Recently I came across an article written by Rob Leeds of Tennis Australia on the skillforkids.com website. I through it was an interesting read and thought I would share it with you.
The Lost Art of Reflection and Evaluation
Coaches these days certainly seem to be playing a more significant role in athlete’s development than in days gone by. This obviously has the potential for huge advantages. However, they must not forget to train players to reflect and evaluate their own performances. They need to resist the temptation to over coach and create an athlete dependent scenario. Increasing independence and adaptability should be ongoing coaching goals – coaches need to be great observers and listeners first and then talkers. But even when talking they need to remember in many instances to ask and not tell!
In the tennis world, over coaching in some places has become somewhat of an epidemic. Through my interactions with coaches from other sports, it seems as though the trend is alive in other sports also. Over coaching is effectively when the coach is doing too much. The coach completely controls the learning environment and the athlete is told what to do and when to do it. Rather than trying to encourage the athlete to think and take ownership over their own development, they answer the questions and step in to solve the problems.
Over coaching I believe comes from a number of things but in particular is a by product of an increased amount of coaching information available and coaches wanting to pass on this information. But very often in coaching less is more!
Over coaching creates a scenario where the athlete becomes dependent. This may make the coach feel needed or significant however, it is definitely not in the long term best interest of the athlete. In sport, athletes in the heat of the battle need to be able to make their own decisions. The ability under competition pressure to clear the mind, allow the pertinent information to flow through and make decisions that give them the best chance of success is a must for any athlete hoping to compete at a high level. This skill must be nurtured from a young age. Athletes that are used to being told what to do, looking outside themselves for solutions to problems and are unable to reflect and evaluate their own experiences will always struggle to make expert decisions under pressure.
But certainly coaches aren’t the one only ones over doing it! Every coach I’m sure has had the same experiences of over parenting. The parent tying the shoe laces, carrying the sports bag and putting the sunscreen on kids more than old enough to be doing these things themselves. If kids don’t have to take any ownership in their life, it’s hard to expect them to take it in practice and in competition. This is one of the increasingly challenging aspects of coaching. Parents and coaches in this regard have to work together to nurture the important personal qualities that lead to kids taking ownership of their own development.
A key priority of coaches should be to nurture independence or an ability to operate successfully without the coaches input. This will involve athletes being able to decide on strategy, change tactics and make fine adjustments to their skills in competition to suit conditions. Athletes who have grown up with their coach encouraging them to think and problem solve will benefit from the psychological skills that come with independence.
With independence comes adaptability. Athletes are forever facing changing situations. The ability to successfully adjust to these changing situations and maintain a level of performance is adaptability. Adaptability is a trait of expert performers. Adaptability is a mindset that is nurtured first and foremost and then the adaptable physical skills will follow.
Reflection and evaluation
So how can coaches go about nurturing these desirable traits? The answer is through reflection and evaluation.
For greater independence to emerge over time, coaches need to encourage, through their coaching style and interactions, kids’ ability to reflect and evaluate their own experiences.
Possessing good reflective and evaluation skills is often better than receiving expert tuition. The right dose of expert tuition is good. However, too much comes at the expense of independence, adaptability and problems solving skills.
The ongoing process of experience then reflect, experience then reflect, will in time lead to athletes being able to assess their own performance more accurately, come up with effective solutions to problems and therefore more successfully adapt to performance environments.
In my experience as a coach, I have found that the better the athlete’s reflective and evaluation skills become the less feedback I need to give them.