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Posted in: High Performance Coaching

Have technique obsessed coaches created a breed of sports psychology coaches?

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  • Ralph

    i've noticed an increase in the number on sport psych coaches, and generally they all say the same thing, "free up you mind and just play." Are techniqual coaches to blame for over emphasising technique so much, (perfection trap) that the player now needs a psych coach to let thier natural ability play. Can technique artificially manufacture a player? Can technique be a straight jacket to self expression or does one need to learn the rules in order to know how to bend and break them?

  • Ralph

    and is sport a game to be played or a subject to be taught?

  • Coach_Browning

    This is a really interesting question, or rather series of questions. 

    Thinking about my sport (American Football) it is incredibly intricate and technique driven. One only has to look at the teachings of an Offensive Lineman to see just how detailed they get - to the point where they could spend hours just rehersing the same couple of steps over and over again.

    A normal practice would see a significant element of it with each unit off working position specific techniques and skills.

    However, I would say that, rather than trapping the player or putting them in a straight jacket, the aim is to give them all the tools they need to respond to what is happening in front of them.

    They have to have the technique to be able to both reach the desired position and then execute when they get there - but we want it to be automatic. Rather than the player thinking about what he/she needs to do, they should be doing it automatically. So we rep the techniques over and over again (wherever possible in a game style situation) until it is just second nature. At that point the player is the free to play as they are responding.

    Therefore done right (the infamous caveat), I think that technique is important and - certainly in this sport - needs to be emphasised. 

    On 28/06/16 10:25 PM, Ralph Samwell said:

    they all say the same thing, "free up you mind and just play."

    With regards to this...one of the things I have started saying to players is "train your mind and the body will follow"

    For me, if the player is a true student of the game, if they know exactly what is going on - their role, the team roles, the strengths, the weaknesses and what the opposition is trying to do - and not only know it but truely understand it then they will be in a position to let their ability shine through as they will be a step ahead of everyone else.

    So I guess it is an issue of what is meant by free up the mind. For me, to "free up the mind" - (i.e. stop a player from thinking too much and just playing what they see) - means they have to first fill it with everything they need (the tools) to operate.

  • Coach_Browning
    On 28/06/16 10:27 PM, Ralph Samwell said:

    and is sport a game to be played or a subject to be taught?

    With regards to this...I would say it kinda depends on:

    1. What the sport is - is it a contact sport that requires a base level of safety?
    2. What level the player wants to get to

    You could not pick up some American Football kit and walk into a team and play. There has to be a teaching element to it. This is not just from a safety aspect but also from the fact that the entire team has to operate as one every single play, so you have to know exactly what you and the others are doing - this requires teaching. 

    Other sports - where the physicality isnt present I think do lend themselves more to being a sport to be played - then kicks in the 2nd point. Just how far does the player want to go. 

    I played a bit of badminton and squash when I was younger. For me that was a simple case of picking up a racket and hitting an object, and just enjoying playing a game. If I had wanted to go further though then I would have required some form of teaching to get me to understand what I was doing.

    I guess, where there is a heavy need for teaching then the aim is to make the teaching fun so that it feels like a game.

  • Ralph

    Thanks for your thoughtful and considered answer.

    The series does have a common theme, apart from safety issues, for the development athletes, does one let them play and clear up the technical issues with practice, or does one coach the technique and only let them play once they’ve mastered or only base the game around what they’ve got right so far?

    A complex question, if I may break it down. Most Chines development athletes aren’t allowed to compete until 16. They are highly drilled to be mistake free? Especially Badminton and Table Tennis, where they are consistent World Champions. In the west we have “soft play” so a paired down simple version, which gets more complex, as technique improves. If we let them play, they could pick up “bad” habits, we then have to undo, if we don’t let them play, aren’t we excluding all these that need to just find their own natural authentic style, children that can’t be manufactured by constant drilling?

  • Emceejay2

    Its a game to be played of course, but not one that needs to be taught, rather it's one that needs to be learned. The role of the coach is to create and design environments in training that allow players to develop skills AND tactical competency that are robust in matches. Most sports have a perception-action link, where players need to read cues, identify problems, and select appropriate solutions. They will only be able to do this in the pressure of a match if they have trained to do so. As the Navy Seals say, "Under extreme pressure, you don't rise to the occasion, you sink the the level of your training".

  • Ralph


  • Brett
    On 30/06/16 9:08 AM, Ralph Samwell said:


    Great Video - along with his wonderful pronunciations, his argument is very strong with simplicity and interplay being the key.

    There're certain aspects that can relate to sport - If my forwards don't come back and help my defence in two games time I'll make my forwards the defenders to see the impact of not defending perhaps? 

  • Ralph
    On 30/06/16 10:36 AM, Brett Holland said:

    see the impact of not defending perhaps? 

    i've done this, it worked

  • tonylibert

    This is longer than planned. Sorry.

    Even in american football the coaching staffs are moving from a orchestrated model to more of a jazz ensemble. We are using spread offense and teaching offensive spacing in a game that was always rigid in positional play. In our invasion sports we are much more holistic on play largely due the european coaching exchange. Just a guess but it seems more then coincidental that as the euro union moved forward so did the interchange of ideas. I think that your experience has changed all of sport and how we teach. We are all just finally getting up to speed, here in America we have spent the last 40 years that I have been a part of sport, mired in recycled defensive squalor and are only now coming to see offense as a teachable concept. You read that correctly , we are only now thinking of offensive spacing as teachable. Of creating targets other then the goalie, but instead the player with the best chance at scoring. So when you ask if technique has scrambled creativity I would say no instead we are just climbing up another rung of the evelutionary ladder of sport. The coaches who hung their hats on discipline and sound play worked very hard at the craft and help move teams towards common goals just as you have. Some seem unlikely to change and here we have areas without new blood in the ranks but that will change and our kids will get the chance to play greatly. As to the sport psych coaches they are greatly interested in how "flow" is created. We are just seeing the beginning, our training as coaches one day will include process coaching and how emotional state can be optimized. Do I think this will help? In a word yes , but along the way we will see that the commodification of sport will grow even more and there will always be some one trying to take advantage. My opinion in review, 1.Technique coaching can be seen as a progression of coaching evolution 2.As resourcing coaching technique becomes more readily available coaching is moving away from yell and tell to discovery and 3.Sport pschology can be seen as both a part of sport evolution and sport comodification.

  • Ralph
    On 15/09/16 9:51 PM, Tony Libert said:

    This is longer than planned. Sorry.

    compleatly and uterly briliant post Tony

    much respect and regards

    you're a true coach

  • tonylibert

    Thanks for the kind words. I will try to move to part two now that I have been able to deliberate. USA soccer (Football) has anounced that it has a problem. In the words of USA soccer president" We are creating a generation of robots". These words hit home to me especially. I am a well thought of coach with 35 years of continous learning. My brother and I are locally regarded as something special yet few of the players we have coached move on to higher levels. Yes many have gone on to coach and more still play as adults but few played at collegiate and none professionally. Were we part of this? yes siree Bob we were and here is how. Our younger versions 35 -25 years ago broke the game into elements and created a budget of skill. So much time on this + some of that and viola we have game play. We were excited and learning so some was placebo some was aquisition and some was nonsense. We got better, we thought. Over the next 15 years we became very systems enamored and with that our reputation as coaches grew. We would have to answer as other coaches tried to emulate and we would cite discipline and culture and caring but now that I look over my shoulder I see we created robots. Players with skill who learned through us the negating skill was the best way to go. We had grown a culture that was assured of being in the game not by reaching for the stars but by knocking the other guy out of his boots. A popular saying in our locker room was  "seperate the man from himself" During this time we had many success" but tthe championship eluded these kids. What if we had taught spacing? What if we had encouraged risk? what if we had given them the responsibility of playing? What if we had asked instead of told? To answer part 2 we create robots when we as coaches assume responsibility of risky play and instead create an environment of caution.  Thanks for reading and regards to all


  • Ralph
    On 16/09/16 8:41 PM, Tony Libert said:

    now that I have been able to deliberate.

    I’d like to know what you mean by this statement?

    I didn’t state my view to be kind but to acknowledge a fellow coach, striving to be the best. Few on CC would say I’m kind. You only made one conceptual mistake. It’s a mistake I see here at CC constantly, I continually point it out, but few recognise it and so have little regards to all; only to those that dare to go where it hurts. The mistake you made was ironically an all too human mistake, you forgot, you’re a human, coaching humans. The fact that you have the courage to acknowledge it, is clear and present evidence, you are a great coach. I see little courage reading CC blogs, you’ve made my day. Just as it’s rare to find a real Gem of an athlete, it must also be true, it’s rare there are coaches that are Gems.

    I appreciate “separate the man from himself” ideology but look at it like this; an idea is something you have, an ideology is something that has you. That’s why you’re popular saying you believe in, became your trap. How does one separate the man from himself, without separating our own human from ourselves?

    You can find what your looking for but don’t measure success by results, don’t look for your success in your athletes, otherwise it will never be your success. Look for your success in you by looking for all your own faults and reaching your own stars.
    On 16/09/16 8:41 PM, Tony Libert said:

    What if we had encouraged risk? what if we had given them the responsibility of playing? What if we had asked instead of told?

    then you would have encouraged them to reach for the stars Tony.

  • Ralph

    A Reliance On Science Produces Not Giants

     Do you remember those legends of old? The ones who raised the level of their sport to an art form. The ones who used sticks rather than steel. The ones who drank water from a tap rather than a formulated liquid from a bottle.

     Do you remember those giants?

     And if you had today’s players play with their unscientific equipment, would they play as well?

     In fact, do today’s players with their scientific equipment play as well as they did?

     The athlete has lost his way. He is no longer seen as a human being. Rather he is seen as a skin-enclosed sack of dissectable parts. His brain is imaged. His muscles are torn. His saliva is screened. His movements are filmed.

     He has been taken from his field of play and locked within the clear plastic of a petri dish. He was once a free man that roamed the verdant fairways. He was once a free man who loved the sound of his skates scraping the ice. He was once a free man who played with a racquet and ball.

     Instead of roaming fairways he now roams the polished floors of ivory towers. Instead of hearing the scratch of skates against ice he now hears the high-pitched sounds of beeping machines. Instead of holding a racquet he now holds an electronically studded wand.

     If one wishes to add a semblance of legitimacy to his argument he need only begin his statement with, “The science says . . .” Science has become the answer to everything. And this is because the wrong questions are being asked.

     If an athlete is in the zone, does he care what parts of his brain lights up on the MRI? If he hits a powerful drive does it matter what his swing speed was? If he hits a perfect fade does it matter what his path to face ratio was?

     Have machines provided a greater understanding into the nature of how instruments work? Yes.

     Have they provided a greater understanding of ball flights and ball-club interactions? Yes.

     Have they provided a greater understanding of the effects of various factors upon the different sections of the brain? Yes.

     Should the athlete himself have anything to do with this? NO!

     The athlete is the specimen that is being studied. If the scientists wish to translate HIS art into THEIR science let them do so. Let them understand. Let them watch him and analyze him and dissect his movements.


     Let them keep their journals to themselves. Let them cover their computer screens. Let them keep their raw data locked inside their cluttered offices.

     The only science that the athlete needs is his own idiosyncratic, personal, sloppy, patchwork science that he has accumulated through decades of toil in his trade. That ridiculous and unscientific science that only he knows. And that only he needs to know.

     The science of adjusting the bill of his hat before the shot. The science of loosening his index finger on the grip. The science of clearing his throat before he jumps. The science of slapping his stick three times on the ice before he takes the face off.

     The science which comes from his liver rather than his brain. The science that is completely unscientific. The science that is not rehearsed. The science that can never be written about in journals. The science that does not correspond to reason.

     The science that a scientist will never understand. But which the athlete can reproduce in spades.

     While it may provide an element of benefit for the athlete to perform in front of a machine, he will eventually begin to adjust his game for the data rather than the field of play. He will eventually begin to react according to the numbers rather than to the complex but wholly familiar situation that confronts him on the field.

     The science of the athlete is not the science of muscle or brain. His is the science of fingertips. His is the science of the taste on his tongue. His is the science of perceiving the slight breeze coming off the Irish Sea. The one that instruments cannot measure. The one that only skin can feel.

     His science is not the science of analysis. It is the science of FEELING. The science of KNOWING. Not in the contours of his brain. But within the chambers of his heart.

     This is what must be fostered. This is what I emphasize with players.

     For this is the type of science that no MRI can capture. And no electrode can detect.

     This is the science of the athlete. And its magic lies in its being unscientific.

  • tonylibert

    Indeed, ruminate may have been a better choice. What can I say a graduate of public education. In the act of omitting my human qualities all I can say in defense is that I find it hard for any coach to justify pontificating when we are all learning together. Short story: I met the head coach in chief for British columbia Canada. In short when I asked a question he answered with these words " I have 2600 coaches that have told me that if they could only coach like me they would have it easy" What I mean to say is that we often forget humility until its tossed back at us. I thank you for the soft toss instead of a grenade. gotta go now thanks again for the words and thought provoking additions. Tony

  • tonylibert

    Ps. for the last ten years I have been learning to ask and not tell

  • Ralph

    tottaly my pleasure, nice to met a fellow jouneyman, i'm a medical researcher, if there is anything you need in terms of academia, let me know.

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