imPACTT coaching – When less means more!

Is coaching less more effective in the long run?

We’ve all seen coaches who have a presence on the court. A certain aura as they move around demanding, controlling, roaring instructions, giving feedback, constantly correcting skills and directing players from drill to drill. On the outset, it looks amazing. The coach seems to be in constant control and the players aren’t missing a beat. The session looks organised, meticulous and impressive.

The question I find myself asking is – Does this enhance performance? Does it enhance athlete growth? Does it enhance athlete development?

When I was completing my undergraduate degree, I had to deliver an “elite coaching” practical assessment. Following the assessment, my lecturer sat down with me to review the session.

Rather than provide immediate feedback (which would have been a lot quicker), he asked me to reflect and assess myself.

As a young upcoming coach, I prided myself as an elite coach. Big headed and egotistical, I knew, NO, I believed that I was an elite coach, so this assessment was going to be a walk in the park.

I had a clear practice plan, highlighting various aspects of what I wanted to teach, broken down the skills into smaller pieces, and was going to teach it in the whole-part-whole method. The template was good, the points of emphasis were relevant for the skills needed and I delivered the session and chattered constantly throughout the entire practice.

I was energetic, fully engaged, providing feedback on the fly and shouting out coaching points. It was a great session, with little or no downtime for the athletes. They were working hard and constantly moving. The learning outcomes, which I had identified before the session were achieved. Overall, the session was a success. I felt good about the session.

However, that all changed really quickly when I began to assess myself. I realised that the session was more of a show for my assessor. Basically, it was me showing everybody within earshot, how knowledgeable I was as a coach.

This was the first time that I realised the impact that over-coaching may actually have on athletes performances. Perhaps taking a backseat and coaching less can actually enhance performance.

How does that even make sense? How does coaching less become more effective?

Two other experiences come to my mind instantly when I think about this.

  1. When I started working for a marketing agency one summer, our managers trained us and held daily briefings in a room with no desks or chairs. The stereo was turned up. Everyone was on their feet chatting at the same time. It was chaotic to say the least. Our managers trained us by having us teach each other the company philosophy and selling techniques, seldom slowing things down to correct us, but encouraging us to make mistakes and guiding us to bounce right back. To start the process all over.
  2. The second experience was during my third level education. One of my lecturers preferred having discussions rather than lecturing. He used every opportunity he had to break us into smaller groups, choosing instead to facilitate discussions in the room amongst ourselves. Following this, he would encourage us to present our conclusions or thoughts in front of the rest of the class.

The above experiences had some similarities. It would have been quicker for our managers to sit us down in an office and tell us what they stood for, their vision and their best practices. It would have been quicker for our lecturer to just point at the slides and lecture rather than facilitate discussion.

However, neither of the above options would have engaged us or encouraged learning. There would be no debate about what was right or wrong. There wouldn’t be an alternative way to look at things. We wouldn’t have needed to analyse or think, instead just we would have just received the information provided to us and accepted it fully. We would probably have memorised it and regurgitated that same information the next time it was needed, but it wouldn’t have done justice for our development. Instead, by investing in unorthodox teaching manners, they both achieved the following:

  • People/students came out of their comfort zones at their own speed and participated in the activities.
  • A sense of awareness was developed as people/students began to step back, looking at issues from a different angle.
  • Critical thinking was encouraged as a result of analysing the problems presented thoroughly.
  • Communication was developed as discussions provided the advantages/disadvantages of multiple possible outcomes.
  • A sense of accountability was developed as each member took ownership and initiative over their own development and growth.
  • Fear of failure was pushed aside as mistakes were encouraged with people/students learning how to quickly bounce back and tackle the next problem.

That is the issue with doing too much… too much talking, or micro managing, or constantly trying to control everything.

  • Giving athletes/people too much information doesn’t allow them time to process information, moreover it can further confuse them, leading to poor decision making and more mistakes. Athletes/people learn differently and allowing them to learn at their speed brings out the best in them.
  • Being in constant control doesn’t allow athletes/people to take responsibility for problem solving or decision making as their coach/boss is constantly solving their problems or making decisions. As a result, they aren’t getting a chance to practice this key skill.
  • Constant control or micro-management stifles creativity as athletes/people feel they must constantly do as they are being instructed with little parameters to think outside the box.
  • Constant control prevents athletes/people from driving their own performances as there is always an external driving force hovering over them. This doesn’t allow them to take ownership of their own growth.
  • Constant control prevents athletes/people from being independent, rather they are always dependent on someone else.
  • Constant control screams that this is not about them; rather it is about the coach/boss.
  • Controlling everything assumes that athletes/people have nothing to add of value. However, when encouraged the ideas that they have may provide a new or different perspective.

So, why do coaches/bosses over-coach or seek constant control:

  1. Because they are being assessed or reviewed and feel the need to demonstrate to their assessor that they are knowledgeable, as I did during my assessment years ago.
  2. Because they are young and inexperienced; therefore, they are trying hard to impress and prove that they belong.
  3. Because they don’t necessarily believe in their athletes/employees and are afraid that they will be let down if they give up control.
  4. Because they don’t believe in themselves and therefore want to seek internal affirmation of how good they are as a coach/boss.
  5. Because they are ego-driven, constantly worrying about themselves and their own achievements.

In a previous post, I spoke about being an imPACTT coach. This is not just about coaching though; it is about making an imPACTT as a leader, a boss, a manager or even as a teacher. It is understanding the need to put people first before yourself. Sometimes that means stepping back to allow others to have an opportunity to grow.

  • Coach less to allow your assistant coaches, captains, team leaders and employees to take ownership of the team/organisation and it’s daily running.
  • Empower your athletes/staff/employees by guiding them instead of constantly coaching; you will be amazed when they buy-in to the vision and come up with new ideas for your program.
  • Encourage discussions to facilitate communication. This helps provide a sense of autonomy demonstrating to the athletes/staff/employees they’re all integral to the team.
  • Offer guidance and encourage discussions. Critical skills such as leadership, communication, problem-solving and decision-making will be enhanced within your organisation.

Create more of an imPACTT with your teams/organisation by taking a step back. You might just be amazed as performances and team culture improves.

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