At school we regularly communicate with both students and parents about how we want them to behave at competitive school fixtures. We do this through weekly email updates, a Departmental Twitter account, articles in the Head’s newsletter, school assemblies and just generally talking to both sets of groups about our ethos and expectations. The internet is awash with articles and reminders to parents about how to behave at these events and how they should interact with their child before, during and after the game. However there don’t seem to be many articles regarding how coaches should behave, especially teachers who coach students. Dr Martin Toms (@drmartintoms) from the University of Birmingham is a big advocate on a social approach of coaching youth. After engaging in a twitter conversation with him and some other PE teachers it got me thinking about my coaching philosophy as a teacher. It also got me thinking whether I communicate this to my department, or the staff outside the PE Department who coach. So before I share with them my thoughts, I thought I would get some feedback from you.
As a teacher who coaches sport we must remember that ‘competitive youth sport is for the children and no one else’. If we are mindful of this motto, then it puts into perspective the place of the coach. As a teacher and a coach we therefore must ensure that all our coaching is educationally based, and if approached in the right way the children’s interaction with competitive sport can be a vehicle for education It can also supports what our colleagues do in the classroom. I invest a substantial amount of my personal resources into coaching, and I do this because I truly believe that lessons in life can be practically learnt through competitive sport. However coaches have an obligation to keep things in perspective and this should be conveyed in their own behaviour, attitude and performance. Therefore what would I expect of a coach of a sport at my school? Here are my top 5 in no particular order.
1. It is all about the child. I’m not afraid to admit that at times early on my career it has got about me. When this happens pressure can build on a child, your needs and desires are forced on to the child, and ultimately enjoyment and longevity of staying in that sport dies in the child. I only found this after my 1st XV Captain dropped rugby in his final year at school. He told me at the time it was because of work pressures. I was very disappointed and probably didn’t make it easy for him. Years later when we met up at a reunion he told me that the pressure I put on him during that season made him unhappy. He began to worry about games. I wanted the win too much and he felt he couldn’t perform to match my needs, his enjoyment for rugby was gone. Our main role as a coach is to create an environment that matches the needs of the child.
2. The coach must have integrity at all times. When dealing with children we must be open and honest with them. One of the biggest dilemmas that can affect a child’s motivation is selection. Firstly you must be very clear about selection criteria and communicate this with them at all times. What works for me currently is: 1. Attendance, 2. Effort in training and fixtures, 3. Ability. I keep a record of all attendance and I also use this method for recording effort. Selecting favourites or for the win should not come into it. If you drop a player you need to find the time to tell them the reasons why and how they could look to improve. You also need to be firm with pushy parents on this and handle the situation with diplomacy. Finally if you take children as substitutes you must use them. Losing a game can be tough to deal with, especially if bringing on substitutes that lose the game because of their lesser ability. However that probably isn’t anything to compare to the feelings of the child who has to constantly watch and never play. As a coach you must be objective, truthful and honest about players.
3. Knowledge is key. One of our main roles as a coach is to develop knowledge. Firstly you want the child to become more knowledgeable about they game they are playing and not just as a performer. Get them to watch and analyse. Get them to referee. Don’t force them to play in one position. Get them to play in a number of roles. Try to get them to coach a skill. If they are really serious about improving as a player then they should try to gain a deeper understanding of the game. I would also advocate them playing more than one sport as well. You are also responsible as a coach for developing your own knowledge. Watch other coaches, share ideas with them, go on courses, read books, experiment with your coaching and see what works.
4. Be conscious of the place competitive sport plays within in school (and their life). It can’t be about the winning. It has to be about the educational, physical, mental and social development of the child. Competitive sport needs to sit hand in hand with the overall educational aims of the school. What type of young man or woman are we trying to prepare for life outside of school? How do we ensure that we can support that through our coaching? It isn’t easy but the the outcome of of your coaching should be the development of a child who can cope with failure, take responsibility, sociably aware of their peers and own choice, along with the many others we could all come up with. Winning should be a by product of this approach, not the end product.
5. Encourage child led decision making. This is the toughest for me as my experience as a child and early coach was very traditional in its approach. As a coach we must try to create an environment where children are willing to make decisions themselves. Once on the pitch they are fully in control, 100% of decisions are down to the child. We have our opportunity as coach to prepare them during the week, with comments before, after and following the match. Shouting from the sideline needs to be discouraged, especially if it is both parents and coaches doing this. This can lead to mixed messages and lead to a child not enjoying their sport. We must allow them to make mistakes, not berate them for it and then encourage them to find solutions for improvement.
I would really like to hear from other teachers who coach. I’d be very interested to receive feedback to improve my initial thinking of the role of the coach. The rewards of coaching must essentially lie in the contact we have with the students rather than with results, no matter how depressing or uplighting the later might be.