“ Teachers’s teach and learners learn so, decide where you want to put your energy.” A mentor of mine told me that nearly thirty years ago and it’s stayed with me as a simple and profound reminder that when it comes to coaching it’s not about me or what I know or how much experience I have. It’s about the athlete. Or, in the words of John Wooden, You Haven’t Taught Until They’ve Learned
That isn’t to say that the coach’s education and experience don’t matter. They do. In his book, The Talent Code, Daniel Coyle looks at what makes a Master Coach. As Coyle points out Master Coaches “ possess vast, deep frameworks of knowledge, which they apply to the steady incremental work of growing skill circuits.” Good coaches know their stuff. Would you want to work with a coach that didn’t?
But good coaches also know good information or feedback isn’t enough. The player’s thinking about that information and their ability to apply it to them self matters more. When we say that something “clicked” for a player what we mean is they took a piece of information, which we gave them or they discovered, and applied it to themselves in a way that made sense and allowed them to make the little fixes and adjustments that bring them closer to their goal. They start doing something differently because it makes sense to do it differently.
One way to think of athletic development is as a conversation. To borrow Coyle’s phrase , it’s “ a long intimate conversation, a series of signals and responses that move toward a shared goal.” One in which the coach offers a piece of information or feedback and then engages the players thinking about it.
Keeping the information or feedback clear and concise and engaging the player’s thinking actually increases the focus and shortens the conversation. A football lineman was doing some agility and balance work with the ladders at the facility one day. As he tried to move faster he started to stumble. The coach simply asked, “ What did you notice?” “ I got ahead of myself,” said the player. “ So what do you want to try?” asked the coach. “I’m gonna stay back a little.” Next run: hips lower, feet smoother, no stumble. An intrinsic correction, a little fix, made by the athlete connecting mind and body. That intrinsic correction provides a more stable platform for continued practice.
As a coach I love to share what I know ( just look at how long this post is getting). Keeping my mentor’s question in mind reminds me of where I want to put most of my energy. Knowing what to offer and providing quality information and feedback is where knowing my “stuff” as a coach comes in. Engaging the players thinking about it is what keeps the conversation and the development moving forward. After all we’re not talking about me.