Lego and sports clubs have become sterile environments
Lego from 1970s
Lego sets used to stimulate children’s (and their parent’s) imaginations. In the 1970s the goal of Lego was to use imagination and explore as you can see in the letter on the right.
Now, Lego blocks are almost always sold as part of some marketing tie- in with very prescriptive step-by-step instructions.
Does that sound like any sports coaching you know? If your child is forced to stand in a queue and listen to an adult tell them exactly how to move around cones then how will they adapt to the changing environment of sport?
Coaches need to be able to set up environments that allow the children to connect the dots rather than just collect dots (coaches read more here).
My goal when coaching our young athletes is to set up tasks or environments that allow children to develop and learn themselves. This “guided discovery” means I ask them questions, or set them challenges, rather then prescribe specific actions (there are some exceptions).
An example is shown on the right where I asked the kids to try and move over their partners in different ways. I am constantly surprised and delighted with how kids respond to this at all different ages.
Are your kids allowed to be creative, or are they just being told what to do?
“Pretty much everything we do in life is a co-operative endeavour”
said Clay Erro at the beginning of his inspirational talk at GAIN. Clay is a recently retired Californian High School teacher and football coach.
He was kind enough to share some of the lessons he has learnt over his career.
The main thrust of the lecture was in creating a culture and philosophy that gets young people excited. This is done by developing and nurturing relationships.
“We’re in the people business.”
What is your coaching philsophy?
Whatever your philosophy is:
Believe in it.
We are naive if we assume that an autocratic approach will create a lasting legacy. That is coaching through compliance. Clay is all about coaching with compassion (1).
This manifests itself into a different kind of philosophy:
Question common practices and traditional beliefs.
Emphasise the mental approach, as opposed to the physical.
Emphasise relationships more than rules.
Put philosophy into action daily.
Focus on the process, rather than the outcome.
“The difference between good and GREAT is consistency.”
Mind is the key, not the body
We have all been there with our spreadsheets of super duper sets and latest periodised training plans. But, without the mind, the body will stay behind. The mind has more potential, is the most powerful and leads the body.
“What’s the quickest way to get better? Get smarter!”
Clay has a few coaching behaviours that are unique to him. He gets everyone’s attention by getting them to clap in time: “give me one, give me two, give me three, give me none.” He starts sentences and expects the group to finish them: “Rules are made to be …..”
These are designed to get the players actively involved in learning and speed up their response times.
“It is more important to understand your subjects, than to be an expert in your subject.”
Rules or Relationships?
Belief in the team comes from the strength of relationships, more so than the rigidity of rules.
“Relationships are like a savings account, you deposit daily and then you can draw upon them in critical times.”
A lot of teams have rules, but Clay talked about the “paradox of rules”:
They are made to be broken.
Limit the coaches power and flexibility.
Usually punish the team more than the individual.
Turns the coach into a policeman.
There is always an exception to the rule.
They elicit excuses.
Create a false sense of security.
Relationships on the other hand are the glue that hold the team together (2).
We, not me
The three most important words in any successful relationship are “We, not me.” (Paraphrasing Muhammed Ali’s famous “Me, We” poem?)
The basis of team building is inclusion, the basis of competition is exclusion. If you think of the best teams that you have been involved in, the people work together and feel part of the process. Think of the worst teams you have been involved in and it is like a sack full of cats trying to get on top.
One way of building inclusion is to get the players to teach other (Show, Do, Teach as Ed Thomas said last year). This helps build relationships and improve performance because:
It builds respect and self-esteem in all members.
The quickest way to learn something is to teach it.
Rate of improvement increases rapidly.
Everyone is a valued member.
Builds bonds amongst all players and between all players and the coaches (3).
Focuses the teaching on shared terminology and coaching points.
Clay is a shining example of a coach/ teacher with integrity who is making a real difference in young people’s lives.
He shakes everyones hand at the end of each session, he gets everyone to praise another team mate. Simple things that make his pupils feel welcome and worthwhile.
Clay was present throughout the week, and it was great to be able to chat and bounce ideas off him.
A wealth of experience in the trenches, humble, but gritty too.
A welcome antidote to today’s “get rich quick” pseudo gurus.
(Disclaimer: I had severe jet lag and kept nodding off, so any errors are mine alone.)
Clay did things from his perspective and experience, but there is also some interesting research around this subject.
Smith, M., Boyatzis, R.E. & Van Oosten, E. (2012). Coach with Compassion. Leadership Excellence, 29:3, 10.
Boyatzis, R.E. (2012). Neuroscience research shows how resonant relationships are key to inspirational leadership. Ivey Business Journal,
I had a great session screening a couple of young multi event athletes last week. The coaches were present which made exchange of information very clear and easy for all concerned.
When explaining to the athletes the importance of being able to have control of key areas of the body to enable the big movement joints to work efficiently, Gary Jennings (coach) said “Otherwise its like trying to ride a bike with a buckled wheel.” No matter how hard you peddle, if one of the wheels isn’t working well, or the tyre is deflated, you will not be able to move as fast.
The secret is balancing both so that you have a great engine and drivers (the prime movers, phasic muscles) and also an efficient steering and controlling mechanism (static and postural muscles).
Engagement is the driving force of success: athletes, coaches, management, staff, families, supporters…everyone engaged completely and comprehensively in your program.
Never compromise on your values, virtues or beliefs for the sake avoiding conflict or to gain political advantage…it will come back to bit you sometime in the future.
Coach with passion
Coach with passion, energy and enthusiasm – your athletes deserve it.
Never, ever give up: persevere no matter what the obstacles are in your way – no matter how difficult it seems – never give up.
Be an agent of change and ignore people who use the worst eight words in sport “that’s not the way we do it here“ – people who win are unique, are different, make changes, take risks and then the rest of the world has to finds ways of catching up with them.
Be yourself – believe in yourself: you have to do this. No one wins by copying or by trying to be someone else or by trying to be something they are not. Be yourself.
Avoid anyone who talks in absolutes: there are no “nevers”, no “always”, no “musts” – there is only learning, growth, creativity, innovation, change and passion. There is no one way of doing anything.
Regularly take an honest look at yourself and your program and identify ways of enhancing the performance of both.
In the end, coaching is a personal decision to be the best you can be – now and in the future and to pass on what you learn on to others so they might in turn realise their potential as athletes and as human beings.