The Coaching Process

To complete an assignment for a class, I visited two other classes taught by award-winning professors. The purpose was to see the things that really good teachers do and learn from them. Both professors were excellent. However, they did not necessarily follow the principles discussed in our textbook, Learner-Centered Teaching by Maryellen Weimer.  I emailed one of the professors, who replied:

I feel the same way.  I teach a Teaching class and it is very difficult, as you said, to put into words what makes the difference between a good teacher and an excellent teacher.  Everything we read in our book is so esoteric—connect with students, relate the topic to their lives, engage the unengaged, etc.  They never talk about how you operationalize this.  Also, personality wise, some people just naturally connect better than others—like you, I just don’t know.

How do we identify good coaches? After being turned down for several more jobs without an interview, I decided to make a video to demonstrate my coaching acumen. However, I am stumped. I don’t think that you can illustrate good coaching in a five-minute video.

Coaching is a process, not an event. I could capture myself demonstrating a great drill, but does my ability to do a semi-difficult two-ball drill make me a good coach? I could capture myself instructing a player; however, out of context, who is to say that the instruction is effective?

Good coaching occurs over a season, or longer, just as good teaching occurs over a semester, or longer. Good coaching starts with the unseen: the planning. Planning takes many forms. I rarely write out a practice plan when I train players. My talent, I believe, is my ability to evaluate and adjust a session based on what I see.

My planning for that one session took place over the last 15 years of coaching and training players as I learned, developed and mastered drills for different situations. Often, I do not use a specific drill that I have used previously, but adapt or adjust a drill to teach a specific lesson that I may not have faced previously and therefore had no answer. That creativity is another one of my talents, I believe, and once I create the solution, I have a new drill in the toolbox when I encounter a similar problem.

Because I spend a lot of time focused on movement and studying other sports, my solutions are often novel in basketball. Who teaches shooting footwork by using bounding exercises? How many coaches teach ball-handling through tag games? How many coaches use rugby to create a small-sided game? How many coaches teach free throw shooting to professional players with their eyes closed?

Often, these are not planned drills, but solutions to a problem at a specific time. The planning occurs in the reading and studying, watching many sports, practicing different sports and talking to experts. How would one videotape this to illustrate the effect on one’s coaching?

Videotaping one of these drills and watching it without context would lead one to believe that I was crazy, just as many people heard about Holger Geschwindner’s work with Dirk Nowitski and questioned it initially or some question Idan Ravin and some of his more unique drills. Only after people see the long-term success are people like Ravin or Geschwindner considered to be geniuses. If you take away the results, and simply showed isolated, out-of-context drills, many “experts” would question their approach and activities. It is the long-term effects, however, that matter, but you cannot capture long-term changes or improvements in a five-minute video.

The problem with videotaping a coach to illustrate the coach’s role or the coach’s ability is that coaching or training is not about the coach or trainer: coaching or training is about the effect of the coach or trainer on the player or team. How can you videotape a coach and capture the effect on the player?

Furthermore, what many imagine when they think of coaching has a poor effect on player’s learning. Constant and immediate feedback leads to learning that does not transfer as well to the game as delayed and reduced feedback. But, if watching a small clip of a coach, one cannot see the volume of feedback.

To develop a team or a player is more than fancy drills, gimmicks or get-rich-quick schemes. It takes time. Every day differs. Every player differs. A coach must be able to adjust his teaching to the athlete, the athlete’s skill level, the athlete’s mood, the athlete’s learning style and more. A short clip cannot capture these variables that dictate the coach’s or trainer’s actions.

I have spoken to a couple coaches lately who show surprise when I explain my difficulty in finding a position in the coaching world. A professional coach responded to my email, writing, “I understand your frustration. I can’t understand it …..your knowledge and education.”

I can illustrate my knowledge through my writing, my DVD, my books, etc. However, I have never considered my strength to be my knowledge. My strength as a coach, even when I was 18 and not very knowledgeable, was my ability to relate to players. As the professor wrote, some people just connect better than others. Whether coaching boys or girls, children or professionals, Americans or Greeks, Jews or Muslims, I always have connected well with players.

When I worked a lot of camps, players followed me around. Players assigned to other coaches asked me to trade for them. Players asked me to work with them during breaks. Players walked with me to the cafeteria. I was the coach that was there for the players, not to make connections or kiss the college coach’s ass to get a job, and the players sensed this. When you have an 8-person team for four days and you don’t know the players’ names at the end of the week, you’re obviously not there for the players. I remember camps at Snow Valley, Sly Park, Arizona, Stanford, etc. where one player would ask me to help her with something before camp or at lunch, and by the end of the week, I was running my own sessions with handfuls of players during the off-hours. Why?

I was willing to give of my time and I connected with the players. They sensed my passion for helping players improve, just as I sensed the professors genuine concern for their students and passion for the subject in the classes that I evaluated. I could not pinpoint exact techniques or use the textbook to explain their success. However, it was easy to see in their behavior and the behavior of the students throughout a three-hour class. Unfortunately, there is no way to capture a five-minute segment to illustrate why either professor is great, as some of the things that I mentioned in my paper would seem hokey or wrong or incidental out of context.

Similarly, coaching is not something that can be captured in a picture or a short-time frame. Coaching is a complex process that occurs over a long period of time and involves many variables. Most importantly, the coach or the teacher is not the most important part of the equation. It’s the coach’s effect on the players and team that matters most.

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