In the world of education, and coaching, more emphasis has been placed on flipping the classroom or using methods of self-discovery. Rather than tell students an answer, teachers are encouraged to give students the opportunity to discover the answer for themselves. Similarly, new coaching methods favor a constraints-based approach which encourages coaches to pose movement problems for players to solve rather than telling players exactly what to do.
At the same time as these changes are taking place in the classroom and in the coaching world, more and more attention is being placed upon coach education and certification (maybe not so much in basketball in the U.S., but in other sports and elsewhere in the world). The efficacy of some coach education interventions has been shown in some studies, but is coaching education always necessary, and if so, what should it look like?
I study a lot. I basically structured my PhD to study basketball. However, what do I study? How do I know what to study? Most of my studying is self-discovery – I am problem-solving. Most of my knowledge was accrued outside of a classroom.
This week, for instance, I have had two practices: one team practice and one skills workout with out high-school players. I conducted a one-hour session on mobility for injury prevention. I wrote a strength training program for the next month for all the players, and took one player through the program. I also worked on one player’s ankle rehabilitation from a sprain last week and somehow am now in charge of taping ankles for my players. I also spent the last 30 minutes of the women’s practice last night working on mobility with two players who have nagging injuries.
How do I acquire the knowledge to take on these different roles? Curiosity, mainly, but also problem solving.
When I started as a coach, years ago, I coached young children; basically beginners. I was more of a skills trainer for beginner players. I taught basic shooting technique, basic ball handling moves, and basic lay-ups. As I coached more and more, I trained better players. I remember worked with former Loyola Marymount University and Hawaii University guard Monica Deangelis when she was 9 years old and thinking that I had to step up my training game because she had no problem doing any drill that I knew. To help her improve, I had to improve. I had to solve the problem of finding new challenges for her. I don’t know if a coach education program would teach that skill; sure, it might introduce newer or more difficult drills, but would they appropriate? Would they have a purpose?
A couple years later, I was training several players in Sacramento. I watched another trainer lead a workout. I knew that what he was saying was wrong, and that what he was doing was ill-conceived at best, and dangerous at worst. I knew this intuitively, but I did not have the answer. I could not tell him, his players, or their parents why it was wrong or what the solution should be. Therefore, I had another problem to solve.
That is what prompted me to seek my CSCS (Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach) from the NSCA (National Strength and Conditioning Association). I had a problem to solve – making sure I was challenging my athletes in a safe manner – and I need more knowledge and experience. If I had not been in that situation, I likely never would have pursued that knowledge. For instance, if I had stayed as a college assistant coach, I likely would have invested my time in recruiting, scouting, and strategies, and not learning proper training theory. If I was in a coach education class, proper training theory, kinesiology, biomechanics, etc. may not have seemed important because my role may have been to analyze opponent’s defenses, not to train developing teenagers.
When I worked a camp and met three girls from Carlsbad High School who had torn their ACL in the same season, I became interested in non-contact ACL injuries. I read papers, studied intervention programs, wrote articles, etc. I argued with other coaches about the importance of strength training for girls or dynamic warm-up activities. Again, if I had not been in that situation, I may never have felt like there was an answer out there that I wanted to know.
The point is that most of this knowledge was accrued outside of the classroom, despite the number of years that I have spent in formal education. I have probably learned as much about kinesiology from Kelly Starrett’s videos as I have from the classroom. I have learned as much about practice design and applied motor learning from following guys like Mark Upton on Twitter as I did in the classroom. When I did my Level 2 certification through USA Track and Field last summer, I engaged in an email debate on a topic with the instructor who could not believe the references that I knew – I did not know of the references through classes, but because I had searched for information on the topic after an interview for my old newsletter and to settle a debate on core strength and crunches.
My knowledge base is based primarily on self-discovery. Getting my PhD helped, but primarily in ways less directly involved with coaching, like how to read research, how to conduct research, and statistics.
When I started to coach, I had none of this knowledge. Did that make me a bad coach? I don’t know. I started with the premise that I wanted to avoid the things that I didn’t like when I was a player. I also questioned most of things that I was taught, especially things that did not make sense in my experience, like the no crossing your feet on defense or static stretching as a warm-up. If I could not find a good answer for doing these things, I didn’t. I discovered new ways, based primarily on my interests and self-discovery.
Would my coaching have been better if I had taken a class before I coached my first team and learned about dynamic warm-ups in a classroom? Maybe. However, if we want to flip the classroom in academia and use constraints-based coaching with our players, shouldn’t coach education follow the same principles? Would I have learned as much by taking a class as I have by following my interests and seeing knowledge to solve problems?
I am not opposed to coach education; after all, I produced an online certification. However, I also don’t know that coach education is the answer. If a coach takes a course to fulfill an obligation, and lacks the curiosity or desire to learn, will the course have an effect? If a coach is curious and constantly seeking new information, is a course necessary to acknowledge the acquired body of knowledge? If a course or certification is necessary or required, what should it look like? Should the course be based on the instructor’s knowledge or the student’s questions and curiosities? Should the course be based on established criteria or solving common problems in the field?