Post No.: 0434
‘Coach-centred coaching’ is when the coach makes all of the decisions and gives instructions, while the players are passive in the coaching process.
‘Athlete-centred coaching’ is when the coach involves the players in the coaching process and actively seeks their thoughts and inputs concerning the planning of games, the reviewing of games, the design of the training, as well as understanding what they each want from their participation in the sport.
An athlete-centred coaching approach is overall better because the athletes become far more engaged, invested and therefore committed. The athletes will have a better chance of retaining information during game time because they had some active part in the planning. This all in turn leads to them being in a far more mentally switched-on, clear and happy state of mind – which all sets up a better chance of success.
Constantly barking instructions from the sidelines as the team’s coach during games is a controversial issue, and its suitability may depend on what sport is concerned, the rules and how individual players respond to it. But in most cases, the planning and coaching should really mostly be done before a match starts (including understanding what plans B and C are). Howling instructions from the sidelines during play, or even merely telling a player to focus on some narrow aspect of their skill (which is like telling an experienced driver to consciously focus on their pedal control) or on executing a specific play, forces activity into their thinking brain (‘system two’) and thus will reduce the fluidity of their performance. (Skilled intuition performs better, faster and is more mentally efficient than deliberate conscious thinking, as long as one is genuinely skilled at a particular skill.)
Meanwhile, allowing players to read and play the game as they see it unfolding in real-time, and use their own initiative with little or no external interference, will give them the best chance of executing what needs to be done in each situation. A few instructions relayed from the sidelines now and again when they’re critical are fine and to be expected, but the more players are entrusted to read and make decisions for or amongst themselves, the better they’ll get at doing it – the players are after all the ones who are closest to what’s happening during a game and who most understand how their own bodies feel at any given moment (e.g. to give a burst or to conserve their physical energy). And it’s better than players constantly checking the sidelines in case the coach is going to give an instruction – their eyes and ears are better directed on the game and opposition itself. The opposition will also be able to hear and immediately counteract these instructions too. Also, if the coach isn’t there one day (perhaps due to an illness or ban), it can cause the players on the pitch to feel headless if they’ve become over-reliant on sideline coaching.
Most of the errors that athletes make when it comes to their performance are errors in thinking, and arguably only the athletes themselves can know what they are. These mental errors range from being over-aggressive (e.g. over-confidence, arrogance, impatience, premeditation, ‘trying to be a hero’) to being hesitant (e.g. a lack of confidence, doubts, self-doubts, over-analysis, indecisiveness, feeling intimidated, the fear of failure or injury, panic, choking, being tentative).
So athletes need to know that they’re safe to reveal their mental errors to their coach and team – which we all in fact occasionally make – without a fear of the consequences. They need to feel safe in disclosing them in order for the coach and staff to help alleviate them. (This is why it’s often the more senior/established team members who tend to be more comfortable revealing concerns about their mental game because they know their place in the side is less at risk.) A good coach must listen to all types of concerns forwarded, including women-specific issues like periods, and help alleviate them. Everyone’s interests should be aligned – ensuring that the players are happy will increase the chances of success for the entire team, who wins together and loses together.
And because they cannot be easily gleaned from the outside, coaches also need to proactively ask players what and how they were thinking and feeling when reviewing the key moments of a game, otherwise the mental part of the game will be neglected. Of course, the players need to trust their coaches with this sensitive information, which makes empathic coaches incredibly valuable. Players often feel a weight off their shoulders once they’re able to freely own up to their errors without judgement. And it’s often this relief that enables them to accept failures and errors, which in turn frees up their mental resources to focus on the pursuit of success without a mental weight holding them back. This continues from what was said in Post No.: 0377.
Positive affirmations won’t work for everyone because some people seem to be naturally pessimistic (e.g. they may have feelings of ‘impostor syndrome’, where, despite evidence of their competence, a person doubts his/her own achievements and has a persistent, internalised fear of being exposed as a fraud). This is an example of why coaching needs to be tailored to the individual. Different people, and maybe at different times, respond better to different pep talks – some need to be fired up, some need a more compassionate approach, some like to be reminded of the good times, some the bad, some want to concentrate on the future, some love big hugs, and so on.
Coaches should still overall recommend that players think positively but they should not put any undue pressure on them to do so. This recommendation needs to come with the acknowledgement and allowance that negativity, doubting or insecurity is normal, will happen and that it’s totally okay when it does happen. This is being authentic and real. Regardless of the positive or negative thoughts though – the focus should then return to the present task at hand.
Those who can do something don’t necessarily make good teachers of that subject because they may know how they did something themselves but can have trouble understanding that different people may require different approaches to get the best out of them. Therefore the best teachers are those who can do and can teach, for teaching is a skill itself. Those who can teach well can also do, but those who can do well cannot necessarily teach. Whatever the case, good coaches and teachers look to improve their own coaching and teaching methods rather than blame their players or pupils if they don’t seem to obey or do their best!
Coaches and parents who over-coach, blame and criticise, over-emphasise winning, react negatively to losing or mollycoddle, will generally negatively impact a player’s or child’s mental game. Meanwhile, those who unconditionally support their players or children, with the absence of these negative influences, will tend to have a positive impact on them. So professional coaches of young athletes often need to coach these children’s parents too – in order to curb their unhelpful fuzzy behaviours towards their own children. Coaches need to be self-aware of their own body language, tone and the examples they set, as well as acknowledge and be accepting of their own fears and so forth too.
With children, pressure and negative feedback (even sometimes if constructive when delivered with the wrong tone), such as from parents reacting angrily to their own child’s mistakes or misses, are predictable ways to put them off playing. It’s far better to simply enjoy watching them play! Otherwise they’ll likely give up as soon as they can because they’re not enjoying it. Such treatment may also make them feel inadequate and insecure about themselves. This doesn’t mean we should therefore cosset them – we should praise their efforts and focus on them having fun at this age.
But too many parents nowadays compete against other parents through their children! Parents are using their own children to serve their own competitive interests, perhaps because of their own past personal regrets or failures – they so badly want their children to win so that they can bask in their reflected glories! Competition is important, but to put our children in the best state of mind to be in for winning, we must put their needs and priorities first. And for most children, they’ll autonomously participate in sports because it’s fun – winning comes way down in the list of importance hence many will quit playing if they don’t get to play for fun and if winning becomes more important than having fun. Most children would rather play on a losing team than sit on the bench of a winning team too. Pushy and over-competitive parents therefore tend to drive their children to quit, whether immediately or as soon as they’re old enough to do whatever they like. We can improve youth sports and physical activity participation by simply saying, “I love watching you play.”
So we must understand that youth sports participation is more about enjoyment, learning, getting the physical exercise, building up healthy active habits for life (especially in this modern world that’s full of tempting sedentary pastimes) and about social development, more than winning. And this social development partly comes from how a child sees his/her parents model behaviours (e.g. the overly critical comments, losing sorely and unsporting conduct during unsolicited sideline coaching, or the resilience to try again after a setback, the courage to face one’s fears and the desire to self-improve rather than blame). Now it’s again not about giving children ‘participation awards’ for doing the bare minimum or saying that they did well when they didn’t try their best – effort and application still matters.
Stating that all this training involves a lot of financial commitment that you hope the child will personally pay you back for ‘with a scholarship several years down the line’ will only add stress and pressure upon them, which won’t help – this is a major reason why most children will quit sports despite the investment put into them. Okay one might argue that this just sorts the wheat from the chaff – but in the bigger picture, fewer children will continue participation in sports or any other physical activities as adults, which contributes to the obesity and wider health problem. In my own furry opinion, it’s better for a nation to be full of physically fit and happy people who had no representatives who won gold sporting medals for their nation, than a nation that had a few representatives who won gold with the rest of the population being overweight and unfit. The latter would present a false propaganda about that nation because these ‘representatives’ won’t represent the general state of that nation’s people at all! Moreover, the more fit people there are in a nation, the more actual chance of naturally finding or producing top athletes anyway. Woof!
Children will quit because they’re sick and tired of being yelled at, and because of the fear of making mistakes and getting reprimanded for them – because, well, if you’re not playing then you cannot make any mistakes! But if you’re not playing then you’re not learning or growing either, which are the bigger lessons for life. An emphasis on winning also directly means that a lot of kids who don’t make a team will just sit on the bench and not get to play at all.
So be an athlete-centred coach, be an empathic coach, tailor your coaching to each individual, constantly seek self-improvement as a coach, and unconditionally support whom you coach. Be a parent who concentrates on the participation and fun of sports, model a good example with your own behaviours, and take joy in simply seeing your children being active and playing.
Woof. When you ask what characterises their best-ever coaches, most athletes will cite some version of ‘they believed in me’.