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Coachability - is this a thing?

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Should we seek, or create, athletes who are "coachable"? Can we even agree what we mean by "coachable"?

Sophia Jowett posted back in 2016, asking ConnectedCoaches members for their thoughts on the concept of coachability - I am seeing the term used quite a lot, but I am still not sure if there is an agreed definition.

As an example, I came across a fascinating article quoting  Brittney Reese, multiple World and Olympic Champion in the long jump, on the process of becoming a champion.

A story from the 2013 World Championships was especially interesting.  Reese, at that time the reigning World Champion, had only just managed to qualify for the final.

“…my coach told me to ‘stop acting like a girl, and just jump’. That night I went back, looked at the film and tried to figure out where I was going wrong.”

This was presented as evidence of Reese's "coachability", but I’m not sure this really demonstrates “coachability”, not as I understand the term, at least.

My interpretation of Reese's quote is that it either {a} provides evidence of exceptional long-term athlete development (or simple, innate self awareness) – the coach had helped the athlete become self-reliant, able to accurately analyse her own technical flaws and then implement appropriate modifications in competition, or {b} doesn’t tell the full story (perhaps the coach provided relevant video clips, comparing the qualifying jumps with the “perfected” model from training or earlier competitions, or even helped to identify the technical imperfections).

Are either of the interpretations really evidence of the athlete's coachability?

I would be looking for a coachable junior athlete to display (or develop) a “growth mindset”, to be inquisitive about the process of athletic improvement, and to be prepared to fail (often) before achieving any degree of mastery.

In a more senior athlete, coachability would be manifest through the ability to self-analyse and then to seek appropriate support – “my run up is too slow, where should I be” or even “my run up feels wrong, what can I do?”.

It’s not really “doing my own thing” (interpretation {a}, above) or “doing what I’m told” (interpretation {b}).

[A third interpretation, that Brittney’s coach had no role other than highlighting a below par performance in qualifying, would seem to downplay the coaching function unrealistically.]

I won't comment on the coach's (reported) use of the phrase "like a girl", beyond observing that I would expect to get sacked if I said it with one of the female cricketers I coach!

The article linked above was first published on the IAAF's "Spikes" online magazine; I came across it via the International Olympic Committee's Athlete Learning Gateway (registration required).

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Comments (4)


Coachability: probably the level that a person 'can' be coached. As in they want to learn and trust the Coaches 'coaching'. Often I have young people: climbing, canoeing, mountain biking, who 'want' to learn and improve to be better. But they have chosen to do after school or weekend Outdoor Learning so this will skew their 'coachability'. They may like me as their Teacher and Coach too, so again is this skewing their 'coachability' ?

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I think that some of the problem here, and why there might not be a sense of a common definition is that people will look at this from different perspectives. Just taking a scan through the old post about this, you can see people coming at this from all angles.

I think that one general common characteristic is that it means that the player is open and receptive to ideas/direction/stimulus from the coach. And I would agree with this base line start. If a player is not willing to listen, is not willing to take direction, and is determined to do things their own way then I think we would think that they were not coachable.

I think that where the problems start is when you look to build on the definition and you start to think about from whose perspective are you looking at this from. Is there a difference between players definition of coachabiity and a coach's? I think that there probably is. If a player is not responding how we, as coaches want, then we label them uncoachable. If they do respond then they have coachability. However, we are not looking at whether we are the root cause of the problem rather the player.

So to start the ball rolling again, I guess I am coming down with a starter that coach ability is where a player is willing to take direction and responds favourably within the environment created, and that responsibility for this coachabliity lies as much with the coach to create this environment as the it is the player to respond

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I'm thinking growth mindset = coachability, nice work you can get it! Or as you say Simon, at the very least a willingness to listen to advice/follow instruction from and to work with the coach.

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I have just come across this article but would like to add something to this conversation.
I had just finished my level 2 course and had attended a performance day and then a talk on archery form from Mr Lloyd Brown.

I went away feeling pretty confident I knew what I was looking for and how to correct form flaws. I had an new iPad at the time so I intended to use that for filming. I got to the club and set up the tripod with an archer I had been working with for a long time. So when I'd done a few things with Mr A Miss B asked if I would coach her for awhile and help her with her routine. I filmed her from both sides and the back then I went through the filming with her pointing out little improvements and suggesting a sequence of coaching sessions to do ..... All in all it must have taken up 2 1/2 hours of mine and her time to get to the analytics stage. After this is what I got "Well I'm not going to do any of that." and off she walked packed up her kit and went home. Not a word of thanks nor even an acknowledgement for the time. Uncoachability !!
She has since talked about some of her form problems and I smile and nod " I know "

I'm sure that example won't be the last (It wasn't ). I could of course spend time with her going through her form but I have more receptive athletes that are coachable. We talk as a group and at times one to one and we make small gains here and there.
There are the people that try as we might as coaches mentors teachers .. they just don't connect with the sport, they can't kick a ball, shoot an arrow or score a basket.

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