Mar 11

Coaching Resource of the Month — March 2014

This is long overdue but March 2014′s Coaching Resource of the Month is SportsCoachUK’s blog. SportsCoachUK has a team of sport coach specialists blogging on a number of issues directly related to coaching including a new series on coaching apps. Highly recommend checking it out.

They are a non-profit partially supported by the British Govt. (wouldn’t that be nice here!) with the mission to support coaches at all levels in the United Kingdom.

Mar 11

Be Who We Be

“Be who we be. If we be who we ain’t, we ain’t who we be.” I said this to my team once in a pregame speech. What I wanted them to understand was that if we expected to be successful and reach the goals we set for ourselves, we would need to consistently be at our best. We needed to do the right things to the best of our ability as often as possible.

Consistency is a common hurdle teams strive to get over as they compete at the highest level. Coaches talk about it every day, every practice, and every game. Sometimes it sinks in and sometimes it doesn’t. I like to compare the process of consistency to the mile run. Each of the four laps in that race is totally different. The first lap you’re off to the races. You have high expectations for your team’s performance, a lot of energy, and plenty of ideas. The second lap is the first opportunity you have to monitor your progress. You evaluate your start and wonder if you are running at the right pace. Am I doing the right things to be successful (recruiting, developing staff/players, etc.)? If you’re behind you need to speed up. If you’re ahead you should keep a steady pace.

The third lap is the hardest because you know there is an end to the race but you hurt so much you really can’t think about it. Even if you are doing the right things you know it’s going to take time to see results. Unforeseen obstacles crop up that can distract you from your mission. Sometimes the obstacle can be the progress you make. How do you and your team handle prosperity? Alabama coach Nick Saban was once asked at a press conference how much time he expected to give his second string quarterback against their next opponent. To put it mildly, he had some harsh words for the media. Saban spoke about what he called the “success flu” where people become complacent after achieving a goal and they stop doing the “work.” On the final lap you can see the finish line tape. Finally there are some tangible results for your efforts. You win more games than you lose, recruits start contacting you first. People compliment you on your team’s performance and don’t second guess you as much. There’s still much work to be done, but at least you can see success on the horizon.

Consistency can be the most difficult concept for teams to embrace. Every program at every level struggles with it. When you feel yourself getting frustrated understand that success is a process. I know that can be hard in this age of instant gratification. But Rome wasn’t built in a day and it takes time to sustain championship habits. And remember also that every once in a while your kids do hear, they do perform and are successful. And that is what keeps us coaching.

Learn more about Helen Williams and her coaching online here.

Find her on Twitter: @coachlikamother

Mar 06

How Sport Coaches Learn

I love surfing through the SportsCoachUK website. Nothing like it based in the US. Chuck full of information for coaches and those who develop them. Never disappointed when I go there for information and resources.

Recently I discovered a SportsCoachUK study dated January 2010 study titled “Coach Learning & Development: A Review of Literature.

The purpose of this literature review was to provide an overview and analysis of literature on coach learning or how coaches learn to be better coaches. The review focused on all the processes and structures that enable coaches to construct and develop the knowledge required to be effective coaches.

In summary, their findings were:

  • There is a relative absence of research into coach learning
  • Coach learning is influenced by a complex mix of formal, non-formal, informal directed and self-directed learning experiences. Moreover, this mix for coaches is largely individualized and ad hoc.
  • Research available was limited by a tendency by researchers to focus on expert or elite coaches who tend to favor self-directed learning.
  • Current (as of Jan 2010) research gives little insight into the teaching and learning preferences, and needs, of coaches across coaching domains.

Some of their recommendations based upon their findings include:

  • Reflection, mentoring and situated learning can structure learning, but each of these is not without their own issues. These methods require time and effort to develop and become embedded into coach learning. They need research evidence linking them to changes (Hickey note: positive changes I hope!) in coaching practice.
  • Mentoring plays a key role in informal and formal learning. It can be experienced both positively and negatively and needs more research evidence to identify its impact on coaching practice.
  • There has been scant systematic research on the effects of coach learning on improvements in coaching practice or on athlete outcomes. Coach learning needs effective longitudinal evaluation without it is impossible to determine what works, why and for whom.

This is all very interesting but reinforces one belief I have–that coaching is an understudied profession and as a result, lacks the solid data and related findings to guide the creation of the right coaching development systems.

That being said, does this mean we should abandon what coach training and education programs we have now? No, trained coaches are better than untrained ones. See our thinking on the benefits of coaching education online here. You can download our whitepaper and fact sheet on that topic here.

Mar 06

The Power of Visualization & the Beatles

In the opening seconds of the Beatles song, , you can hear John Lennon providing instruction, “…picture your fingers.” I love that–the Beatles using visualization techniques to do their magic!

Of course, the best recording of that song has to be the roof top concert version–the last time the Beatles played together in public. See it here. Okay, back to my main point for this blog!

So what is visualization and why should I care as a sport coach? Visualization, also called imagery, can allow your athletes to recreate positive experiences or picture new events to prepare themselves mentally for sport performance (thanks to Daniel Weinberg and Daniel Gould for that definition—it is from their text “Foundations of Sport & Exercise Psychology 5th Ed.

I call visualization “free practice” as one of its benefits is that it activates the same neuromuscular pathways as if the athlete was actually performing the skill or playing the game. So imagery frees up the athlete to be able to practice in their mind anywhere! I once asked a 1996 Olympian regarding when he practiced visualization–he replied everywhere!

In order to make visualization more powerful, the athlete should incorporate as many of their senses as possible (sight, hearing, feel, smell and kinesthetic (sensation of body position or movement) to heighten the details of what they are imagining in their minds.

So, does this imagery/visualization work? Sport scientists and psychologists believe there are at least three ways in which it does work and help athletes:

  • Ideomotor Principle which in layman’s terms means that imagery activate the same neuromuscular pathways used when you actually perform the activity.
  • Symbolic Learning Theory--imagery helps athletes learn skills by becoming more familiar with them through imagery–the imagery helps create the mental blueprint.
  • Psychological Skills Hypothesis–Imagery allows athletes to concentrate better, reduce anxiety and build confidence as they have rehearsed so many situations in their mind that they are not taken by surprise or intimidated on the playing fields.

I have been incorporating visualization into my practice plans since the mid 1990s–if thousands of Olympic athletes swear by its usefulness, maybe your athletes could benefit as well.

We will be creating a new Coach’s Bookshelf for sport psychology soon and will include great resources for visualization and other mental skills needed for peak sport performance.

Feb 21

Friday Night Tykes–What a Nightmare!!!

Friday Night Tykes shows scary outcomes of untrained coaches

It’s quite simple: a well-trained coach leads to successful, healthy and confident players, while a poorly trained coach results in a team that does not reach its potential. The consequence of a coach that hasn’t undergone proper training isn’t only a lack of wins, but also an increase of injuries -a fact that is made more obvious by Esquire Network’s new docu-series, Friday Night Tykes.

The show, which is available streaming online and through certain DirecTV Sunday Ticket packages, documents five select teams from the Texas Youth Football Association.  In the first episode, which premiered on Jan. 14, we watch as one player is forced to run for the entirety of practice in 104 degree heat, simply because he missed a few weeks of training to visit his grandmother. Another coach then encourages his players to,  “Rip their freakin’ head off, and let them bleed,” and even advises, “I want you to stick it in his helmet — I don’t care if he don’t get up.” Keep in mind that both the players and their opponents truly are “rookies,” ranging from 8 to 9 years old.

While there are many coaches in football leagues who inspire and positively encourage their youth teams, the coaches shown in Friday Night Tykes appear to be of the mindset that they’re running their own personal NFL, so much so that they often disregard common sense in favor of winning the game. This style of coaching is shameful and needs to end, before it has serious, irreparable consequences for the future of youth football.  Which, thanks to the emerging science, is already under attack due to the threat of brain injury.

Participating in sports usually has a great effect on young athletes, specifically on their physical, emotional, social and psychological development. Whether these are positive effects depends largely on the coaching abilities and techniques of team leaders. While participating in youth football, athletes can learn beneficial skills such as leadership, appreciating fitness and staying active, as well as how to work on a team. Since athletics can also lead to moral development, social competence and a feeling of self-worth, it’s no wonder that so many parents find sports a fundamental part of their child’s activities.

The most troubling side-effect of poor coaching is injury due to either pressured aggression or unprepared plays. Studies show that 48 percent of youth sport athletes have experienced at least one injury during an athletic season, the most common injury being concussions. These young athletes may become injured or mentally burnt out as a result of excessive stress and pressure from parents and coaches. Even worse though, through poor coaching, some players may actually learn inappropriate behaviors, like violence and poor or none at all sportsmanship.

While there are programs, such as the Heads Up Program, which aim to create a safer youth football culture, far from the concussion-prone culture shown in Friday Night Tykes, where the change really needs to begin is from inside, with the training of the coach. A coach is a significantly influential person in a young athlete’s life and trained coaches are better equipped to create a positive sports experience. However, according to Coaching Education in America, less than 5 percent of volunteer coaches receive coaching education.

What is showcased in Friday Night Tykes is not entirely the coaches’ fault, though. The parents are also to blame. The show demonstrates a worrisome combination of high-pressure parenting and poorly trained coaches which can have disastrous effects on both the sport and the athlete.

Since a coach is a significantly influential person in a young athlete’s life, parents should be proactive when placing their child on a team and make sure the coach is trained or educated in the basics of youth coaching. Parents also need to be aware of the effect they have on their young athlete. Low-pressure attitudes towards winning, and emphasis on participation, sport development, effort and enjoyment of the game will help promote a healthy sense of competition in youth athletics, whereas overemphasizing winning, forcing a child to play a sport, or criticizing young athletes excessively may actually lead to anxiety and a lessened sense of sportsmanship.

This change in the culture of youth sports begins and ends with the training and preparation our nation’s coaches receive. Coaches need education, which is available from USA Football and similar programs, in order to properly lead impressionable young players. Coaching should also focus on encouraging the physical, psychological and social development of young athletes, as well as having fun while playing the sport. I wonder how many youngsters will be turned off sports thanks to their experiences with these horrifying coaches.

Thanks to our Guest Author: Kate Voss is an entertainment writer living in Chicago. While in high school, she participated in volleyball and crew. She has always had a passion for sports. You can follow Kate online via her Twitter account.

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