School Sport

Silent Coaching – The First Steps

I am on my journey of becoming a Silent Coach. This isnt a coach who always remains silent, but understands the power that silence can have on making a learning centred environment for their pupils or athletes. My initial post explaining my current approach to coaching generated a lot of interest. Those who tried some or all of the techniques that I shared fedback to me that when they used them it wasn’t very successful or that there was a pushback from the players who didn’t like it. This is to be expected. It isn’t a passive approach that sees short term gains in performance, it is an approach for long term development and learning. However any change is never universally well received at first.

Most humans are conservative creatures and don’t like change. The older we get the more we are likely to commit ourselves to the status quo. Change carries the the message ‘what we are doing is not good enough’. Change is a difficult message for people to hear and buy into as it brings with it an inherent threat. As humans we only have a certain amount of capacity to deal with change. We arent able to split up all the changes that both our professional and personal lives bring. It is tough when change is intiated by ourselves; change of job, change of house, start a family. These are stressful even at the best of times. However changed that is ‘forced upon us’ has a very different almost intimidating feel to it.

Change isn’t complicated, it is complex. It is never easy, at times it is contradictory and many people feel it can’t be managed. However if you are introducing change you can try to make it understood. To do that you need a plan. Whilst a plan doesn’t guarantee success, as there is no secret recipe to change, it can help with the messiness. There is also the added difficulty for changing to a Silent Coaching approach. Not only are you changing the culture your players exist in, but you are also having to change yourself as well at the same time. Trying to break the habits of your own experiences, teaching and social learning. A plan helps you find your way back to the path when you stray.

R + V + P = C (a successful and sustainable change)

R = a compelling reason for change. Why do you want to change your coaching approach? Is it because you’ve read it in a blog and it seems trendy at the moment? Have you seen something in your coaching you fundamentally dislike or disagree with? Was there an incident that made you question what you were doing? For me it was the latter. Three incidents which are still clear in my mind like they were yesterday and are my driving force for change. The first was in an observation of Year 7 rugby lessons 6 years ago. As I looked over the playing field I saw 124 boys, standing still in lines, awaiting their groups turn to pass unnopposed, recieving constant feedback from their teacher. Once finished they then walked slowly to the back of the line to wait again. The second was a chance meeting with an ex-pupil on a train journey which resulted in a mirror being held up to my own coaching. The final was the contrast of approach between an opposition coach and an NQT in my department. These three incidents made me question what environment I was providing as a coach and made me ask myself if there was another way? Before you change, make sure you understand your reason for changing.

V = a clear vision of the future. What do you want to end up with? What does the end product of your coaching look like? For many years for me it was about producing winning teams and developing representative players. However not only my thoughts of the meaning of winning have changed in youth sport, but also what I want to develop. Al Smith has helped me shape my thinking on these things. He says we have to get comfortable with the biggest coaching paradox ‘the more we talk about learning stuff and the less we talk about winning stuff, the better we get at developing excellence and the more likely we are to win.’ So what do I want? I want to see my pupils and athletes empowered, taking responsibility for the decisions both on and off the pitch. I want them to have a sense of purpose. I want them to communicate with each other when faced with problems and to take risks on overcoming them. I want them to support each other if those risks fail and look to develop new solutions. I want them to celebrate with each when those risks work and then keep challenging them. I want to create a learning centred environment that gives them a chance to self reflect and keeps bringing them back, session after session, year after year. That is winning for me. That is my vision of the future. What is yours?

P = a coherent plan for getting there. Once you have a compelling reason for change and a clear vision of the future, this allows you to be prepared to take the first step. That first step in my mind is always telling those who will be impacted by the change. You must be upfront and transparent about this, allowing them them the chance to voice their opinions and concerns. From there take further small steps. Slowly introduce parts of sessions that shift the responsibility of learning from yourself to them. You must plan for them in advance. I would suggest doing this through training, so your players can practice taking responsibility in an supportive environment and where you can model the behaviours you would like to see them develop. I have found asking players to develop a specific positional skill of their own choosing for 20 minutes or through use of a tactical games based approach in training an unthreatening way to do this. As they become more accustomed to having to solve the problems themselves, gradually the more responsibility you can put on them

Moving towards a Silent Coaching approach isn’t just about changing your own style and the environment that creates, it is about a total reculturing of it. A coaching culture where one realises that being off balance and not having an answer is actually a learning moment. A coaching culture that increases the capacity to seek, critically assess and selectively incorporate new ideas and practices all the time. Like any learning it takes time, persistence, patience and a plan.


By @ImSporticus

Lecturer in PE, Sport and Physical Activity. Helping others to flourish through movement.

2 replies on “Silent Coaching – The First Steps”

My inspiration for “silent coaching” came from Lynn Kidman. It’s that ability to stand back when you want to step in. But, as you say, it’s about creating the environment.

Silent coaching is very tough for new coaches. You have to have lots of confidence to step back.

It’s also tough, as you allude, for experienced coaches. Change your approach and you might find you have to change your team – and you could get sacked!

Looking forward to hearing more on this journey.


Hi Dan, thank you for your comments. I attend a conference run by Wayne Smith who brought my attention to Lynn’s philosophy and work. I read up on it and then carried on as usual. However something must of struck a chord. I saw and heard things in my own coaching and the coaching of others that I hadn’t before. That started to challenge my long held beliefs about of a lot of things associated with youth sport. It is tough to make a change, but I have no doubt it will be better for my pupils and athletes in the long run. Happy New Year to you.


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