BE BETTER: You are only as good as your last session

When I started out in coaching, I was a completely different person. If I was still that person, I would have been fired long ago!! Expectations change with age and experience. 

Too many coaches stand still. We are always telling young players to work on their weaknesses, while our own are ignored. Why would children be motivated to take these on if their coaches avoid them too?! 

I  still rarely feel as if I have delivered a perfect session. I feel as is I’ve “failed” several times a week. Perhaps this is a good sign. I know I am a reflective coach and want to improve. Doing this requires honesty with yourself….not the easiest thing to do!

I wanted to share some reflections, 10 years on from my first ever session as a professional coach (King Athelstan Primary, Kingston – a real baptism of fire!).

  • How have I improved?
  • What uncomfortable truths did I need to confront?
  • How has this changed be as a person as well as a coach?
  • What do I still need to do

SHYNESS/TIMIDNESS

When I worked alongside other coaches, I’d get out-gunned. Even assertive parents and volunteers would sometimes drown out my voice. 

Working alone helped. In a “sink-or-swim” environment, I began to find my voice. Putting my hand up for the most difficult sessions too. Looking back, some of my proudest achievements as are coach come from these. Not because they went sensationally, but because they went “OK”.  Sometimes, “OK” is a triumph!

I would pre-plan my end-of-session monologues. This is a practice I will use today, to make sure there is a beginning, middle and end (finding a way to wrap it up is vital!). Before long, this made them more natural, and I would dread public speaking less and less. Now, I am completely unfazed in front of 50-100 people.

One of the hardest things….moving away – temporarily – from my lifelong club. Being alongside individuals who had known me since 11, I found it difficult, almost trapped in a personality. The shy boy everyone had known me as for life.

It took an escape from that environment, to come out and express myself. Fortunately, I have now returned, a better, more confident person.

POOR TIME MANAGEMENT

Many of my sessions would overrun….sometimes by tens of minutes! I just couldn’t process activities in time.

In a way this was a good sign – I was always keen to finish on a positive note, or make sure every child had equal batting time. In other ways, it was catastrophic – frustrated, parents queuing up to whisk their girl/boy off to the next club.

Finally, it hit me that my good intentions weren’t enough. I needed to be practical and efficient as well. I began to watch the clock more. Plan out detailed sessions in writing again. Be more realistic with the amount of goes each player could have.

Having a Plan B is important. Many coaches come into sessions with a plan that is simply too rigid. I usually go to each session with a:

  • BEST CASE SCENARIO – if everything goes to plan, i want to achieve a, b, c….
  • AVERAGE CASE SCENARIO – modifying the session plan, if one aspect needs reinforcing
  • WORST CASE SCENARIO – nothing is sticking. This means this skill needs more time and care. I also have a potential different activity (around the same team), with a different learning style.

I have also learnt and developed activities (my own and others’), that engage more players at the same time. I also have the awareness to monitor multiple things at once. Young coaches often fixate on small things. Try and keep an eye on the bigger picture always!

POOR ADMIN

In the early days, I could barely look at my email inbox (some might say little has changed)!

Anxiety (is there going to be a complaint/has something gone wrong??) my problem. I would worry constantly that a complaint was coming my way. This meant a) I missed the good news, and b) of course, any bad news festered and compounded.

I realized that this couldn’t continue. I worked hard on organizing my time better – a block of 1-2 hours, every day, reserved for emails and planning. Using different comunnications – such as mobile phone (although 64 work WhatsApps is a little OTT) – for different subject also helped.

I often agonize over what I write (even trivial messages), so sometimes opt for a combination. A text with an initial outline, followed my more detail written later on.

DEALING WITH PARENTS

For a long time, I was a “yes man”. If a mum or dad inquired about future sessions, I would bend over backwards to appease them. 

As we know, this is not always possible to do. Sometimes I would shy away from uncomfortable truths – “____ has been misbehaving and distracting others”). Or make promises about future sessions.

Now I am far better at not only handling complaints, but pre-empting them. Every session I run, I try to paint a picture of the future to the children and parents.

  • WHAT WILL HAPPEN TODAY – an outline of the session plan. So they aren’t going into each stage wondering what comes next
  • WHAT WE WANT TO ACHIEVE – so immediately, they are clear about targets, and what actions will earn praise
  • WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT WEEK(S) – how does this session fit into the bigger picture. Prove that there IS a bigger picture!!

DISCIPLINE

I would give naughty children too much rope

Even though I would tell children off, I would wait too long to follow through on warnings.

This gets easier with age. When you start out in the job, you want to be liked. The more experience you get, the more you can see what is the “right thing”….even if it involves some arguments and harsh words.

Being stricter doesn’t always just mean shouting more. You can enforce discipline your own way. 

SAYING NO/DELEGATING

At the start of term, going the extra mile seems like a good idea. At the end of term, it feels like a stupid idea. 

Fatigue builds up over a long summer. And in these times I can get more introverted.

Sometimes, I have to remember not to rely on myself for everything. The stress of thinking, “I am responsible for this”, would prevent me from trusting colleagues, or assistants fully.

This is unfair, on myself (too much self-induced pressure), and my colleagues (who often weren’t given a chance to express themselves). Now, if I am in charge, I try to give any colleagues an idea of their role – along with any specific themes I’d like them to mention/observe over others.

 

 

 

 

 

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