In-Task Silence: What are the Coaches Really Doing?

Ivan Lendl adopting an 'in-task silence' approach with 2x Grand Slam Champion, Andy Murray

Ivan Lendl adopting an ‘in-task silence’ approach with 2x Grand Slam Champion, Andy Murray

For a long time, coaches have been expected to be involved in everything that goes on in a training session or a game.  I guess this expectation was driven by what parents and spectators might be looking for in a coach and equalled by the coaches enthusiasm for being ‘busy’ and making sure they ‘get around all of the participants’.  And why shouldn’t coaches be busy? After all, the coaching process is complex and ‘messy’.  According to Coté and Gilbert (2009)

‘Effective coaching is the integrated application of different knowledge bases (professional, interpersonal and intrapersonal) to fulfil the multiple outcomes and varying needs of all participants within a specific context.’

So as you can see there is a lot going on in a coaching environment, but the question is, does being ‘busy’ result in effective coaching?  There is a growing trend towards ‘in-task silence’ as a coach.  This is a behaviour that is best described as when a coach ‘stands back from a session’, ‘refrains from instruction or feedback’ and simply ‘observes’ what is taking place in front of them.  Wayne Goldsmith puts this across in a nice little post titled ‘Improve your Coaching by NOT Coaching’ (click here to see the post).

Whilst this may initially seem counterintuitive, there is a growing body of research that suggests that this method can develop players’ decision making skills, creates empowerment through enabling players to take more responsibility for their actions, results in players being less reliant on coaches during game play and encourages players to communicate more with each other.  Rightly so, this is all great stuff for the players when ‘in-task silence’ is delivered correctly, however, the question that intrigues me most is what the coaches are doing, thinking, observing and processing during this silence?  What are their actions following the silence?  Are their actions a result of the silence and what they have witnessed (coach adaptability) or are they simply a continuation of a preplanned session (see my post on ‘Start [coaching] before you are ready‘)  Do all of the above attributes develop because of how the coach spends his or her time during the silence, or do they happen in spite of the coach (after all, they are technically not doing anything at this point…).

Is it enough to just set up well planned drills or SSGs with objectives and challenges and then step back and ‘let the magic happen’? Or do we need to educate coaches better in how to best use the ‘in-task silence’ time that they make available to themselves?

Yes, a quality over quantity approach to coaching is needed, but we need to ensure that the quality is exactly that and coaches are not just standing back and claiming that their ‘not-coaching’ is a stroke of genius.

 

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