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Why a person-centred philosophy is key to helping participants strive and thrive

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Please be aware because the workshop mentioned in this blog is new there may not yet be a workshop running near you. To hear first about workshops as they become available follow the guidance in the Next Steps at the bottom of the blog.

It is vital coaches take a genuine interest in their participants. Having good people skills is an intrinsic part of being an effective coach and that means acquiring a deep insight into people’s lives inside and outside of sport. Ultimately, the more you understand and connect with your participants, by observing, noticing and communicating, the more you will be able to support them and help them flourish.

  • UK Coaching’s new workshop, Coaching the Person in Front of You, addresses the need to put people’s ‘feelings, thoughts, ambitions and aspirations’ at the centre of everything.
  • Coaches must endeavour to be know-it-alls – that is, get to know everything they can about their participants.
  • Understand + Connect = Thrive is a useful equation that sums up transformative coaching.

Coaches operating at every level, from playground to podium, must make a concerted effort to understand and connect with their participants.

With the advent of a new broader definition of coaching and evidence mounting of the positive impact physical activity has on people’s psychological, social and emotional wellbeing, so the responsibility to be attentive to your participants’ needs has been thrown into even sharper focus.

You could argue, with some justification, that conventional coach development advice urging coaches to be mindful of their participants’ interests and life outside of the confines of their sport is not forceful enough, and that a more hard-line, provocative stance is warranted.

Understanding and connecting with your participants should be viewed as an absolute necessity.

Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson’s independent review into the Duty of Care in Sport has underlined the need for our sector to speak with a unified voice on the importance of putting the person at the heart of coaching.

‘It is vital to understand that it is not only what the coach does but how the person who is being coached feels,’ says UK Coaching’s Director of Coaching Emma Atkins.

Echoing the strength of the sentiment above, she explains why coaches have a moral obligation to guide and nurture the person as well as the performer.

‘Some coaches need to be provoked into thinking about coaching the person in front of them because it can become easy for them to forget as other things take over their coaching practice,’ she says.

‘From a political perspective, we are so serious about this because within the Duty of Care in Sport Review there is a lot of concern expressed around people not being looked after and their feelings, thoughts, ambitions and aspirations not being at the centre of everything.

‘We are positioning ourselves so we have the training and support to help people look after people better in sport, whether they are a participant, coach or someone within the administration set-up of the coaching system.’

Getting inside the minds of your participants

One UK Coaching initiative that endeavours to have a significant nationwide impact on the industry-wide drive to better support the needs of every participant, comes in the form of a pioneering new workshop.

‘Coaching the Person in Front of You’ was launched this week – a three-hour interactive course that doesn’t so much advocate and advise on how to get to know your participants better but rather bores into the heart of why developing a person-centred philosophy is so imperative.

Underpinning the workshop are three core principles: Understand, Connect and Thrive.

On the face of it, it seems like a simple equation. Understand + connect = thrive. But human beings are not simple creatures.

In fact, think of it more like using algebra than arithmetic to solve a key coaching equation. Written as a mathematical formula for success and happiness, it should really come with symbols and letters too, representing the diverse emotional, psycho-social, biological and physiological needs of individuals.

The changing environment and context in which coaches operate, and the variable nature of people’s characters and idiosyncrasies – which can change from month to month, even week to week – also enter into the equation.

With this in mind, try now to imagine great coaching without first having made the effort to get to know your group of participants. How can you possibly help them fulfil their personal goals, understand their motivations, know how to inspire them, build a productive relationship built on reliability and respect, spot emotional red flags by trusting your intuition, or generally help them become the best they can possibly be as people and performers?

 

The simple answer is, you can’t.

Putting you in the picture

A young child sits alone on the decking in a state of apparent distress

At a pilot of the workshop for UK Coaching employees, Head of Participation Heather Douglas used the image above of a young child in apparent anguish – possibly on the verge of tears, possibly distressed – to emphasise how paramount it is to understand your participants.

Suggestions abounded as to the nature of the child’s emotional state: she is feeling frustrated; someone has taken her sweets away; she is not getting her own way; she can’t make herself understood; she is tired.

‘Potentially there is a whole host of things going on,’ said Heather, throwing a few of her own scenarios into the mix. ‘She really hates her shoes; she’s been told off for drawing on the decking; her pen’s fallen through the crack; she’s had an insect bite and it’s hurting.

 

‘I’ve been in a situation like that with one of my children and the reason was because he couldn’t describe to me a custard cream! He wasn’t able to tell me in his own articulate way what it was he was trying to describe.’

Of course, we shouldn’t just try and understand people if we get a sense they are in a state of anguish, but it serves as a valuable lesson of the need for coaches to be more observant.

Curiosity may have killed the cat but it is a cornerstone of great coaching, which is a purrfect way of stressing the importance of curiosity as a tool to understand and connect with your participants. And anyone who missed that awful pun, well, a timely case in point of how unobservant we can all be at times.

Communication is another prerequisite. Often described as the fuel for maintaining meaningful, effective and successful relationships – be that in sport or any other walk of life – the ‘Coaching the Person in Front of You’ workshop explores strategies coaches can use to hone their communication skills to facilitate connections and create a relational coaching environment.

Some of the key components of emotional intelligence are discussed – with coaches left in no doubt as to the key role empathy, emotion perception, behavioural agility and self-awareness play in developing an extensive ‘social skills toolbox’ that will allow coaches to shed more light on people’s fluctuating day-to-day moods, pinpoint and regulate emotions and behaviour patterns and manage social connections more efficiently.

Observation: An underused skill

A coach points to his eyes with his middle and index fingers, a signal that he wants his participants to pay close attention

There is one group task I’d like to share which I think showcases the all-round value of connection brilliantly.

Using games-based activities is a great way for a coach to elicit conversations, and therefore assist in the formation of connections.

We have talked about wanting coaches to become better at noticing things. Things happen in front of our face but, because we are on autopilot most of the time, we often miss them.

It sounds obvious, but is worth stressing nonetheless, that an emotion has to be perceived first before it can be managed or regulated.

The game we played illustrated perfectly the importance of being observant and stepping back to see the bigger picture.

We were given varieties of bouncy balls and each table of eight had to think up their own game. We decided the rules. Would it be 4 vs 4, a singles knockout competition, mixed doubles, a mini-league format? Players on some tables used the palm of their hand to strike the ball, others decided to use the back of their hand. Two people in one group bent down either side of the table and formed a net using their outstretched arms.

It was textbook games-based learning as, over time, the rules were adapted and the environment manipulated to make the activity more challenging (and fun). Before you could say Desmond Douglas, two balls were in play at the same time.

A coach was allocated to each table, who was told to remain ‘relatively disengaged’ but to concentrate on making ‘frequent, small connections and to make them non-judgmental’.

This allowed the coach to perceive the myriad emotions at play. For example, spot players who were becoming slightly frustrated – at either not being challenged enough (okay, now balance on one leg), or needing a few pointers to help them interpret the changing rules; or the self-conscious few (and it was only a few!) who needed a bit of gentle cajoling to get them more involved.

Throughout, there was independent learning taking place, with only a modicum of input from the coach. For example, players who struggled with the more challenging rules were allowed to catch the ball first before re-serving to make it more inclusive.

By the end of the task, the game of hand ping pong had transformed into an activity where players had to bounce the ball into a cup or glass (think beer pong without the alcohol).

But this was not a task promoting a games-based approach to learning, or to highlight the zone of proximal development (great though it was to see this in action). The lesson – through communicating, smiling and having fun in a safe place to fail, where there was no wrong answer – was very much on using game-play to observe social interactions and emotions while all the time invigorating and fortifying coach-participant connections and social bonds between team-mates.

Three other quick tips to come out of the exercise:

  1. Strive for five positive interactions for every one negative, which equals healthy supportive relationships (another handy coaching equation).
  2. Be sure to make the interactions sincere.
  3. Remember to connect before you correct.

Simple tips to improve your connection skills

Social connections have an impact on our physical health and our psychological wellbeing.

As UK Coaching Development Lead Officer Liz Burkinshaw explained, our desire to feel connected to other people is a fundamental human need and essential for happiness.

‘By nature human beings are a social species. We rely on connections to survive,’ said Liz.

‘Building connections contributes to our own happiness and that of those around us and happiness ripples out through groups of people like a pebble thrown into a pond.’

Having the emotional expertise to build successful coach-participant relationships involves coaches being proactive in getting to know the person in front of them.

Suggestions from the floor of how to do this effectively included using informal moments to connect with individuals within the group. You could plan time before and after sessions, or use drinks breaks or other transition times between exercises as ‘connection points’. Walking out onto the pitch or court from the changing rooms suddenly becomes a beneficial ‘walk-and-talk’ exercise – ideal if you only have an hour a week with your participants.

It’s not being nosey if you listen in to your participants chatting about their day at work or school as they warm up before a session. It’s a tried and trusted coaching technique, active listening, allowing you to build up a more thorough picture of their personalities, likes and dislikes.

Some other simple connection methods you may like to use (while bearing in mind that some of the ideas below - Facebook groups/get-togethers - will, clearly, not be applicable to children's coaches):

  • Reward positive behaviour
  • Make eye-contact
  • Use thumbs up and high fives
  • Remember to say hello. Maybe shake hands
  • Be helpful
  • Congratulate
  • Share a story
  • Open body language
  • Smile and say thank you
  • Be curious
  • Ask questions about them
  • Listen
  • Nod
  • Find out about family and friends
  • See if you have other things in common
  • Use e-mail and social media (set up a WhatsApp Group or Facebook Group)
  • Make a note of all your participants’ birthdays
  • Arrange get-togethers

A disabled participant gives their coach a big hug, which causes her to break into a big smile

The upshot of putting these principles into practice should be, as one of the quotes adorning the walls of the function room proclaimed, ‘a thriving group of happy individuals, who feel comfortable to challenge their current ability and explore new things, in a supported and guided way.’

This was from a pre-pilot survey, with attendees asked to define what the word ‘thrive’ meant to them. Other standout quotes included: ‘For young people, thriving is an environment where they simply keep coming back, love the sessions, enjoy time with their friends and feel like they are improving.’

And: ‘Thrive means to me making an environment where the person enjoys what they are doing, they are able to be themselves, be creative, say what they are thinking and not feel they will be reprimanded.’

Hungry for more: Developing an appetite for learning

However you describe yourself within the new broader definition of coaching – be it coach, activator, leader, facilitator, trainer or instructor – and whichever level you coach at – recreational, developmental or elite – a commitment to putting the person at the centre of your coaching remains a constant.

The transfer of sporting skills is just one benefit of coaching. A great coach can impact massively on so many other aspects of their participants’ lives.

UK Coaching hopes the new workshop will serve as a framework for how we should be working across the sector.

As Heather summarised: ‘It ultimately defines people working with people. We can’t get all the theory into a three-hour face-to-face workshop but we don’t want to scratch the surface either. We want to provoke people to learn more and strive for this culture of improvement.

‘Like the page-turning novel or the cliff-hanger at the end of a television drama that leaves you hungry and wanting more; that’s what we are aiming for with this workshop.’

Do you agree with the Understand, Connect, Thrive principle? How important is it for coaches to develop their people skills? Let us know your views below.

Next Steps

Organisations: Find out more about how to organise the UK Coaching Coaching the Person in Front of You workshop.

Coaches: To find a Coaching the Person in Front of You workshop running near you*, visit the UK Coaching website.

*UK Coaching partners put on our workshops across the UK. They will put on a workshop near to you if enough people express interest. We are promoting this new workshop to our partners but please be aware because it is new there may not yet be a workshop running near you.

In order to hear about workshops running across the country as they become available register with UK Coaching. You will receive a monthly newsletter detailing the latest workshops. Alternatively follow UK Coaching on Twitter who will tweet when a workshop has been added.

In addition if you live in England, get in touch with your County Sports Partnership to register your interest.  Visit the CSPN to find your CSP.

sportscotland, Sport Wales and Sport Northern Ireland run our workshops outside of England and advertise our workshops on their own websites.

 

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Comments (7)

   
andrewb62

This sounds like an interesting course, but I do wonder about its wider applicability across all coaching contexts.

I coach (mostly) with children. There are a few suggestions here that would see me struck off!

18/09/18
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David_T

Hi Andrew, Which aspects are you concerned about? I'll see if I can help. I think you may mean social Media, if so happy to post my (updated) safeguarding and social media top tips.

Dave

26/09/18
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andrewb62

Hi David
Specifically, it was the use of any digital platforms to contact children. Any tips on this would be appreciated.

But there are broader safeguarding issues when asking any personal questions of children, as you know.

26/09/18
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David_T

Hi Andrew,

Hot off the press, here are my new and updated top tips...(the CPSU also have more detailed guidance free on their resource bank)

Does this help at all?

Best wishes

Dave

-Follow CPSU, Governing Body or Club social media guidance

-Avoid ‘befriending’ children on social media

-Send group messages and include parents and CWO or other colleague

-Use a club/group social networking page (i.e. one-way communication)

-Ensure your club has clear guidance integrated into your code of practice regarding eCommunication with children and adults

-State the likely sanctions for breaches of the code of practice

27/09/18
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andrewb62

Thanks, David - this pretty much confirms the guidance from the ECB, although the ECB is actually more explicit on email.
“You should make arrangements for under 18s via their parents or carers; this includes text and email messages.
It is understood that in the case of over 16’s this may not be ideal for yourself or the parents. An acceptable exception to this rule is to text or email the parent and to copy in the 16 or 17 year old, with the parent’s prior consent. This means the parent is able to monitor communications, but the 16 or 17 year old receives the information directly.”

27/09/18
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LawrieOK

It is great to see something that tackles the 'soft skills' that are usually ignored by NGB Courses. Like Andrew Bevan my School coaching will not permit me to use some of the suggestions in Blake Richardson's post. Similarly I find Social Media has created more problems than it solves; not all of us have a good grasp of the etiquette required to keep emotions in check.

I hope to attend this new Course asap, as I have banged on about the EI aspect for quite a long time on Connected Coaches, as well as other forums/platforms.

Finally, '5 positives for each negative' - what if a person does not perceive what they are saying as being a negative? It is clear to me that there are occasions when a person has no intention of being negative, but their words are perceived as such by some and possibly all who hear them. Maybe this new Course will give me some guidance.

25/09/18
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andrewb62

Lawrie - if you haven’t already seen it, this might be of interest - Coaching the Mental Game is a (free) online course hosted by FutureLearn.
https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/coaching-mental-game
In the course, Paddy Upton discusses how a coach can “...foster an environment that enables people to perform to their potential...“.

26/09/18
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LawrieOK

Many thanks Andrew - useful link.

03/10/18
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MiSTy49

This all looks really good, but there don’t seem to be any workshops running!

30/09/18
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robertkmaaye

Hi Mark Stuart-Thompson . The workshop has only recently been launched so at this stage you may not be able to find one running near you. UK Coaching partners (such as NGBs, CSPs etc) put on the workshops and if enough people express an interest in your area I’m sure they will be keen to put it on. You can find your local CSP here http://www.cspnetwork.org/your-csp
For those outside England: Sportscotland ( http://www.sportscotland.org.uk/coaching/coaching_get_qualified/coaching-cpd/ ), Sport Wales (http://www.sport.wales/coaching/coaching/coach-training.aspx ) and Sport Northern Ireland (http://www.sportni.net/clubs-coaching/coaching/i-want-to-develop-my-coaching/ ) run UK Coaching workshops and advertise them on their own websites.

01/10/18
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LawrieOK

Like Mark I looked and looked and looked for a Workshop, and became totally p+#££ed off that there were none - talk about dangling a sweet in front of s kid and then not giving it to them!!! What is the point of Bigging-up this development but really there is nothing available atm! Still frustrated UK Coaching.

03/10/18
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robertkmaaye

Hi Lawrie. Hope you are well. Completely understand your frustrations. There have been workshops booked but our issue so far is the organisations who have done it are running them as closed workshops. This means they aren’t happy for them to be listed on the UK Coaching website and promoted to the general public. Rest assured we are promoting the workshop heavily to our partners (such as CSPs, NGBs etc) who put the workshops on so hopefully there will be some going on in the next few weeks that might be near you. I would suggest bookmarking this page on the UK Coaching website https://www.ukcoaching.org/courses/search but the UK Coaching Twitter account https://twitter.com/_UKCoaching will also hopefully be tweeting when open courses become available for this workshop. Not an ideal solution I know but it’s the one we have at present. I do know there are discussions about UK Coaching potentially putting on their own open programme so in future we may have more control about running open courses.

03/10/18
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andrewb62

Hi Rob - re “local partners”. My local ‘CSP’ appears to be London Sport— since their re-launch (and new website) they no longer promote coaching courses; even the sligtly clunky spreadsheet listing events and courses has gone. Do you know if there is a single listing for coaching courses in London?

03/10/18
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robertkmaaye

Hi Andrew - It took some finding but I think their events/workshops is now located here https://londonsport.org/events/

03/10/18
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andrewb62

Thanks, Rob - top sleuthing, there! The list looks a bit thin for the whole of London, though - it appears to include only events that London Sports are running, rather than a more comprehensive look at coaching events across the capital.

03/10/18
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robertkmaaye

Yes it was well hidden! Unfortunately that's all I could find but I'm going to ask some colleagues if they are aware of a comprehensive one. I'll post here if I anyone has

04/10/18
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robertkmaaye

Good news for those following this blog… there are now 9 workshops being run nationally over the next few months. Hopefully you’ll be able to find one near you and attend https://www.ukcoaching.org/courses/search?format=workshop&courseid=4648&distance=25&order=soonest

29/03/19
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andrewb62

I attended a customised version of this course as part of a tutor training day, and the emphasis on the three core principles – understand, connect and thrive - really does put “person-centred” coaching into context.

29/03/19
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