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  1. Making a Difference?

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    coaching 6 year olds

    No need for my help

    I had to do a brief presentation last week on what I do and who I have worked with. Some coaches said some nice things about my work, but I questioned how much of a difference I make.

    Sometimes you make a huge amount, sometimes it is small, but worthwhile, Sometimes any Coach could be in that place and the athlete would still be successful.

    Watching a hockey camp last week I saw keen 7 year olds being “coached” by bored looking teenagers. The session structure was poor, too much technical information and not enough activity for the youngsters, games of 6 v 6 at this age are pointless- the big kids run over the little ones, the fast ones run round slower ones, no skill or tactical development at all took place.

    I was wondering whether the parents would have been better letting the kids “mess around” with a hockey stick and ball and some mates “jumpers for goal posts” and letting them develop in their own time.

  2. Are you restricted by forms?

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    “When one has reached maturity in the art, one will have a formless form. It is like ice dissolving in water. When one has no form, one can be all forms; when one has no style, he can fit in with any style.” Bruce Lee

    • Do you use a certain layout for planning training?
    • Do you have a favourite spreadsheet?
    • Do you always portray data in spider diagrams or pie charts because they “look cool”?

    Having a structure is handy because it allows you to have consistency. It can also steer you into certain patterns that may be unsuitable for a changing situation.

    I took time out this week to redesign my session planners so that they reflect the 4 cornerstones approach I now take to training athletes.

    I had been training one group with an old proforma, and I felt suddenly realised that my sessions were reflecting the form, rather than my philosophy (overview below).

    session planner

    I now have enough flexibility to plan what I want, but have the guideline to keep me on track.

    As to pie charts, this course on data visualisation has helped me become a better strength and conditioning coach due to clarity of presentation.

  3. The Challenge to coaches and coaching: Kevin Bowring


    “The modern player adopts a ‘pick and mix’ loyalty rather than a long-term allegiance.”

    He is becoming increasingly preoccupied with self and is more independent and less submissive to authority.  He finds difficulty in accepting criticism and is more liable to conflict.   

    How do coaches adapt to this?

    I believe in player development and I believe in the impact that coaches can have on that development. The continual professional development of coaches is important and the words of Dave Whittaker, the 1984 gold medal Olympics hockey team coach, still ring true today.

     “You owe it to your players to be the best coach you can possibly be.”

     That doesn’t mean that we want to develop coaches who are all the same.  There is, I believe, opportunity to develop individuality in our coaches.  I do not believe in developing a group of homogeneous coaches – points of difference are vitally important. 

    Big picture’ coaches with a real sense of purpose and a clear understanding of how the principles of play can transform learning and performance are vital for the future development of coaching. 

    rugby coach educationOur challenge in coach development is to help to develop innovative and creative coaches who can maximise player and team potential.  Even at the elite end of the game where the media’s microscopic analysis and interest have placed incredible stresses on coaches there is scope for development. 

    The challenge of elite coach development is to develop coaches who can deal with the most intense coaching environment of world cups, international matches and the premiership.

     (Full article can be found here)

     Kevin Bowring: Head of RFU elite coach development.

    Further reading:

  4. Ockham’s Razor- A Coaching principle?


    William of Ockham lectured at Oxford in the 14th Century. He is most famous for his theory that when you have two competing theories which make exactly the same predictions, the one that is simpler is the better.

    I use this principle in Coaching; if there are two ways of getting the job done, the simpler is the better. There are two reasons for this:

    1. The athlete is better able to remember what to do and can apply themselves more vigorously to the simple approach.
    2. The body is better at learning simpler movements and skills and these are more likely to be remembered under pressure (when it counts).

    Overcomplicating the Coaching process may seem like you are doing more, but in reality it is achieving little. 

    Addendum on motor learning.

    If a coach gives lots of feedback and instruction, immediate improvements in that task may be seen. 

    However, if the coach gives less instruction and feedback, but sets up the task and environment to get the athlete to solve problems themselves, less immediate improvements are seen in practice.

    Put that into the sporting arena (the contest of changing circumstances) and guess which is the more robust and adaptable athlete?

    It is counter-intuitive: less is more! 

    Motor skill learning in strength and conditioning 

  5. Run to Daylight: 4 Lessons from Lombardi

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    vince lombardi run to daylight“The character, rather than education, is man’s greatest need and man’s greatest safeguard, because character is higher than intellect”

    Vince Lombardi

    I recently finished reading Vince Lombardi’s classic”Run to Daylight”.
    It describes in detail a week in the life of the coach as he prepares the Packers for a big match against an unnamed rival.
    It is full of useful tidbits and reflections about the man and his team. Here are 4 of my favourites and thoughts on how they apply.
    1. I do not believe this game is as complex as many people think it is and as some try to make it.. We try to make it as uncomplicated as we can, because I believe that if you block and tackle better than the other team and the breaks are even you are going to win.” Lots of people make things complicated because they simply fail to understand the basics: or are unable to teach them well.
    2.  “A ball club is made up of as many different individuals as there are positions on it.” Essential that you know the people first, then coach the skills and tactics second. 
    3. All of us are takers, but if a person can’t add something to what he takes from others he should get out. Unfortunately, some people will always be takers, and if they don’t get out they don’t get very far. In all my years of coachingI have never been successful using somebody else’s play“. At the beginning, we may do what we have done as athletes, or copy someone else. It is important to realise what fits into your system or adds to it compared to just adding “stuff”. 
    4. Everything we do, in these meetings or on the practice field, we do only for short periods. We never stay on one phase of this game for any great length of time, because if I get bored coaching the same thing over and over they are going to get bored learning it. Although there are those times when they are not getting something and I must fight that urge to keep them at it until they do.” This requires planning and self discipline as a coach. Even more important today.

    A great book to read for all coaches (it only cost me £1.75 on abe books! Coach education can be affordable. Thanks to Vern Gambetta for recommending it.

    Read more Lessons from Lombardi 

  6. Coach education: the micro practice


    “Learning does not happen automatically as a result of experience”

    experiential learning for coachesThompson

    Instead, we have to reflect upon the experience, relate it to some theory and then try it out again (Kolb).

    However, I have been on far too many coaching workshops where you just sit and listen to some expert.

    Some interesting ideas come up, but by the time you get back to your team or players you have either forgotten what it was you learnt, or you are unable to deliver the idea as well as you would like.

    The Micropractice

    I got this idea from Doug Lemov’s “Practice Perfect”. At the latest CPD workshop I ran for the Excelsior Community of Practice every coach got the chance to give and receive feedback on a session they delivered on Sunday.

    Each coach delivered a two minute coaching session. Two other coaches observed and had to give feedback on it, each one starting with a specific phrase:

    1. “You did a good job of…”
    2. “Next time, try…”

    The coach then either continued on with their session, or restarted it for another two minutes. We then repeated the process.

    coach feedbackAt the end of the two or three sessions, the participants evaluated how well the coach implemented the feedback. As coaches we give a lot of feedback, but we are rarely assessed on how effective it is.

    By holding cards which had the two feedback phrases written on them, we neutralised the personal aspect of resistance to receiving feedback (of course, the type of people attending this workshop had a genuine desire to learn and improve, so it was a skewed sample).

    This took about six minutes for each coach, but we had additional discussions around the format. Six minutes! Imagine if we could do this every week? How effective would that be? A continuous cycle of improvement looking at one small skill at a time.

    Each coach had something tangible to take away and put into practice on Monday morning.

    Coaching Pedagogy: blending science with art

    coach pedagogyWhenever coach pedagogy is mentioned, people run for the hills! This workshop was designed to help everyone improve their practice.

    A lot of coaches rely on “Practice theories” which is often known as common sense.

    However, an underlying theory is “Necessary to avoid assumptions, prejudices and stereotypes” (Thompson). But, this theory has to be robust and I used a recent publication on “swim sprint training” as an example of poor research and misinterpretation of data.

    Each coach came armed with a theory of their choice that helps inform their practice, and then talked about how to use it. I was expecting a lot of jargon based around “force platforms” or “dynamic correspondence.

    Instead, every coach presented a theory based around motivation, behaviour or understanding the person who is also an athlete. This became a very useful discussion on the “how we coach” rather than the “what we coach“.

    In conclusion Coaching could be called the “Optimal integration of theory and practice“.

    Thanks to everyone who took part, I am looking forward to the next workshop in March.

    Further reading

  7. The Elements of Style: positive language in Coaching.


    elements of style“It is better to express even a negative in positive form.”

    So say Strunk and White in their excellent little book on writing: “The Elements of Style.

    “Consciously or unconsciously the reader (athlete?) is dissatisfied with being told what is not; the reader wishes to be told what is.”

    This has an important impact on the language we use when communicating with our athletes, whether in writing or speaking.

    Look at the differences here:

    not honest                   dishonest

    not important               trifling

    did not remember        forgot

    did not pay atttention to                ignored

    did not have much confidence in     distrusted

    When coaching, it is not just the substance that must be right, but also the style of the delivery.  Language and clarity of message are both important in ensuring clear and effective communication.

    Other negatives hold more authority.

    “I never warm up using foam rollers” compared to “I am not used to warming up with foam rollers”. The use of never offers a strong message.

    There are times when you need toualifying conditional words make the message sound weak or indecisive.

    “You could try to lift faster”   “You will lift faster”

    “I would like to win the race.”      “I shall win the race.”

    Save the use of would, should, could, may, might and can for coaching situations where there is uncertainty. There will be times when you give your athlete the chance to make decisions on their own; there will be a right outcome, but more than one way to get there.

    An athlete has a problem getting up in the morning. “You could try going to bed earlier, or you might have two alarm clocks in the room.”

    Language does matter.

    I am a dabbler in the use of language, but I recognise its importance. If your athletes are not repsonding to your messages, have a critical look at the way you frame your coaching points.

    I recommend elements of style for all aspiring writers. A Thesaurus is a useful tool for finding antonyms to help improve our Coaching lanaguage. 

  8. Using profiling to help improve your coaching


    “Coaching is about interactions”

    coach profilesDave Doran s4pcoaching

    Ideally, coaching is about long term relationships where all parties work together with the same goal in mind, it is athlete centred rather than coach driven. 

    Unfortunately, I have seen far too often that sport is funding driven and the athlete is passed around from coach to coach to meet the demands of the NGB.

    Petty administrators hide behind emails and excel spreadsheets and forget that they are there to help remove barriers.

    Here at Excelsior, we work hard at creating long term, meaningful relationships with other coaches and athletes alike.

    Duncan has recently been looking to sharpen his coaching practice under the guidance of an old (some might say very old) University colleague of mine: Dave Doran

    Here are some of his thoughts and lessons.

    Does your personality influence your coaching style?

     We all have different coaching styles & personalities, these can influence how we progress as a coach and how we interact with others. 

    When coaching do you find you work better with some athletes than others?

    adaptable coachingOver the past couple of years coaching, there have been some athletes with whom I get on well  and others with whom I have sometimes struggled to form a relationship,

    As coaches you then have to decide whether you can build the relationship or if the athlete is better suited to a different style of coach.

    Working with teams you are going to get all types of personality so you need to be adaptable in your approach (like this chameleon).

    We hear about this in football a lot, managers clashing with players sometimes to the point that the manager gets sacked or the players leave a club. If both had been more adaptable then they may have been able to build a relationship even if only for the benefit of the team. 

    Can we improve our adaptability and skills at building relationships? 

    rugby coach educationDave Doran presented a workshop titled “Profiling for improved coaching performance” over the summer which can help coaches understand more about themselves and their relationships. 

    Dave has over 30 years working within the police, the last 3 as a performance coach. He has been a level 5 coach at rugby league and studied Sports coaching for his Masters, so has plenty of experience and knowledge in performance coaching.

    Personal Profile Analysis uses the DISC profiling system, it’s based on our perceptions of how we work in situations, and works out general characteristics, motivators and what values you can take to an organisation.

    It uses four personality traits:DISC profiling for coaches
    The profile tells you how strong the four traits are when you are at work, under pressure and your self image. This shows how you work/communicate and prefer to be communicated with. For example; 

    1. If you are high dominance and are working with someone high in compliance, your direct coaching may not give the compliant athlete all the details they would like.
    2. If you have 2 athletes, Athlete 1 high steadiness and Athlete 2 high dominance, you will need to be more methodical in your approach with athlete 1, but direct and decisive with athlete 2.

    If you read the statements for each you will probably see ones that match you. 

    How I have used the profiling to help me

    I have been working with a hockey team for the last 2 seasons now and started off being more of an influencer and steady. This season I wanted to move forward from last and became more dominant and compliant, with the athletes I have this has failed and how we have played has shown this. 

    By looking at how my coaching style has changed I can see what worked before and what iis failing now. I am now trying to get the right balance between all 4 that is appropriate for the team. 

    Duncan Buckmaster 

    If you like this blog, then you might like these on:

    Coach development  Communication in coaching

  9. Advice to young coaches: break the mirrors

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    schwarzeneggerI was someone who literally spent his life in front of mirrors, practicing poses, working on the biceps or the triceps, always checking the mirror for progress.

    Arnold Schwarzenegger in his autobiography “Total Recall” talks about being inspired by his Father-in Law Serge Shriver who gave this speech to Yale graduates in 1994.

    I have one small word of advice because it is going to be tough:Break your mirrors!!! Yes indeed — shatter the glass. In our society that is so self-absorbed, begin to look less at yourself and more at each other.

    Learn more about the face of your neighbour and less about your own.

    I suggest this: When you get to be thirty, forty, fifty, or even seventy years old, you’ll get more happiness and contentment out of counting your friends than counting your dollars.

    You’ll get more satisfaction from having improved your neighborhood, your town, your state, your country, and your fellow human beings than you’ll ever get from your muscles, your figure,your automobile, your house, or your credit rating.

    You’ll get more from being a peacemaker than a warrior. I’ve been both, so I speak from experience. Break the mirrors!

    19 years later and with Generation iY entering the workplace, narcissism seems to have overtaken altruism.

    Coaching is about helping other people out. Unfortunately young, keen people are often worried about “making a name for themselves” or “increasing my followers on twitter“, rather than coaching the person in front of them.

    Schwarzenegger was the ultimate narcissist, but life, experience and surrounding himself with good people changed him. His autobiography is a fascinating read and a real page turner.

    Good advice at the end too.

    5 tips on how to get started in strength and conditioning coaching