As a coach and coach educator I am a huge fan of session planning. I just never feel quite right without that piece of paper in my pocket to refer back to. It is a process that has evolved for me over the many years of coaching, to the point that I now have a very specific template for my hockey sessions and a generic template for other aspects of coaching that I do (geeeeeek!!!). I have hundreds of the things, full of drills, coaching points, potential questions, reflections on the session. No one session is the same, different combinations of drills, various objectives, tweaks to space and numbers, many though all based on the same end goal… developing hockey players.
Recently though I have begun to think about that magical session in my pocket, mainly because that is the place where it tends to stay… in my pocket! So for all of the work, why do I tend not to use it? Is it because I have already gone through the session on paper and therefore can recall what the plan is? Is it because player numbers/positions at training effect what I had planned to do. Maybe it is down to many years of experience. I am a huge advocate of reflection in action, stimulated by surprise, reacting to the situation you are in, on the spot problem solving and using my previous experiences to ensure a session goes smoothly.
Ask yourself how often you get through all of your plan? Do you stick rigidly to your timings? Did you finish early? Did the plan force you to move on too soon? Did you have to pad it out with a game or a shooting drill? Is the incessant planning that we put ourselves through as coaches actually restricting us as coaches or even our players in sessions.
The ‘Start before you are ready’ principle was something that I read on Robert Poynton’s blog. Robert is not a coach but I think that some of the things he talks about kind of resonate with the planning aspect of coaching. Now of course, I am going to say this. On a Honey and Mumford Learning Styles Questionnaire I am predominantly (17) Activist and on the Personality Enneagrams Typing System I come out as a 3 ‘The Achiever’. So I am clearly a do-er, though as mentioned before, still an avid planner. Just as a caveat at this point, I am by no means claiming that coaches should not plan, I am merely questioning whether we over plan to the detriment of our sessions?
The parts that interest me most in Robert’s post are:
“…if everything is determined and decided beforehand – in other words, if you are completely ‘ready’ – then something is lost. The unimagined possibility is eradicted before it even has the chance to occur.”
If we are completely ready as coaches, are we simply ‘robotic slaves’ to the session that we have designed, without being flexible to our audience/participants’ needs. Do detailed session plans take away the ‘holism’ that we are all striving for in our coaching?
“…it made a lot of sense not to ‘finish’ it but it is hard to do. We normal feel obliged to tie things up neatly.”
This is such a true reflection of coaching. 10-12 warm up, 10min on skill 1, 15 mins on drill 2, finish with 20min game… How often do we move on too quickly, before participants have developed or achieved anything purely because the session plan says so? How keen are we always to get ‘closure’ on a session either with a ‘good’ drill or a ‘winner’ in a small-sided game? “Let’s finish on a good one girls!!” or “Next goal wins lads!!” is ‘coach speak’ that you will here on pitches, courts and tracks the country wide. All of this when we will probably be back in the same place a week later, though armed with a new set of objectives and a freshly designed session plan.
“…enough structure to make it work, but to leave enough open or unfinished so that people felt really involved.”
Does the tight structure of our magical plans create closed coaching environments that limit the ownership, responsibility and empowerment that we are trying to transfer to our participants?
Perhaps I am reading into this a little too much, but I think there might just be a little something to think about around the concept of ‘start before you are ready’. I don’t mean in the sense of abandoning all planning as coaches (that would be foolish…) but to think a little more about the flexibility of our plans in order to allow participants to express themselves at training and give them more to think about when they leave the practice. Can you imagine finishing on a bad drill or a game ending with a draw…
Comments and thoughts are welcome as always.