III. Effective Practice
“From the ten coaches I had when I was a youth player, one made me a better player, three didn't do any harm, and if I'd listened to the six others I would have never Become a Professional Footballer"
Marco Van Basten
Do players progress despite of, or because of their development programmes? Is it survival of the fittest or evolution of the most resilient? These questions probe the efficacy of many youth development programmes that are outcome driven and judge the basis of their success upon results and creating winning teams at the cost of the individual/s long term development. The differences between the transactional and the transformational coach provide a useful contrast to elucidate this further. In regards to the transactional coach, this person is self-centred and dominated by conceited gain - what he can get out of coaching and not what he can provide to those around him. He ignores players’ developmental needs and manipulates and distorts the values of winning and losing. The hierarchy is as follows: Coach first, team second, players' growth and needs last (if at all). These coaches maintain a certain dogmatism in their assertions that they do prioritise development; nonetheless their coaching behaviours, particularly in competitive scenarios, prove quite to the contrary. On other occasions they may produce kaleidoscopic arguments that seem to imply that development negates a winning mentality. As a counterargument, it can be argued that a winning mentality is created as a by-product of a high challenge and high support development programme (1). On the contrary, the transformational coach uses coaching as a platform to impart life changing messages and is 'other centred’. The hierarchy is as follows: Players first, team second, coach’s needs met by meeting the needs of players. This may even go insofar as being applied to the one coach (transformational) and other six coaches (transactional) mentioned in the aforementioned comment, with the others fluctuating between both ends of the spectrum.
Effective practice is often substituted with a “commonsense” view of coaching that is sense-checked by anecdotal experiences and practices, creating a recycling of ideologies amongst other unreflexive peers. This in turn may create a culture whereby coaching practice is solely based on tradition, intuition and emulation as opposed to sound pedagogical principles (2). This method of sense-checking also takes for granted that coaching practice is an entirely conscious activity, whereas in fact only a small portion of human experiences are retained in human consciousness for reflexive activity (3). Moreover, most coaching practice tends to be improvisatory in nature and beyond the reach of introspective scrutiny. These epistemological blind spots, also alluded to earlier, highlight the need for coaches to place the same (if not higher) expectations of players’ development upon their own development. If coaches demand so much of their young players it is only right that the coach leads by example in spear-heading his own development by seeking the richest learning opportunities available to him. Most may stumble across incidental growth, that is, improvement in one’s practice despite what one was exposed to. Others will pursue intentional growth, consistently implementing a plan-do-review cycle - a bedrock of good practice. This allows for the continual refinement of one’s own practice via engagement in regular reflection and peer feedback processes. Thus, sense-checking is now expanded to peers, more capable others and formalised avenues of education and learning.
IV. Concluding Thoughts
“You cannot prepare the path for the player. You have to prepare the player for the path.”
We may sometimes be guilty of treating players as 'human doings' (who play their sport) vs. 'human beings' (the presence of a person with emotions, ambitions etc.). We need to understand that young players are people who want to be engaged, educated, stimulated and challenged. They want to feel valued and understand that the coach displays a genuine interest in assisting their growth and development. It starts with establishing a mutual base of trust on which a repertoire of pedagogical micro-interactions can be exchanged. With all this said, coaches need to also leave, and at times even place, obstacles in the way. They need to be comfortable with their players being uncomfortable. This in turn strengthens the individual for subsequent encounters. It is during this process that traits such as resilience are developed. Finding the optimal balance requires the coach to identify periods of exposure interspersed with oscillating periods of adjustment before further challenge is introduced. This may follow a gradual progression where regular support and low challenge are provided during the early stages, transitioning to less frequent support and higher challenge during the latter stages. Finally, as a leader and highly influential figure within team sport, it is the coach himself who needs to set the highest of standards in his code of conduct and uphold role model behaviour. As others ‘catch on’, this has the potential to foster a culture that facilitates individual and collective growth, promotes independence, upholds accountability, embraces healthy competition, offers constructive feedback, provides mutual support and ultimately fulfils the developmental needs of each and every player.
(1) Fletcher, D. & Sarkar, M. (2016). Mental fortitude training: An evidence-based approach to developing psychological resilience for sustained success. Journal of Sport Psychology in Action, 7, 135-157.
(2) Williams, A. M., & Hodges, N. J. (2005). Practice, instruction and skill acquisition in soccer: challenging tradition. Journal of Sports Sciences, 23, 637-650.
(3) Berger, P. L., & Luckmann, T. (1967). The social construction of reality: A treatise in the sociology of knowledge. Garden City, N.Y: Doubleday.