‘Not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted’
(attributed to Albert Einstein)
As sporting organisations seek new and better ways of training, educating and developing their coaching workforce, coaching coaches in context is rapidly gaining in popularity.
Where classroom based coaching courses, conferences and clinics were once the mainstay of sports coach education programs, increasingly sporting organisations are looking at sending their coach development teams into the field and delivering learning activities at the pitches, the courts, the training centres, the pools and the tracks where the coaches are coaching.
In the past, CONTENT was king!
Coaches seeking education had to attend courses, conferences and clinics to access the ideas, information and innovations they needed to coach athletes successfully.
However, with the proliferation of hand-held devices offering immediate and convenient access to a practically unlimited storehouse of information on the Internet, coach education has shifted from being content focused to CONTEXT focused.
This article looks at the concept of coaching coaches in context and proposes a simple model – the T.R.A.I.N. Principle as a guide for coach developers designing, developing and delivering contextual learning experiences for their coaching workforce.
Coaching Coaches: What Doesn’t Work.
Write down a list of the most common coach development activities you’ve been involved in.
Your list probably looks like this:
- Coach-the-Coaches programs, e.g. mentoring.
Now write down a list of the times when you feel you’ve learnt efficiently and effectively.
Those moments when learning felt easy and effortless.
Those learning environments where you felt like your learning was on fast-forward and you seemed to absorb knowledge and information at an accelerated rate.
Chances are your list resembles something like this:
- While I was coaching;
- While I was watching, talking with, sharing ideas with another coach;
- When I was working closely with an athlete and we solved a problem together that made the athlete – and me - better;
- When I was talking with some old friends - people I know and trust in the business and we were just kicking around some ideas;
- When someone I respect threw a few suggestions at me which I tried – and those ideas took me in a new direction.
In other words, coaching coaches has very little to do with courses, conferences and clinics held in classrooms, boardrooms, meeting rooms or training rooms and everything to do with coaching coaches in context.
Real Life Story
Some time ago, I was working with a high-profile professional football coach. His team had won the national football competition several times in the previous ten years, despite the organisation being relatively poorly funded, geographically disadvantaged and the National Competition was subject to a “salary-cap” and “draft” system.
I asked him, “How is it that you guys have been so successful for so long – even though the city where you train, your budget and even the system itself is not set up to help you sustain success?”
He replied, “Everyone is obsessed with what we do. They all want to know what’s written down on paper: the workouts, the gym sessions, the training sets, the skills practices – they want to know what it is that we do that’s led to our success. In my view – what’s written down isn’t the reason why we win so often. It’s not the words: it’s the space between the words. It’s not what we do: it’s how we do it and our understanding of why we do it that makes the difference”.
Coaching is knowing what to do.
Good coaching is being able to teach, instruct and educate athletes to change how they do things.
Great coaching is leading and inspiring athletes to understand why they’re doing the things they do.
If we want coaches to be outstanding at what they do and to be able to coach athletes to “see the spaces between the words”, we need to re-consider the way we’ve coached coaches.
Coaching Coaches in Context
The T.R.A.I.N. Principle
Most sporting organisations have included mentoring programs as part of their coach development strategies.
However, mentoring alone isn’t the key. Merely “throwing” two people together in a mentoring program and instructing them to become an effective learning team isn’t likely to work. It would be like introducing two of your friends to each other at a party and telling them to “Get along with each other and become friends”.
Coaching Coaches in Context relies on the successful implementation of the T.R.A.I.N Principle.
People learn in environments where they’ve developed a trust-relationship with each other. This trust can be built on shared values or through a shared motivation to succeed but it is essential that Trust is at the heart of all effective coach-to-coach learning situations.
In his book, The Speed of Trust, The One Thing That Changes Everything, author Stephen Covey Junior argues: “The first job of a leader—at work or at home—is to inspire trust. It’s to bring out the best in people by entrusting them with meaningful stewardships, and to create an environment in which high-trust interaction inspires creativity and possibility.”
By coaching coaches in context and dedicating time to develop a trusting relationship with the coach in their actual coaching environment, coach developers and mentors can influence, educate and teach more effectively.
In environments where education is enforced, legislated or imposed, actual learning is - at best - ineffective.
Conversely, where learners consider themselves partners in the learning process and take responsibility for their role in their own development, prescripted curriculum is unnecessary.
Given the right environment and opportunities, motivated learners will discover what they need to learn and take appropriate action to resolve their knowledge gap.
In sport, ultimately the impact of effective learning will be – rightly or wrongly – measured by results. This measurement could come in many forms, – e.g. the performance results of athletes, the retention rates of athletes from season to season, the results of “customer” feedback reviews completed by athletes, parents and other stakeholders etc.
Successful coaches will often demonstrate a willingness to be measured and to be assessed by the same standards of accountability that are expected of their athletes.
In addition, accountability provides clarity on the effectiveness of the learning process and may indicate the possible direction of future learning activities. In professional sport and elite level Olympic sport, the performances of athletes and teams is considered the ultimate measurement of coaching performance.
Just as successful coaches accept the reality of the “win-loss” record, they also assume accountability for their commitment to ongoing learning and continuous improvement.
It is said, “Formula One Cars Do Not Come off the Production Line”.
In the early stages of learning, coaches are typically exposed to generic “one-size-fits all” education opportunities, e.g. courses, conferences and clinics.
As they progress and develop as coaches, so too does their need for more flexible, specific and individualised learning experiences.
By working with the coach in context, the coach developer or mentor has the opportunity to observe and to determine the specific needs of the individual coach. The learning model shifts from “one-size-fits-all” to “one-size-fits-one”.
This “Needs-Based” learning is an effective and efficient way of delivering optimal learning experiences for coaches in the field.
The concept and philosophy of “Nudging” has been popularised recently primarily due to the work of Nobel Prize-winning economist Richard Thaler. Thaler’s work into “behavioural economics” has been widely studied in the business world and the concept of “nudge” has been incorporated into the learning models in both government and non-government institutions around the world.
One important aspect of “nudging” is subtly influencing people’s thoughts and behaviours through positive reinforcement and indirect suggestion. The “nudge” concept is, therefore, the perfect tool for coaching coaches in context.
Coaching the coach in context, coach developers can “nudge” the coach to learn through discovery, experimentation, intelligent personal reflection and considered problem-solving.
For example, the majority of classroom-based learning is focused on individuals seeing or hearing information which is presented to them – often in a definitive way - then it is up to the learner to apply that knowledge to solving problems in their coaching program: in other words, to try and fit the solution to a problem.
However, when coaching coaches in context, coach developers and mentors can witness the problems the coach is experiencing first hand, then subtly offer a range of potential options for the coach to consider solving them.
There’s a wonderful phrase attributed to Craig Tiley, CEO of Tennis Australia –
“It is no good coming up with a great solution to the wrong problem”.
Coaching coaches in context offers the opportunity to find the right solutions to real problems coaches and athletes face in their performance environment.
When it comes to coaching coaches – burn down your training room! Blow up your conference centre! Explode your learning facility! Throw your data projector out the window!
Think of the times in your own life when your learning was optimised: those moments when learning seemed easy – almost accelerated and effortless. Chances are those moments occurred when all the T.R.A.I.N. Principle factors were involved.
It’s easy to base your coach development practices around things you can see, things you can purchase, things you can download, things you can pick up and feel. Yet, the things that really matter in coaching are often the things you can’t see or purchase or download or touch. When it comes to great coaching, it’s commonly the intangibles, the unmeasurables and the things of least apparent extrinsic value – which in fact have the greatest value of all.
Wayne Goldsmith has been an influential figure in coach education for the past 25 years.
He’s worked with professional, college and Olympic level athletes, coaches and teams in the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the U.K., Europe, Asia and throughout the Pacific.
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