Some of you may know that I work as a Talent Academy Coach which is a great experience as I am have the privilege of working with some pretty awesome young people who are constantly surprising me with some of the things that they are able to do.

The Academy programme is breaking new ground because for the first time the u16 and u18 age groups are being coached together and also boys and girls are in the session working together as well. As you can imagine this makes for some interesting planning challenges

We allow the players to explore challenges and develop solutions to problems that we put in front of them. As coaches we work to manipulate things like space, player numbers and tasks to present the players with challenges and to see how they respond to them and learn to adapt.

So here is my quandary...

"What do we do when a player doesn't even have the fundamental skills required to be able to explore the solutions?"

The challenge we have is that there is quite an ability range so pitching the activity is quite difficult...too much of a stretch and they they are so internally focused on getting the basics right that they aren't really able to find solutions effectively...too easy and they begin to drift off and don't stay focused on working through the challenge.

I recently tweeted this great article by gymnastics coach Anne Josephson which outlined '35 secrets of brilliant coaches' which got a lot of interest and I thought I would share number 28 as I found it useful to help me with this quandary.

"28. Give plenty of time for new skills to develop. Brilliant coaches allow at least eight weeks for athletes to learn a new skill. As the athlete progresses in the sport that time frame will actually get longer, not shorter, as the skills are increasingly complex".

I think that this is a problem that many of us face in our coaching. We are too quick to move on. Whether it is in the interests of wanting to provide variety so players don't get bored or because we know that we have a lot to get through and need to move on we don't allow the required time for skills to become ingrained...and we are then frustrated when the players don't perform the skills effectively in the game.

Another great source that a looked to for answers is Doug Lemov's latest book " Practice Perfect" which is a gold mine of highly practical suggestions to assist with all aspects of coaching and practice design. The book is split up into a series of 42 'rules' and right at the start in rule number 2 is an idea that makes total sense to me. The authors refer to 'Practice the 20' where they suggest that we should focus in on the "20% that is going to provide 80% of the value".

So these are the conclusions I have come to...

  1. Don't be in too much of a rush. The players are ready to move on when they are ready to move on.

  2. Work with each athlete individually and help them to identify their 20% development area. I do a lot on 1 to 1s with players during breaks or at the start and end of the session to get them to focus in on thier personal development area. I can then reference this throughout the session with a nod or quick 'hot review' during the session.

  3. Be relentless in reaffirming these focus areas even though we might feel like we need to add variety and move on.

  4. Create opportunities for repetition of these skills without it becoming repetitive. Vary the activity while still working on the same skill or development area. You can tweak the same activity just a bit to challenge ina different way.

  5. Be clear on your own mind on what is the 'critical path' for the athlete or athletes and help them stay on that path.

If you have any other thoughts I would love to here them.

Happy Coaching

P.S. My mission is to try and share my experiences with as many coaches and parents as I can so if you found this mail useful at all then please help me to reach some more people by sharing this.

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I have been thinking about and studying feedback recently and looking into the ways in which it could or should be used most effectively. This is the first post in a series dedicated to feedback over the next few weeks.

I stumbled across this video by Eric Duffett of www.mindfulballer.com and it summed up much of what I have been exploring.

What I take from this video is how often we are well meaning in our feedback but in actual fact we can be creating unintended consequences in the reciepient that can have far reaching consequences.

Negative or corrective feedback is very pervasive and you will come across it everywhere. An interesting experiment I once did was to keep a log of the instances of positive and negative feedback I experienced through a given day....it was very interesting!

What I came to notice was the very subtle negative feedback that people exhibit subconsciously through tone of voice and body language. People are often saying one thing with their words but are actually putting out a very different message with their tone or body language. I have seen it a lot at work where people are trying to be positive in an attempt to align to the company's leaderhip culture but are given themselves away with the way they say things.

One of the best things about the talent coach role that I perform is that I can be observed and get some feedback on my coaching. Following the first session in theis new role I got some really valuable feedback on my feedback (?) that was pretty challenging and really made me pause and reflect.

The feedback posed a series of questions for me to consider...

  • Value of the vocal contribution during activity?

  • Value of Commentary v Thought out Specifics ?

  • Value of not speaking during practice?

  • Value of constant motivational speak during practice?

  • Value of feedback during practice?

  • Value/necessity of instructional speak during practice?

  • Value of speaking a lot in interjections/stoppages?

I have always been a pretty vocal coach (probably goes with my personality which isn't shy in offering an opinion!) and I believed passionately about using my voice to create a motivational climate for the players.

I am also really keen on the concept of providing 'hot reviews' while the session is going on so that players pick up on learning moments at the time rather than reflecting afterwards when the situation might have passed them by.

This feedback really challenged that...

It took me a good while to process it and for a little while I found myself in a bit of limbo, not sure when to offer information and when not to.

So what have I learned or applied since? As usual 3 quick takeaways....

1. Be careful of over doing it

On reflection I realised that this was the first session and I was trying to build rapport quickly with the players and probably over cooked it. I liken it to overacting in an audition! Since then I have been refining my feedback and have defininitely been more circumspect in my interventions.

2. Pick your moments

I do a lot more 1 to 1s with players very quickly after a specific action which means I am not constantly subjecting the players to a barrage of vocal feedback.

3. Allow space for 'implicit learning'

It is far more powerful and skillful for you to design tasks that allow players to display that they have taken on a particular concept and therefore learned it 'implicitly' without the need for a vocal intervention.

This prompted me to start to study my own behaviours to see if I could become more aware of what I was putting out there and further refine my feedback and communication.

I have made an investment into some sunglasses that have a built in video camera so that I can record everything I am saying and doing while I am coaching. I intend to use this as a means to identify areas of imporvement in my feedback and to see what things I do well.

I will post my findings here and share them with you in future posts.

Happy coaching

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Many of you will know that I have a little boy called Evan who is a bit of an ongoing N=1 experiment in how to develop a sportsperson with a 'growth mindset'. Evan is 7 (Evan Seven!) and he is a proper multi sport kid. The list of sports that he does is pretty long but at the moment he does gymnastics, cricket (fundamentals), golf and swimming as well as a range of informal garden games that I play with him.

He is getting pretty good at his golf, he goes to some junior coaching on a saturday afternoon and his game is getting better all the time. We are lucky to have a 3 hole academy course at the club that I am a member of and it is usually pretty deserted so we can usually play around as many times as we like. I have to say that it is a pretty special feeling being able to play golf with your little boy and I do love to watch him learn each time he goes round. He usually plays pretty happily and the experience is a lot fo fun for us both.

But our latest round was very different.... it is probably fair to say that it was quite an interesting learning experience for both of us in more ways than one!

When we play we have started having little competitions, Evan has a number of shots that he is able to complete each hole in that we call 'Evvy Par' and I have to complete the hole in the standard par to match him (this is called 'Daddy Par'). Of late I have failed to match him that many times and so Evan suggested that we change his Evvy Par to "give me a chance" (sheesh!).

Traditionally after the round we go to the club house and he has a juice and a chocolate bar (Twix is his favourite) but this time I thought I would try something and suggested that we 'play for the Twix'. If he wins he gets all of it to himself....if I win, we share it.

That's when it got really interesting...

So we are standing on the first tee and he gets out his 7 iron (he could reach the green with his fairway wood but his 7 iron is his favourite club, he is playing safe!) but he tops the ball and it goes about 2 yards in front of him, he wheels around with a the look of anguish on his face was soul destroying! He wanted me to give him a mulligan, I said that he can have 1 mulligan in the round and he could use it now if he wanted to or save it for later. He tried again and hit a low shot that went into the semi rough and started to stomp off after it with a big black cloud over his head and a face like thunder....

He ended up making 8 shots on the hole (an Evvy double bogey) where as I made 'Daddy Par' and was 1 up.

The rest of the round then saw Evan disappear into a slump of dispair with quite a few tears being shed and a number of minor tantrums when things didn't go right for him. When I asked him why he was so one stage he just shouted to me "I just really want the whole Twix why can't you just let me win"?

So I was faced with a bit of dilemma. On the one hand the coach in me was thinking that this was a brilliant learning moment for him and that I just needed to let him work through it . On the other hand the parent in me was thinking that I could or should help him out in come way otherwise he might not want to play again.

So I went into questioning mode...

Why was he so upset?

Why did he think that things were going wrong?

Was being upset helping him play better or play worse?

What could he do to get better?

I won't try and pretend that all of his reponses were entirely rational and he didnt really want to talk about things too much butI could tell that they had an effect because he did knuckle down and ended up winning the last couple of holes so that my winning margin was only hole.

We shook hands and went to the club house.

In the club house we just chatted and I said to him that he could have the rest of his Twix after dinner if he thought about what happened and told me what he had learned.

In the car on the way home he said that he had learned that getting upset doesn't help him play better and that he should try and be calmer if he wants to play well.

Bingo...one proud dad!

So what were my takeaways from this experience?

1. Be careful with incentives / rewards.

I was quite surprised at how powerful a small thing such as playing for the reward could be. He was always going to win at least half a Twix but to him that was massive! What I thought was a small amount of added interest and pressure was actually huge for him. I need to make sure that

2. Fight your instincts

Resist the temptation to wrap your arms around your struggling upset child when they are having a hard time. My instinct was screaming at me to help him by saying that it would be alright and that we didn't have to play for the Twix but I also knew that I could send a very powerful message at that point. He could be self reliamt and he could come through this...I am convinced that it will benefit him in the long term.

3. Let them struggle - that's where the learning is.

By the end of the session he had bounced back and was his usual bubbly self and he had learned something valuable. It was a bit of an unexpected experience but one that he will be able to call upon in the future.

That said it will be interesting to see of he wants to play for a Twix next time around!

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