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Cut out new ideas, work on real coaching

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Economic forecasters aren’t doing too well at the moment. Nor political pollsters.

 

We all recognise it’s tough to predict human behaviour. Ask a bunch of people what they are thinking and they will rarely give you an accurate answer. Who wants to admit they would vote for Donald Trump in a public forum? Many didn’t but still voted for him!

 

Does scientific research do any better? Not particularly. John Ioannidis, writing in The Atlantic, said that 90% of medical research turns out to be wrong. Even if this is perhaps an exaggeration, the statistics don’t give us an enormous amount of confidence.

 

In the coaching world, based on “new” research, we’ve moved away from static stretching before competition, started and stopped using ice baths, reduced sugar in our diets and, well, the list goes on.

 

And just recently, England Rugby’s eye coach, Dr Sherylle Calder, has said that rugby players’ skills have reduced because they spend too much time on their phones. The evidence? I’m still looking (with others) for the science behind this.

 

Meta-studies seem the way forward. That is drawing together plenty of studies to understand where the direction of evidence lies. Even then, the conclusions can be skewed. For example, global warming may well be happening. Okay, let’s say it is. That has costs and benefits. It’s even possible to argue that the benefits outweigh the costs (like fewer droughts or fewer winter deaths).

 

If it is hard to reach a conclusion on the evidence, should you embrace more ideas? Should we have more games, fewer drills; more athlete-centred coaching or more directed practice?

 

As one of my bosses said to me: Don’t give me problems, give me solutions.

 

So, I say, don’t get bogged down in trying to find the next new idea. There are better ways to keep your training fresh, invigorating and relevant.

 

1. APES

 

Keep your training Active, Purposeful, Enjoyable and Safe. It’s a great checklist to make sure you are on track. If you’ve been on a UKCC Level 1 rugby course, you will have certainly learned that.

 

Active – your players will be doing stuff. Not listening to you too much. They will discover solutions which work for them.

Purposeful – the training must be aimed at improving their performance for game days. It’s purposeful if both you and the players think so.

Enjoyable – that means competitive in my book. The right sort of competitive to make the players seek better ways to win, though not at all costs.

Safe – and that doesn’t just mean they don’t get injured. Safe from bullying and safe to make mistakes.

 

2. Believe in what you believe

 

You’ve come into coaching for a reason. Think what those reasons are. If it’s to give back something to the game, then do that. If it’s to improve individuals, then believe in that.

 

Keep on track with those beliefs and try to align your coaching to that. It’s very easy to get bogged down with changing your mindset or following a new path. Changing your mind is fine, as long as you go back to what defines you.

 

For example, I’ve always wanted to give as many players a chance to play. Though I want to win, I want more players to share being involved in the processes that might lead to winning. Sometimes, to do that, I’ve been a player-centred coach. Other times, it’s been better to be coach-centred. It’s about freeing up time to move to what’s important.

 

3. Standing on the shoulders of giants

 

The best and effective new ideas evolve from years of experimenting, mistakes and experience. They don’t suddenly appear. They are tested, evaluated and retested.

 

The same goes for your coaching. Once a team is up and running, you are constantly adjusting training and tactics to suit the development of the team. Throw in a new idea and it’s difficult to work out whether any improvements come from what you’ve introduced or from other factors around the development of the team. No scientist or researcher can prove that with your team – you can’t set up a control group to ascertain the differences.

 

Real coaching is about adapting tried-and-tested methods to your team. Some may work, some won’t. Just because a clever technique or tactic worked before doesn’t mean it will work again. Instead, you should be encouraging to keep trying, keep wanting to improve.

 

Isaac Newton said his theories on physics came from the centuries of research of other great minds. He had learned from them, tried and tested his own theories based on theirs. He said he was merely standing on the shoulders of giants.

 

Your coaching is the same. It’s real. It’s not always ground-breaking but it does make a difference. The things that make the most difference have come from years of your experience and the years of other coaches’ experience. Make small changes that you believe in.

 

Conclusion: Not ideas, not facts, just experience

 

The best coaches have been coaching for a long time. Listen to them. They won’t be saying anything new. It might just be new for you. Real coaching is about getting out there and using what you know in the best way possible. Don’t just be suckered into using new ideas that other coaches haven’t been using for a long time.

 

It’s a not a fixed mindset approach. You are simply filtering out the fly-by-night ideas that haven’t been proven to work. Use practical applications that work most of the time. Keep to what you believe in and not because someone recently told you so. The best coaches rarely seem to bend with the wind, so neither should you.

 

What do you think? Please let me know your thoughts by adding a comment below

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Comments (12)

   
dancottrell1

Just read this blog post which might add to the reasons behind this blog:
https://medium.com/my-fastest-mile/innovation-golden-goose-or-wild-goose-chase-df793b768a27#.9f6ktfagf

03/02/17
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kraichura

Excellent post Dan. It's easy to take our eyes off of the reasons why we coach and the skills and techniques that have got us to our current points.

I'm always keen to learn and take on board new ways of coaching and new concepts, but your point is a good one and one that I will be thinking about!

03/02/17
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Ralph

To conclude I have no desire to be educated, no inclination to be taught and yet I have an insatiable appetite to learn. Ask me if I want to be educated or taught how to play the saxophone and my answer is no. Ask me if I want to learn how to play the saxophone and my response is a resounding yes. For that, I will need an expert coach.
It's not about being a creator. It's all about discovering and uncovering. Take the spark ⚡️ and fan it until you have a roaring blaze.

04/02/17
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robertepetersen

Ralph, help me to understand your point. If I ask you if you want to be taught how to play the sax, you'll say "no". But if I ask you if you want to learn how to play the saxophone, you'll give me a resounding "yes". Do coaches not teach?

04/02/17
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Ralph

thank you for asking Robert
as you know, we see all styles of "coach", probably as many as their are personality types.
my point is, what has that got to do with the athlete?
i suppose it's difficult for some coaches to not let their personality get in the way of them putting the athlete first, for me, it's all about the athlete, they are the talent, the coach at best, is a "has been", they've had their time, and should never act like most of the parents that live through their children.
i'd like to think that good coaching is far more than, passing on information, far more than correcting inefficient ineffective technique, far more than about tactics and training. for me these are superficial, important but still superficial.
i'd hoped coaching should be more intelligent, more in depth and nuanced than what our poor teachers are forced to do
i'd hoped that coaching brings in, wisdom, experience, ethics, rather than teaching bits of information

it's not our spark (although i often see coaches believing, "it's my athlete, that i've created"),
as coaches, we give them the fuel, both oxygen via the fan, and knowledge to burn but....
"an ideology is something that has you"
it shouldn't be our ideology, otherwise we run the risk of indoctrination, which as you know leads to them never being able to think for themselves. perhaps that's why some coaches do this, they want "their" athlete to be dependent upon them?
it shouldn't be our ideology, otherwise their is no difference to the techniques Cults and Sate Brainwashing use.
each athlete comes with their own unique ideology, that lit that spark, if they truly want to be a roaring blaze, we can coach that.
the spark doesn't need educating, "Every child is a genius, but if we keep measuring a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will always think it's stupid" Albert Einstein
the spark doesn't need to be taught to be a spark, it already understands the laws of thermodynamics way before it had a physics lesson.
it's been proved recently that 6months olds have a basic understanding of fluid dynamics and that it must be innate, they must have been born with the ability to know how solids and fluids should work in the world they are just about to be born into.
unfortunately in the UK, our children are educated and taught facts and measured on whether they can regurgitate accurately, but the Fish is looking up at the tree shouting, "there are 10 patterns to intelligence not just one, and that's the 10 we've found in humans."
i coached in a "high level" school that excluded children that weren't going to get an A grade so the School could be at the top of the national league tables,
all those children are taught and educated "well" by high level teachers, they aren't taught to understand, nor think for themselves, nor create, nor develop critical thinking skills, nor philosophy or psychology. it is only about Gov. set exam results. and because they are near the top of the league, the moronic parents buy into it.
vast majority of these children will go on to red brick Uni's and have a vast influence on UK destiny, with no real understanding of what they know.
parents claim they want more for their children than to have to work in a factory yet not realise that the elite level, it's also a factory.
Schools school fish into these tightly pack bundles to conform
Yet history shows time and time again invention and great science ALL came from discovery and uncovery, and a big chunk just from shear accident.

what has any of that got to do with sport and coaching?
a little known fact is, Issac Newton played tennis and notice if he hit the ball in a certain way, the ball would bend, maybe he was the first person to discover the "banana shot" 200 years before the Brazilians.
even Charles Darwin realised his children's school taught them badly

me personally, the core to great coaching is,
1. believe in every child
2. believe it's about resilience not talent
3. believe it's about discovery not teaching
4. believe the journey is priority over the destination
i could go on, but you already have your own list and i hope you now understand rather than just accept my information

05/02/17
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robertepetersen

Ralph, I'm with you on your ideology on coaching on numbers 1,2, and 4. Completely with you. It's #3 where we disconnect. Let's take your Isaac Newton tennis example (new fact to me, I always called it the Magnus effect, but you are quite correct Newton discovered it earlier). So anyway, I'm the Cambridge College tennis coach. One of my guys, Isaac, struck a non-conventional ball and it sliced away off the court after hitting the service box. Isaac brings it to me. Hmmmm, new idea, I'm not generally about new ideas. But I see the results and have Isaac demonstrate it to those members of the team present for practice that day. He is teaching them a new technique. He has taught me too.

So, should I teach it to the rest of the team at the next practice or let them discover it for themselves? You and I can agree to disagree, but to me, presenting technique and other good ideas is part of teaching and not in and of itself, a bad thing.

3. believe it's about discovery and about teaching.

05/02/17
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keri2323

Very well put Ralph, I'm of this school of thought too

05/02/17
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tonylibert

Well said Mr. Samwell, I thank you.

28/02/17
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SteveRuis

I guess I have to cheer this approach as in my sport, archery, the wisdom of past coaches has basically been lost. When I became a coach, I went on a hunt to find literature on coaching archery. The result: zip, zilch, nada. Plenty of books and articles on archery (mostly rehashing things long known) but on coaching almost nothing. So, I am trying to create a coaching literature for archery coaches so that they have things to read, approaches to consider, at practices to attempt, rather than to have to make it all up from scratch as so many have done. As that project is launched, we are trying to create a society of archery coaches to enhance dialogue, which is how I found this site, thinking it might be a model for our Archery Coaches Guild.

New! Improved! How can we tell if we don't know what was general practice before?

05/02/17
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Ralph

"those that don't or can't learn from the past, are doomed to repeat it."

05/02/17
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Ralph

sorry 3. should have been; believe it's about discovery and not about teaching.

Thanks for the intro Rob but I’ve already heard of you but let’s see if I can reconnect you. One of my main mentors, you will know him (Alan Jones) told me the story of when he was coaching Steffi Graf, after the umpteenth serve, Alan gets bored and chucks in a disguised reverse slice serve, (Alan has a ridiculously strong wrist and can do this with pace) without batting an eye, she plucks the ball out of the air and asks him to do that again and again and again. He also states, “he was never so bored coaching Steffi, there was nothing to coach, that’s how good she was.”
My own sport had to ban serving with the shuttle upside down, as it made it impossible to return with any control. My second string had to change the timings on the recording apparatus because Foilest would do aa attach that looked more like Fly-fishing. Yet without our innovators, we wouldn’t have the Fosbury Flop.

In a personal letter to a colleague in 1676, Newton famously remarked “If I have seen further it is by standing on [the] shoulders of giants.” No doubt, all great ideas flourish by expanding upon the works of others. Unfortunately, so do terrible ones.

Bernard of Chartres used to compare us to [puny] dwarfs perched on the shoulders of giants. He pointed out that we see more and farther than our predecessors, not because we have keener vision or greater height, but because we are lifted up and borne aloft on their gigantic stature.)

What does Brian Eno do to make great rock bands better? Well, he makes a mess. He disrupts their creative processes. It's his role to be the awkward stranger. It's his role to tell them that they have to play the unplayable piano.
And one of the ways in which he creates this disruption is through this remarkable deck of cards. They're called The Oblique Strategies. And when they're creativity is blocked in the studio, Brian Eno will reach for one of the cards. He'll draw one at random, and he'll make the band follow the instructions on the card.
"Change instrument roles." Yeah, everyone swap instruments — Drummer on the piano — Brilliant, brilliant idea.
"Look closely at the most embarrassing details. Amplify them."
"Make a sudden, destructive, unpredictable action. Incorporate."
These cards are disruptive. Now, they've proved their worth in album after album. The musicians hate them. Phil Collins was playing drums on an early Brian Eno album. He got so frustrated he started throwing beer cans across the studio.
Carlos Alomar, great rock guitarist, working with Eno on David Bowie's "Lodger" album, and at one point he turns to Brian and says, "Brian, this experiment is stupid." But the thing is it was a pretty good album, but also, Carlos Alomar, 35 years later, now uses The Oblique Strategies. And he tells his students to use The Oblique Strategies because he's realized something. Just because you don't like it doesn't mean it isn't helping you.
The strategies actually weren't a deck of cards originally, they were just a list — list on the recording studio wall. A checklist of things you might try if you got stuck. The list didn't work perfectly. Know why? Not messy enough. Your eye would go down the list and it would settle on whatever was the least disruptive, the least troublesome, which of course misses the point entirely.
And what Brian Eno came to realize was, yes, we need to run the stupid experiments, we need to deal with the awkward strangers, we need to try to read the ugly fonts. These things help us. They help us solve problems, they help us be more creative.

"So, should I teach it to the rest of the team at the next practice or let them discover it for themselves?"
Introduce it, and let them play with it, see what they come up with: discover, uncover. I would on purposely chuck in a miss hit when feeding, you get the idea.

"You and I can agree to disagree, but to me, presenting technique and other good ideas is part of teaching and not in and of itself, a bad thing."
No, I agree with you, I just don’t think coaching technique should be an ideology, I’ve seen too many over coached athletes, you know exactly what I mean by that.

05/02/17
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keri2323

But don't you make a living from selling new ideas, Dan?

05/02/17
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dancottrell1

Well said Keri. I reflected on this when I wrote the article.
My hope is that I manage to help coaches find practical solutions for their coaching challenges. I am sure I've wrapped up some old methods as new ideas but in a different language. I am always fascinated by new ideas, but have come to the conclusion that I need to make sure they make sense for the team I'm working with. Hence, why I've changed my approach in the last 25 years.

06/02/17
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BarbAugustin

So true! Why waste time reinventing the wheel? Find a coach you respect and copy their ideas. Watch how that works for you. If you think you can improve on something, do so, but don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. Too many people think scientists know best, but with all the science in the world, running times haven't improved greatly (at all?) in countries that use lots of science (e.g. Australia, where I'm from) but have improved in countries where science is used rarely (e.g. Ethiopia). Arthur Lydiard, Percy Cerrutty were great coaches from 50 odd years ago - no scientists involved, but they did their own "science" - tried something and tinkered with it until it worked - stand on their shoulders!

06/02/17
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SteveRuis

As with education, people have become enamored with "technology" in coaching. At its core, coaching, like education, is a social activity that is firmly based in communication. While coaching-based technologies have their place, they are not as important as people seem to be presented, they are just new,

07/07/17
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Spike

Totally agree with this Dan (hope you're sitting down).
It does seem that we see new approaches being rolled out on an almost yearly basis in ways to coach but as you say experience, player knowledge / relationships / awareness of learning styles works.
Coach mentoring & sounding boards work really well and personally I'm massively lucky (and privileged) to have access to some brilliant coaches to test ideas against.

24/08/17
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robertepetersen

Brilliant coaches are, indeed, an amazing resource to think through the value of ideas (old and new). I would suggest that we can leverage this resource even further by involving the best coaches, and ourselves, and our open minded students in proving the value of various ideas by comparing the results obtained by different approaches. To start, we could take a group of students, randomly assign them to two groups. Group 1 starts with the training program now while Group 2 defers their training for a period of time (perhaps 3 months). Then after 3 months, begin training Group 2. During the time of the research, record the results of practice and tournaments for each student in both groups. Then, at the end of that period, we compare results over time and look to see the effectiveness of our training program.

24/08/17
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