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At some point along our coaching lifespan we get asked to think about and formulate a coaching philosophy. Education courses direct new and developing coaches toward themes such as an athlete centred or holistic approach. These concepts come wrapped within a developmental framework that suggests a long term view of the individual as the most appropriate to achieve coaching success. Sold with these ideas are the associated benefits of enhanced retention and transition of youth athletes into senior performers. Yet as a community we are still searching for solutions to problems that are the reverse of these outcomes despite coaches adopting a developmental philosophy?
In a coaches quest to formulate their philosophy they are very much influenced by their understanding of the learner and the learning process. However this does not appear to be a well understood area for most coaches. Instead what appears to happen is coaches become distracted by a desire to be effective and productive; to help people achieve their goals, to make them the best they can be. In this language are clues pointing to how coaches become less concerned with building the foundations of a philosophy and more intent on developing an approach to coaching.
The trap appears to be right in front of us... athlete centred.
The result of this focus on the athlete becomes self-fulfilling in that it guides coaches toward an approach and away from a robust philosophy. By separating the athlete out we have emphasised an overly simple developmental system, thus reducing it so that it is no longer functional. This athlete asymmetry ignores the important role that environment plays within the learning process and therefore leads to an overly simple view that the learner. The result is that coaches are pulled to approaches that fit this simple model of the learner. Including the environment into consideration enables us to understand the learner as we have context, and the learning process as we now have a way of explaining it.
The alternative focus on an individual athlete-environment system helps us define the learner as an adaptable individual that responds and reacts to their environment resulting in their unique behaviour. The learning process is therefore occurring in real time as a result of the individuals interactions in that environment. These two principles provide the critical theoretical background for coaches to develop a philosophy. Without a sound theoretical understanding of the learner and the learning process, coaches are drawn toward an over emphasis on the individual learner and thus develop an approach to coaching not a philosophy.
Having a strong philosophy, one that is built on a concept of learning, is an important feature in the development of coaches. It is therefore important for coach education to be designed to challenge coaches to consider their understanding of the learner and the learning process before asking them to develop a philosophy. In summary an individual athlete-environment system offers a more appropriate theoretical foundation to build a philosophy of coaching that will lead to favourable athlete outcomes.
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Hi MatthewA few weeks ago I asked the question about coaching philosophies and what other coaches Ideas of a philosophy are You might want to take a look. As an athletics coach when first starting out I found coaching very difficult to pick up ( I'm not the brightest of buttons) however with a little help from a great coach and mentor Becky Silver an excellent mentor who taught me that it's not just about athletes competing you can have fun whilst learning I too after a few years coaching decided to take on this philosophy as I wanted to feel that coaching young athletes in their first steps into sports had a responsibility to lay down the foundations, the building blocs before jumping into event specific. I absolutely love coaching young children I feel this is where it all begins, to get the foundations down before going full throttle, ( you wouldn't put your car in 1st gear whilst doing 70 mph, you wouldn't built a wall without foundations and you certainly wouldn't dive into a pool without water). In the past I have been pulled down for my crazy fun coaching with young children not by parent's but other coaches their words were ( You should be making them run harder, you should be putting them through there paces). because I'm not making athletes run around a track 5/6 times does these mean I'm a bad coach? In fact they have probably run around the track 3/4 times without realising and have achieved this whilst having fun. I have seen athletes at the age of 9 that have run until their legs can no longer cope. I'm currently coaching football with aged 4 to 9 year old I'm not a football coach however as a multi skills coach every Wednesday I put a session together that's fun, football specific and challenging, I have since been approached by another coach who is intrigued into what I do and would like to use some of my ideas for his football club. Should my philosophy change for the young athletes I coach from athlete centred,fun,specific and challenging?
You go Girl! Your approach sounds great to me - I wish more Coaches gave this much to their young athletes.
Lawrie thank you for your message! I have seen so many coaches place too much pressure on young athletes to achieve high standards far too quickly, like a conveyor belt not considering their age, development or fitness level, I'm not talking about 13 /18 year old I'm talking about 5 / 11 years of age, I have seen coaches push young athletes to the point of injuries, not wanting to come back, and loosing confidence all this to me is just a waste "WINNING" seems to be all that is concentrated on not the fact that ABCs need to be put in place, the fundamentals of movements. You can get so much more out of athletes by making sessions fun, specific to the sport whilst learning, I really enjoy coaching fundamental movements I have seen many athletes that have come through with no balance coordination, unable to run , jump or throw to having all these fundamental movement at the end of season. Maybe my philosophy isn't what other coaches would say is good. whilst it works for me I will use it. One coach in particular ( Gordon Fern) showed me that coaching can be fun if you know how to and that adults too enjoy fun sports sessions, this made me look at the way I coached which enabled me to have a more open mind about coaching.
Hi Emma. Thanks for taking the time to respond. It is interesting to hear different experiences of coaching, it sounds like your sessions are a lot of fun and that you are achieving a lot with your groups. For me what you have described is more of an approach to your coaching, in order to develop a philosophy I think coaches should consider the athlete-environment system as this forms a foundation for understanding each individual learner and therefore the learning process. This is then a better point to build a philosophy, which most certainly can include fun.
I'm sorry you might want to make your message a little easier for thick heads like myself to understand ( a more simple approach please) what would the athlete - environment system be? maybe in my coaching this is what is missing. I'm currently in the process of **** my events group course in athletics which is going through training progressions, developing athletes. Training stages, long term development, designing training progressions, a very long and draw out course.
You have certainly put your head above the parapet here Matthew. I look forward to seeing the CC Members' responses.TBH I would appreciate an example of a coaching philosophy you are promoting; atm I am struggling to picture one. Thx.
Hi Lawrie Thanks for your comment. Having a strong view of the learner and learning process that considers the athlete-environment system would reflect a developmental philosophy where by the coach is a designer of learning tasks and considers each individuals intrinsic qualities as abilities to be developed through the interactions they have with the environment created by the coach.
Hi MatthewThere is a previous discussion on philosophy you may be interested in: https://www.connectedcoaches.org/spaces/17/coaching-children-ages-5-12/blogs/general/129/how-to-develop-a-coaching-philosophyMy comments on that blog were: I've always had a problem with defining coaching philosophy. Is it: - your belief about technical issues (for example, in running - your belief about the importance of clocking up the miles) - your values (eg honesty, hard work, etc) - your target market (eg adults, juniors) - your belief about what you must do for the athletes (eg develop a healthy athlete who is fit for life as well as competition) - where you want to take your athletes (eg develop to the best they can be, take them to the Olympics) - how you work with your athletes (eg work together to set SMART goals) - something else? - All of the above? I've always felt that when someone asks me about my coaching philosophy, they're expecting a one or two sentence answer. I can't possibly make it that succinct. Even one of my favourite books 'Run with the Best' by Tony Benson and Irv Ray devotes a whole page to describing their coaching philosophy.I am still no wiser as to what a coaching philosophy is meant to be!
Hello BarbThanks for your comments. I would suggest that a coaches philosophy should reflect their understanding and concept of learning, because philosophy is the study of knowledge and a theory that guides behaviour. I think a theory of learning matches that description well. I have suggested that to achieve this we should be concerned with an athlete-environment system to first contextualise the learner and then explain their behaviour and therefore give us a theory of learning. I hope that adds a little more clarity.
Hi Matthew. Thanks for that. I don't have a teaching degree, so I don't understand what you're getting at. Is it possible to explain it for non-pedagogues like me please?
Hello Sorry, not very clear the first time. I am suggesting that an athlete centred approach is missing the critical element of the environment. We need to include the environment inorder to understand the learner and the learning process. This is an ecological perspective based on behaviour and learning resulting from the interaction between the athlete and their environment. Having a robust theory in this way supports a coaching philosophy. The suggestion is that without such a theory coaches are formulating an approach (method or system) rather than a philosophy. For example, having such an understanding of learning would allow a coach to adapt their approach to effectively work with individuals whilst maintaining their philosophy. In triathlon that would mean a coach recognises an athlete for their individual qualities and how their performance changes as a result of interacting with the environment. The philosophy would recognise the influence the environment has on changing the performance both short term and long term. You could approach this in different ways e.g. Instructions, tasks, practice design, competition, group, individual, coach led, athlete led... but all are based on the same theory of learning being implicit with the athlete-environment interaction. Hopefully that is clearer, good luck with your coaching. Matt
Thanks Matt. I still don't get it. What exactly do you mean by "environment"? Definitions: * "the surroundings or conditions in which a person, animal, or plant lives or operates"; * "the natural world, as a whole or in a particular geographical area, especially as affected by human activity"; * "Learning environment refers to the diverse physical locations, contexts, and cultures in which students learn". Are you saying that "a coach recognises an athlete for their individual qualities and how their performance changes as a result of (the coaching). The philosophy would recognise the influence the (coaching) has on changing the performance both short term and long term."? If you 'd prefer, we can continue this by email. Cheers, Barb
Seeing as I'm not the only one struggling with this, I am copying in Matt's response:"Hi Barb Thanks for your comments on the blog. Are you familiar with a Constraints Led Approach to coaching? This would be a good place for you to consider the role the environment has on shaping an athletes behaviour and learning. The underpinning theory behind a CLA is that behaviour emerges as a result of the individuals interaction with their environment as they attempt to achieve a task (goal directed behaviour). In the blog I am suggesting that we too often only focus on the athlete and ignore the role of the environment which is a detriment to our philosophy. If you consider the environment you are able to understand individual differences in behaviour and then are in a position to design better practice and coaching interventions. So in triathlon if you ignore the environment you may become focused on developing power, speed, strength... but ignore the perceptual skills of racing, knowing how to pace effort or read the wind or road conditions. It could be considered that athlete centred as an approach leads to a training mentality, where coaches do something to an athlete. Where as an athlete-environment focus would be more developmental as it considers learning and is backed by theory. Environment includes everything tangible around the athlete e.g. surface, weather, sound, visual information... (including gravity) as well as sociocultural constraints and culture. "I then went and revisited the CLA blogs "why-do-coaches-still-shy-away-from-using-tgfu-and-cla-in-their-sessions" and "do-we-really-know-how-to-utilise-the-constraints-led-approach".So here I go checking my understanding:From what I understand of the CLA method, a coach is trying to develop a resilient, resourceful athlete. In swimming - a coach may deliberately stand on a swimmer's goggles just prior to a race (it wasn't me, but I believe it actually did happen), in cycling - a coach may change the direction of the course without notice, in running - a coach may introduce "rules", such as Athlete A has to jog until Athlete B overtakes them (without notice), in triathlon - a coach may mess up an athlete's transition area. Do these examples show I understand the CLA method?If so, then part of our coaching philosophy is developing a resilient, resourceful, adaptable athlete. Do I understand correctly?
HelloThe CLA is not primarily focused on developing resilient and resourceful athletes, although they are good outcomes that can be achieved from its use. In a CLA a coach is a designer of representative learning tasks by manipulating the task constraints that act on an individual or team. Examples of task constraints could be; space or size and dimensions of the playing area, rules restricting movement or play, size shape or weight of the ball or equipment, number of players, time, scoring. The key point is the desired behaviour should emerge as a result of the constraints imposed or manipulated by the coach, the athletes/players work to solve the task against in that particular environment. A constraint would be manipulated as it then promotes a certain type of behaviour happening more often or simply becoming more readily available to the athletes/players e.g. deflating the ball in rugby so that handling becomes more accessible to players may result in more close passing to hand as the ball is easier to grasp. Long range passing may still be an option but the ball flight will be different therefore the solution to keep it close is key to the learning. Learning is therefore the link between the different types of passes and when to use them. The term environment is used as the athlete is always situated somewhere, with a particular task set against a particular set of constraints. A CLA recognises that an individuals behaviour emerges as a result of the individuals interactions with the environment, it therefore moves away from more machine style analogies of learning and development where the individual operates in and environment. In order to design appropriate practice tasks and environments the coach needs to ensure they maintain the key elements of the competition/performance environment. For example preparing for a cycle race in a bunch could lead the coach to design motor pacing sessions behind a motorcycle, if you are preparing for a non-drafting event this may be less appropriate or less representative of the actual environment you will be preparing to perform in. The course you may be racing might have lots of switch back bends, the best way to prepare for this would be to ride the actual course, if this is not possible the coach might design similar challenges using traffic cones and set specific tasks in order for the athlete to learn how they will adapt their braking, body shape etc. An important element of the athletes environment is the soci-cultural constraints that shape an individuals behaviour, whilst these are less likely to be manipulated by the coach they add to the whole context and therefore understanding of that athlete and will impact the coaches decision making and approach with that individual. Here is an excellent blog from @ImSporticus that will be useful to you.https://drowningintheshallow.wordpress.com/2016/03/14/what-is-a-constraints-led-approach/My original perturbation 'are we missing something?' was aimed at coaches considering what athlete-centred means and can it lead to a robust philosophy without considering the environment? I would argue that a philosophy requires a sound theory underpinning the coaches behaviours therefore we need to include the environment as that is critical to explaining learning and the learning process. Thank you for your questions and interest in the topic - I have either been too cryptic and vague or I have stirred your curiosity? Hopefully I haven't confused you? Matt
Thanks for that link. It was the best explanation of CLA I've seen. You have definitely stirred my curiosity. I was confused by the use of jargon. Let me check again that I have finally understood it. A coaching philosophy needs to consider the:* culture of the squad. For example (from your link) an "environment which prizes learning and a willingness ‘to have a go’ above all else ... compared to one that puts winning (above all else)"* socio-cultural background of the athlete (eg parental support, peer groups, expectations, values and cultural norms)* opportunities for an athlete to solve their own problems, by changing workouts so that the athlete has to think about "how", not just "what"Have I got it through my thick head this time?ThanksBarb
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