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How I developed coaching superpowers - by shutting up!

I was blessed with a loud voice and I like to talk...(no kidding I hear many of you cry!)

Not surprisingly, I could also be a very loud coach... a loud coach that spoke a lot!

I used to use my voice as a major tool in my coaching toolbox. I would provide a lot of feedback to players in an effort to create a high energy, motivational climate. I would fill the airwaves with positively descriptive words and phrases like "good", "excellent", "I like it!", "good thinking!", "good effort" Sometimes I would go further and start throwing in the odd instruction like '"watch the back post", "use the space" or sometimes..."give it" or "carry to space".

Then somebody gave me some feedback about my coaching and questioned my use of voice and my constant communication. I was made aware that I was probably just filling the session with an incessant barrage of noise which the players would just tune out. It was explained that the players either ignore me or they start to become dependent on the feedback which could prevent them from truly exploring different ways of doing things for fear of not receiving a positive reinforcement message.

Either way it meant that my delivery was less effective and there was no space for the players to learn through exploration.

I went into a bit of a meltdown...

I went through all of the classic stages of the Kubler-Ross change curve.

Thanks to for use of this image

The initial shock left me reeling...

At first I rejected it and looked for examples of why it was wrong...'there are other top coaches who give a lot of feedback...why is it OK for them and not for me?

I got frustrated when in my sessions and felt that I was way less effective as a coach...'why wasn't my natural style good enough?'

I was depressed and really had a bit of a crisis of confidence...'I am clearly not all that good!'...

Then I started to use it more and more and slowly through experimentation I became more comfortable with this approach...'maybe their is something to this!'...

I began to read about the technique and found some very interesting research into implicit learning and using feedback. I realised that I had become overzealous and had become a bit of a 'joystick coach'. I decided that this was something that was going to make me a lot better...'this could take me to the next level'...

I became comfortable will saying a lot less and realised that it was a potent tool to shape learning. I have integrated it into my coaching toolbox and it is now a standard methodology...'this is great, why haven't I use this before?

That said making the adjustment to saying less hasn't been without it's challenges...

  • I have found myself questioning whether learning is taking place when I see certain actions in a game and I suspect that the player isn't even aware that there were other options that they could take. I had to fight the urge to step in

  • I have found myself silent for long periods of time and I couldn't help but think that I am just being a passenger and not really adding much value to the session.

  • I have had to really work to find the right balance point between allowing space for learning and ensuring that learning moments are not lost.

So what was I to do?

I heard Professor Keith Davids use this phrase recently on the excellent 'Perception & Action Podcast' hosted by Dr Rob Gray..

"you can't adapt to an environment you don't inhabit"

So I have adapted...

This change to my environment where I have not been able to use my voice as much as an instrument to coach has forced me to adapt and has enhanced my coaching a lots of ways so that my abilities feel more like superpowers. Here are a few examples...

  • Preparing like Batman - Batman does not have superpowers so he has to be really well prepared both physically and also in the way he would tackle a group of bad guys. His planning both before the engagement and also during is key. My planning has become even more essential and I have had to really dial in my preparation work to make sure that the tasks and games that I am using in the session are hitting the mark from a learning perspective I am also much more prepared to adjust the plan in the moment if I think that something isn't working or could work better.

  • Using my 'Spidey sense' like Spiderman - Spiderman could sense if there was a problem before it happened. Being constrained by not being able to issue instructions as meant that I have upgraded by intuitive side which has become much more tuned in to what is going on in the moment and I have become much more creative in using task constraints within the sessions to draw players attention towards the key learning area.

  • Challenging like 'Nick Fury' from the Avengers - Nick Fury was famous for bringing together the Avengers by putting them in a stressful situation . I agree personal challenges related to the learning theme with each player before the session starts so that they are developing as individuals as well as a group. I also set group challenges so there is pressure

  • Create connection like 'Professor X' from X-Men - Professor X mentored a group of young people with special abilities. He used his ability to connect with people to tap into their inner motivations and help them develop. I have a lot of 1 to 1s with players so that I can ask them questions about certain moments or certain phases in a game and/or draw their attention to an element within their personal challenge that may need reinforcement (I often use this as a task constraint also to deliberately create overloads or underloads for periods of time)

  • Listening like Daredevil - Daredevil lost his sight as a child but his other senses developed as a compensation. Saying much less has enhanced my listening skills a lot more, either in the reviews that the players lead or in the game where I am listening at what the players are saying so that I can pick up what they are learning or feeling. I will often reference this in a review "I just heard Owen say X, tell me more about that..."

  • Observing like Superman - Superman has X-ray vision and also super sight where he could spot danger from high above the ground. My observation skills have become way more attuned so that I can spot moments that I want to reference or draw players attention to. I am also seeing the gaps in the task so that I can tune it in even more and challenge learning as much as possible.

I will be writing a series of posts in future weeks that expands on each of these areas and explains some of the techniques I use in more detail. Sign up for email notifications so that I can beam them straight to your inbox via my telepathic powers and you don't miss out!

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