By Julie Gooderick (MSc, Bsc Hons, ASCC)
In these days of ever evolving science, it’s easy to forget coaching delivery is as equally important as knowing the conclusions of the latest publications in different journals. Yet this aspect is often overlooked by aspiring coaches, thinking getting degrees and qualifications is all they need to become a great coach.
A few people recently have written great blogs regarding the importance of getting out and coaching so I won’t repeat their sentiments. However, it may be beneficial to explore a few coaching considerations which can be implemented to maximise delivery and subsequently your athletes’ enjoyment and progress.
Girls and Boys: 2 different species
When I say “girls and boys”, I’m generally talking children, adolescents and adults to a lesser extent. Coaches must bring an adaptable delivery to be able to work with both girls and boys. A lot of younger girls struggle with self confidence, assertion and failure. They are afraid to fail to the point they limit their trying.
As the coach, you need to provide reassurance that failure is a key part of the learning process. Girls need praise and much more so than boys. You might think you are being encouraging by pushing them on to harder progressions, by challenging them and bantering about their weaknesses- “come on, this weight is nothing, this is easy!”
When I first began coaching, I have to admit, I was guilty of doing this. At the time, I was working with young tennis players. It shocked me about a year after I started working with a young girl, she brought up a time previously when I made a similar comment to above, regarding her not being able to do something.
By the time she mentioned it, we had built a solid relationship and had mutual trust, and it was brought up as more of a passing comment. But it surprised me how much that had stuck with her.
On a psychology course I attended recently, led by a leading sports psychologist, she talked thoroughly about the dangers of sarcasm and “banter” type comments, particularly with younger athletes. Even if you think you are speaking in jest, these types of comments are easily misunderstood and often misanalysed by people who lack in self confidence and self belief.
The teenage years are a sensitive period anyway, and it’s girls especially who often struggle with belief in their own abilities. Simple praise is often more effective. As much as negative comments stick with people, a simple “good job” or high five can have just as much effect. Even now, when I train recreationally with my club, I love hearing a well done from my coach. Don’t underestimate it.
In comparison, boys generally tend to be more competitive and robust. Not to say they don’t need as much praise. But boys are much more likely to be responsive to “challenging” feedback than girls. Giving “come on, this is easy, can’t you do this?” to most boys is often like fuelling the rocket.
Boys love a challenge and love to show off. Underestimating them gives them more option to show what they are made of and ultimately gives them a greater feeling of achievement when they complete a skill. Aspiring coaches must understand the impact their words will have on their athletes, especially younger athletes.
Choose your words wisely. Understand the personality of your athlete; what will make them feel encouraged, confident and maximise their chances of succeeding.
Obviously this article is generalising, and it is based on my experience of coaching many different groups of young people with vastly different personalities for many years. They key to the application of all these coaching considerations is knowing your athlete.
Make an effort to understand their psyche, their personality and how they respond to different types of feedback. Successful coaching needs to be so much more than hurling the latest science at someone and hoping they take it in. You can write a gold standard programme, leaving no stone unturned, but ultimately if your athlete dreads your sessions, doesn’t feel comfortable with you, doesn’t feel supported and encouraged, progression will always be halted.
“It’s not what the person knows; its how they make you feel”.