This week I had the privilege of hearing Dr. Wade Gilbert of Fresno State University deliver the Kristen Marie Gould Endowed Lecture on Sport for Children and Youth at Michigan State University. Here are my two take-home messages from his presentation, “Become The Coach You Always Wanted to Play for”:
TAKE-HOME 1: Use principles instead of best practices to guide your coaching.
The interaction between coach, athlete, and context makes coaching a complex science and dynamic craft. What works for one coach with a particular athlete in a given situation may not hold true in another coach-athlete-context scenario. (This reality smacks me in the face every time I go from soccer practice with my U-14 girls to my U-8 boys.) As coaches—especially those just starting out—we often coach the way we’ve been coached or try to emulate the exemplar in our profession. We rely on these models, because we assume that we can distill quality coaching to one best style or set of practices. While drawing from the example of other coaches can be useful, we need to give ourselves room to discover our own authentic approach—one that corresponds with our individual strengths, the demands of the context, and the needs of our athletes. Instead of a one-size-fits-all style or rigid prescription of best practices, general principles can give coaches space for self-discovery. Principles can guide coaches to customize their own practices: to unpack what good coaching looks like for them given their athletes and context.
TAKE-HOME 2: Good coaching requires deliberate reflection.
One way for coaches to actively engage in their process of self-discovery is through deliberate reflection. To more firm grasp our identity and objectives as coaches, we need to ask questions, challenge assumption, and imagine alternatives. Coaches can start by reflecting on who we are and the notions we hold about quality coaching. Consider these two prompts:
- Describe “good” coaching in one word.
- What does “good” coaching look like to you (given your athletes and context)?
These prompts are simple, but thought-provoking. For some choosing one word might be frustrating; for others, one word might readily come to mind. (Once you come up with your word, feel free to list your descriptor in the response section of this post!) Regardless, this exercise helps you concretely define—at least in part—your coaching philosophy. With a word to characterize your approach, question #2 pushes you to identify specific behaviors that embody good coaching. Along with considering what your one-word descriptor looks like in your practice, I’d also challenge you to imagine what it might look like for other coaches.
Time spent reflecting what good coaching means to you and what it looks like to you (and others) enables critical engagement in your own coach development process; conveniently, this exercise also sets the stage for next week’s post! Stay tuned for coaching starting points (i.e., foundational considerations) to help guide coaches to support their athletes’ holistic development.