflection might well be needed! That is not to say our philosophy has to stay the same at all times; for though stable in its form it can be subject to change and evolution over time through our experiences and surroundings.

Fresh from my degree, one of my goals this year working in the high performance environment that is Millfield, was to further establish my own coaching philosophy and convey it as clearly as possible with the players I work with. Though it may not be perfect, let me share with you my personal coaching philosophy that I approach every session with thus far:

 

1. For the player to enjoy the best possible experience – FUN, ENJOYMENT & CHALLENGE

2. To add value to the player’s sporting and personal development – LEARNING & CONFIRMING

3. Always demand only the best effort from your player/s, but never set them something you yourself aren’t prepared to do

 

It’s a given that in any environment that people want to enjoy what they are doing. Sounds blindingly obvious when you say it, but there have been numerous occasions looking back on my coaching whereby the precision of an exercise or drill has clouded the enjoyment element of the session. Ask yourself post-session, was that enjoyable for them? Better still…ask one of the players quietly on their own afterwards (perhaps more likely to get an honest answer than in front of everyone)! Usually you get a feel for how well the players are responding to something by their engagement and approach, but it is always useful to hear how the players found it – you never know they may even give you a useful progression or idea for next time!

Adding value is the key word for me in point two. It might be easy to say ‘for the player to learn something new every session’. Reading that again, that is a tough ask as a coach particularly as you head further up the competency ladder in terms of skill. Can you really make a player learn something new EVERY session when you see them four times or more a week? What I’ve discovered this year, is that sometimes you have exercises whereby the player doesn’t necessarily learn any new material, yet has a productive session confirming movements, specific shots and/or particular feelings for example. Although it’s nothing new to them, their knowledge of their own game, strengths and limitations has increased. Some might define that as learning funnily enough!

Finally the last point is something I see as vitally important to be successful as a coach. It perhaps stemmed from my own experience as youngster, where a certain coach was very good at issuing fitness drills and circuits, yet never once made it out of his chair. Aside from the motivational connotations, the message that sent to me as a kid was that the coach didn’t really care and wasn’t prepared to do the hard yards himself. Therefore, every time our boys have fitness testing I make sure I take part. Though some would say your credibility as a coach could be affected if your ability isn’t as good (thankfully it is for the moment at least!), it at least shows them that you’re willing to push yourself, willing to demonstrate the standards you preach and do the challenges you’re setting them – whether that’s doing a yo-yo test, facing 85mph or getting up at 7am to do a run! Hopefully as a result, the respect you gain comes as a by-product.

Will be interested to see how Brendan finishes this season with Liverpool…..regardless of whether they end up winning the league or not, though you can probably expect to see him writing some detailed notes on some sunny beach in Dubai during the close-season!

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