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Learning from coaches in other sports will make you a better coach

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  • A lot of coaches disregard advice to seek out transferable techniques from other sports.
  • This can mainly be attributed to inexperience, with coaches perhaps swayed by dominant perceptions from within their own sport.
  • A limited perspective, and shunning a proactive attitude to learning, will not turn ignorance into enlightenment, but will massively restrict coaches’ learning and development potential.
  • This case study with Shin Gi Tai Martial Arts Academy demonstrates the benefits of developing a flexible attitude to learning.
  • It provides examples of how the club has used transferable learning techniques in applied practice, to great effect.

If you are in two minds whether to attend this year’s UK Coaching Conference at Loughborough University – because you don’t yet grasp what relevance and therefore value there will be in listening to speakers outside of your sport or discipline regale you with concepts, models and methods you are unfamiliar with – maybe this article will help to sway your decision.

Lindsey Andrews and Mandi Miles found themselves asking the same question this time last year.

When the Shin Gi Tai Martial Arts Academy coaches flicked through the agenda for the two-day showpiece in Edinburgh, they were impressed at the diversity of the sessions, the high-quality presenter line-up and the opportunity to create a personalised learning experience.

But they were also worried they would only be able to apply a small percentage of the knowledge, theory and practical skills acquired in Scotland to their sessions on their return to Basingstoke.

‘Having never attended anything like the UK Coaching Conference before, I really wasn’t sure what to expect and was slightly nervous about how much we would gain by attending,’ said Lindsey.

‘For example, as a martial artist, what was I going to be able to use and transfer from watching a session on coaching tennis? We coach sessions for people from four to over 70 years old, in a variety of different martial arts [judo, karate, tai chi, kung fu, ju jitsu, kickboxing], with age-specific and mixed ability class groups as well as competition squad training. Were the sessions going to be appropriate to our sport and coaching environment?’

Fast forward a few weeks and Lindsey and Mandi were ‘surprised’ and ‘delighted’ at how many ideas they had been able to test, share and embed into everyday practice.

Don’t be insular, be open to new ideas

The reality is that great coaching is about so much more than using sport-specific technical knowledge and tactical awareness to enhance performance proficiency, develop skills, construct games and drills and give effective feedback and demonstrations.

There are social, emotional, psychological and physical factors affecting sports performance and they are equally important to player progression and participant enjoyment.

The beauty of it is, the coaching skills and techniques, models and frameworks and personal and people skills coaches need in their toolbox if they are to develop participants as people and as performers can be universally applied across all sports. 

The fundamental principles of great coaching do not discriminate between individual sports.

So, whether you are interested in learning more about inspiring good behaviour in your sessions, making them fun and engaging, more inclusive or safer, about building resilience or developing creativity in your players… the techniques are – with a few subtle and occasional adaptations – the same.

What better way to evidence this than by finding out from Lindsey and Mandi, in their own words, what their favourite sessions were at Oriam – Scotland’s National Sports Performance Centre – and asking for specific examples of how they have gone on to implement these new ideas in the environment their coaches operate in and in the distinct situations they encounter.

Judy Murray: Supporting the next generation through coaching

It was the first session that we chose to attend, and it really set us off to a great start and left us keen to get involved with as many of the sessions going on as we could. We had planned on observing for a short while and then moving on to have a look at some of the other observation sessions which were taking place.

However, we couldn’t stop taking notes and we ended up staying the whole time! I remember looking back that evening at all the information I’d written down and feeling genuinely surprised at how many useful and transferable skills and ideas there were, given how different tennis and karate are.

Judy Murray was a pleasure to watch. Her coaching style, language and interaction with the group of school children she was coaching was very easy to learn from and she also spoke to those who were watching as she was coaching to explain very briefly why she was using particular words or activities and the benefit of doing so, which was useful. We had a number of moments where we looked at each other and exclaimed – “love that”, “we need to do that” or “oh, hadn’t thought of that” – and we discussed how to adapt various elements that evening. Such as:

  • Build up games in stages. Judy had the children bounce a balloon on their racket three times and then pass it to a partner: 1, 2, 3 pass …  then 1, 2, 3 flip the racket and pass … then 1, 2, 3 turn around, flip the racket and pass.
  • Competition makes you rush and go faster. Look to create cooperative gameplay with an element of competition – fun but controlled. Working in pairs allows competition across the group, but competition between individuals in pairs means as soon as someone wins, the game is over.

Then when we returned from the conference, we ran a Storm session (training session for our junior coaches) and initially selected a couple of simple concepts to start using straight away in sessions. Although we came back with a huge number of ideas we wanted to implement and try we also felt that good habits were more likely to stick if we introduced them gradually.

Judy Murray smashes it on ‘centre court’ at UK Coaching Conference

Catherine Baker: Emotional Intelligence – A Game Changer

When we arrived home we also looked in more detail at developing emotional intelligence to help recognise both our own and others’ emotions to try and ensure we are connecting with each of our students as individuals.

It’s a shame this breakout session didn’t last a bit longer as we took away some more great ideas. For example, what you say and how you say it can affect someone just like physical pain. Learning impulse control – and the four-second rule – will help you make better decisions by giving you time to question your actions. When we act impulsively, we sometimes suffer the consequences. Taking a moment’s pause allows us to reign in our emotions, perhaps listen rather than speak, and get back some self-control.

We also learned about the importance of asking open questions to better understand how someone is feeling.

A few weeks after the conference we delivered sessions with each of our different age group classes looking at ‘What makes a healthy person’ to encourage all our students to recognise and develop their own physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.

And we have run sessions on softer skills, including making friends and empathy, and working with them so they understand why it is important to keep our training environment a safe, happy, positive and supportive place to be.

Emotional intelligence integral to becoming a great coach, with Catherine Baker

Emma Doyle: Discover your inner coach

The blurb on the conference schedule sounded interesting: Emma gives coaches ‘tools to better understand how they use their language to bring out the best in themselves, enrich their own lives, as well as engage and empower others.’

And it certainly was an interesting keynote, to the extent that we had writing cramp at the end, filling up our pads!

‘What makes a good coach … SOMEONE WHO LISTENS!’ This was one of the big takeaway soundbites.

But there were plenty more. Here are some we wrote down:

  • Understand what is important to your students.
  • Be fun. Be fun. BE FUN!
  • Change feedback to be more positive by using future-based feedback. For example, ‘What are you aiming to do’ instead of ‘What did you do wrong’.
  • Use AND instead of BUT.
  • It’s not what YOU do that’s important, it’s what THEY do. It’s not what YOU SAY that’s important it’s what THEY HEAR. It’s not what YOU SHOW that’s important it’s what THEY SEE.

Clearly, this advice is relevant to every coach, no matter the sport, age level or ability level they coach.

One of the first things we looked at when we returned revolved around the language we use when coaching, particularly when giving feedback. We were already working to be positive with feedback but would often say, for example, “that is really good, but next time see if you can …” So we changed the word ‘but’ to ‘and’.

This is such a simple way to maintain a positive tone but still provide constructive feedback to aid development.

Richard Cheetham MBE: A Journey of Possibility – Exploring the Potential of Creative Thinking

We have run game development sessions with our coaching team looking at the skills we want to develop to enhance ability and how we can recreate those skills through new innovative games and fun drills.

And we have looked at how we can use equipment in new and creative ways to keep classes fun and engaging.

Ideas presented by Richard Cheetham in his workshop gave us plenty of ideas for our planning sessions.

Again, in bite-sized form, here’s what resonated with us:

  • Develop skills in ‘small spaces’, then make it bigger.
  • Give children three pieces of information at most: ‘There is a lot of evidence now on the role of memory and how we learn. Beyond three, you then start to forget.’
  • Put yourself in a child’s shoes when devising new games. Would you have found the exercise fun at their age?
  • Richard encouraged everyone in his session to think outside the box. For example, balloons are ideal for team/partner play. The simplest items/equipment can be used to create gameplay and develop skill. If you are a football/rugby/tennis coach etc, not every game needs to involve a football/rugby ball/tennis ball!

Thanks to Judy Murray and Emma Doyle for this exercise

We have used balloons in sessions (and water balloons, pictured) with our four to six-year-old students, as suggested by Richard and Judy Murray, and the children have loved punching, kicking, balancing, passing and controlling them – having fun whilst developing good movement patterns to develop their martial arts skills and teamwork.

Judy used balloons to provide a slow-moving target for her tennis players. For us, it allows or students to practice their strikes with different body parts. As Judy said: ‘Ask what skills the sport needs, then find games to do the teaching for you.’ It wasn’t hard to adapt this gameplay technique to our own needs.

I genuinely never thought I could learn so much watching people coaching sports which are so entirely different from my own and the notes I took during the sessions are still proving to be a very useful resource.

Having seen how much just a few of the simple ideas we picked up in Edinburgh have improved our sessions, we are really looking forward attending this year for more great coaching insights and ideas.  

Please leave a comment. Have you any further examples you would like to share of transferable techniques you have picked up either from other sports or from coach educators that can be adapted to your sport?

Tickets Now Available for UK Coaching Conference 2019

Early bird tickets are now on sale for the UK Coaching Conference, which will take place from 4-6 July 2019 at Loughborough University.

Last year's event was a sell-out, so act fast to avoid disappointment

Find out more.

Further reading

Read more about Shin Gi Tai Martial Arts Academy the 2018 UK Coaching Awards Coaching Culture Organisation of the Year finalists

The ballooning popularity of creative thinking, with Richard Cheetham

Read all Richard’s blogs that he has posted on the community in one place here

2018 UK Coaching Conference Live Blog

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