Great coaching requires mix of skills

Great coaching, like great teaching, is something you know when you see it — although you may be hard pressed to identify what exactly makes a coach or teacher great.

While it may be tempting to think, “You either have it or you don’t,” what looks like natural talent involves deliberate technique, developed over time.

Great coaching involves a mix of teaching techniques, relationship skills, subject-knowledge and the ability to deliver knowledge in a way that different minds can understand.

Aspiring coaches and seasoned veterans can improve techniques and become great coaches using planning and subject knowledge and by developing the ability to evaluate and correct technique − directing young athletes with both warmth and discipline.

Preparation is critical for effective coaching. A plan at the beginning of a season provides guiding principals for the coach, athletes and parents. By defining overall objectives, a coach can design a program using a progression of exercises to meet those goals. An effective strategy will use a sequence of training and instruction — working incrementally towards mastery. By planning objectives, a coach can measure the progress and effectiveness of his or her program and fine tune the plan as the season progresses.

There is no shortcut to knowledge. In order to coach a sport, a person must get practical experience by playing that sport.

Learning a sport also includes watching it, analyzing components, reading, watching seasoned and master coaches and gleaning skills from them.

Ideally a coach-in-training will assist an experienced lead coach or participate in an instructive co-coaching relationship. A person will usually work as an assistant coach for several years before becoming a lead coach themselves.

It is one thing to realize an athlete’s technique needs fixing, it is another to determine how to fix the problem and communicate the analysis to a child in a meaningful way.

A coach must aim criticism and correction towards specific actions, not at the child personally. Since learning from and overcoming mistakes may be the biggest lesson in sports, young athletes need opportunities to correct the mistakes — and understand that making mistakes is the way we learn.

Kids learn by doing, less by listening; directives must be informative and short. Coaches must use a delivery method made up of equal parts kindness and discipline.

In the Stanford Magazine article “Good Sports,” John McPhee says, “First, no shouting, no embarrassment, no humiliation. Be the same to every kid. Respect them … Kids are enormously, exquisitely sensitive, and you never know what slight, or what quiet compliment, will linger in their souls.”

Research has found that children cued with language affirming the value of effort and incremental progress take on increasingly difficult tasks, not fearing failure

Finally, good coaches show a willingness to adapt. Techniques change, the science of training has deepened, and the understanding of nutrition and the use (and misuse) of dietary supplements continues to advance.

To be a great coach means engaging in the process of continuous improvement. This involves reading, research and development. It involves obtaining coaching licenses, and increasing the level of those licenses.

The fundamentals of coaching include knowledge of the sport, ability to evaluate players, a solid planning approach, a strong ability to instruct firmly and with warmth and a willingness to adapt and learn over time. If any one of these key pieces is missing, there will be undesired outcomes and a measurable impact on player attrition.

McPhee says “Most important of all, the whole point of coaching, the whole point of kids in organized sport: teach them to love the game, to love to play. The only measure of success for a coach is if the kids come back to play the next year. If they don’t return for a second season, you weren’t a good enough coach, period.” Kids vote with their feet.

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