Tag Archives: sports coaching

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.


Start [coaching] before you are ready…

Plan-A-Plan-B-chalkboard1-300x199As 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.


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