Ask the ‘Right’ Questions

“I asked him if he understood and he said yes, so he can’t be confused”.

‘Do you understand?’ is a fundamentally flawed question in coaching. Does it make logical sense? Yes. Is it the right type of question? No. Why? It fails to allow a player to respond in detail, expressing personal levels of conceptualised understanding. It’s a closed question. Understand ‘what’  exactly and ‘when’ did ‘it’ happen?  Always use open ended questions with children. ‘Why was that run important?’, ‘How does this pass, in this position help us?’. Create opportunities for players to articulate, share and reinforce perceptual understanding. When we listen to our players, we simultaneously tune in to their perceptions, and get an insight into how they think, feel and see the game.

It’s not what we say but the way we say it –

As coaches, we send messages all the time, whether we are aware of it or not. Communication is constant so make it clear. The quality of our communication is defined by the quality of the response we get.  As the famous quote goes “We cannot not communicate”.  Research suggests that 60% of all communication is non verbal. This means that nearly two thirds of the way we communicate is not through words but body language, facial expression and eye contact. A further 30% is speed, tonality, and rhythm of speech. This means that 90% of what we say as coaches is conveyed through the way that we deliver the message rather than merely what we say. Vary the method, keep it fun by being innovative and always end on a positive.

Saying Nothing is Sometimes Best

Often, the best way to observe whether learning has taken place is to provide the players with a platform to showcase their knowledge. How would we ever be able to check if the players have learned, if they have never been given the opportunity to demonstrate their levels of understanding independently, in the absence of constant information from the touchline.

Question: Doesn’t this mean that the players will make mistakes in practice and in games?

Answer: Absolutely!

That’s the great thing. The more mistakes the better. Why? Coaches should provide the platform for what is known in psychology as Self Regulation. Ultimately, the main aim is for players to become self sufficient in solving problems in games and in practice. As coaches, we encourage progress with constant support, and the creation of healthy learning environments.

Bite Size is Best

The average attention span in children and their ability to concentrate at length develops over time. Structure your message with clear, concise, simple information. Clarity of communication builds confidence in players. Recognise information intake tolerance levels by responses. Coaches can over analyse performance and provide too much information which causes hesitancy and indecision in players. It’s not about how much we know, but how much they can ‘take in’ when listening.  Structure practice sessions in short bursts of intense periods, matching the demands and duration of the game. Summarise main points, in a simplistic way and make it learning fun!

Everyone’s Different

Psychometric testing is now so well corroborated that research now shows it’s undeniable we all have unique ways of seeing, learning about and understanding the world around us. Everyone’s different. But what does this really mean for coaches? It means that our players have various ways of taking in, absorbing and interpreting the information we give them. Whether players have visual, auditory or kinaesthetic preferences, cover the bases by showing, telling and involving them in a variety of ways in training. Video clips, tactics boards and movement pattern drills create a multi-dimensional learning environment supporting many different learning styles.

Communicate to Alleviate

When we increase the level of positive communication, we decrease anxiety. If players aren’t sure about instructions, it can create anxiousness. They may feel threatened and confused by uncertainty. Provide concrete examples of progress through highlighting lessons that they’ve learned, and clarify roles and responsibilities. Calmly communicate areas of improvement in as many different ways as possible, creating high energy environments for inspired learning. Use individual and group meetings to get to know the person behind the player, and progress in performance will follow.