Photo Credit: Leeming Design
MIKE SMITH, FOUNDER: BIGiDEASPORTS
A few years ago, at an international football conference, I saw the legendary French coach Gerard Houllier give a simple and memorable demonstration.
He handed a pencil to a member of the audience and asked him to break it – which he did with ease. He then handed the same person a bundle of 11 pencils and asked him to do the same thing. He put all his force into it, but the pencils wouldn’t break.
“That’s the power of a team,” said Houllier.
Youth coaches in team sports will immediately get this wisdom: A coach’s main role centers on creating a team: binding sticks. Youth coaching tends to focus on team set up, team tactics, team attitude and effort. The players’ circle up, all hands in, “GO TEAM!”
And as such,
YOUTH COACHES SPEND MOST OF THEIR TIME IN “TEAM MODE.”
But, while the team approach is of course a vitally important part of sports coaching, in terms of total player and team development, there is a limit to the power of GO TEAM! unless it is deeply grounded in confident, skilful individual players.
Going back to our pencil analogy: It’s like Gerard Houllier handing someone 11 pencils half sawn through. They would snap with little pressure.
Happily, we are seeing a growing coaching emphasis, particularly with younger players, on individual player development through ball mastery, first touch and core skills, rather than a lot of “X’s-O’s-and Arrows” on tactic boards.
But where the individual side of coaching of young players is still greatly lacking is in coach-player communications.
In this area, coaching in “Team Mode” simply isn’t enough.
YOUNG PLAYERS THRIVE ON PERSONAL FEEDBACK FROM THE COACH
Sports psychologists and researchers have consistently found that the personal relationship of the coach to each individual player, and the positive, progressive and insightful feedback given, is one of the most important components of effective team sport coaching.
This is particularly so in the coaching of young players. Positive feedback builds confidence, wellbeing and a positive player-coach relationship, and then opens the door to being challenged about “What’s next?” – the foundation of a positive, learning mind-set.
Parents too are more supportive and satisfied when they hear their player is getting personal, 1-on-1 feedback from their coach, rather than just hearing about the team’s win-loss record.
Without personalized feedback from the coach, young players have only their own self-rating of how they are doing within the team, perhaps based on an inaccurate self-comparison with others, or the not-always-positive words from other players or parents.
Young players want to know directly from the coach that they are doing well, that they (personally) are making a positive contribution to the team, and how they can do that even better.
So, when it comes to player feedback, a coach needs to shift from “TEAM MODE” to “PERSONAL MODE.”
But, with 10 or more energetic young players of varying abilities to manage and mould into a team, how does a coach find the time to give each player relevant and constructive feedback? That’s a challenge!
SO HERE’S A SIMPLE 1-2-3 FOR PROVIDING EFFECTIVE PLAYER FEEDBACK
STEP 1: GET TO KNOW THE FUNDAMENTALS OF PLAYER PROGRESSION
Develop an understanding of how a young player progresses in core skills, game sense, and team support, from beginner skills through intermediate to a more advanced player.
For example, First Touch Control. A player’s starting point, during competitive play, is to be able to receive a ball under no immediate pressure and maintain close control – most players develop this pretty quickly. Progress shows itself as a player instinctively moves the ball away from the pressure of an opponent with their first touch; and a more advanced player has the skill and confidence to lift the ball over the foot of an incoming opponent to avoid a tackle.
STEP 2: STOP “COACHING“ AND TAKE TIME TO SIMPLY OBSERVE.
It sounds easy, but many coaches feel the need to actively coach and interact from the start to the finish of a training session. Experience tells us, however, that allowing some training time that is totally player driven will boost player decision-making, creativity and player-generated team spirit.
So always finish training sessions with 20 minutes of competitive, small-sided FREE PLAY. Just observe, individually, 3-4 players on a key core topic (like First Touch, or Attacking Mentality, or Team Spirit).
Don’t comment. Simply make a note on what stage each player has reached. Note any new individual player achievements – a reason for a “well done.”
Over the season, observe and make notes on each individual player as many times as you can.
STEP 3: FIND TIME TO DELIVER POSITIVE, CONSTRUCTIVE, 1-ON-1 FEEDBACK
At least once a month, during a training session scrimmage, bring your notes and call out players individually for 2-3 minutes of 1-on-1 feedback. Always start with what they are doing well, and then challenge them with a “what might be next?” They often know without you telling them.
Keep it positive and light. Younger players don’t need highly structured goal setting. As coaches, we are there to support and help young players reflect and try to progress, both as players and as people, not to measure and judge.
If a player is struggling to progress, try to create a more simple next step, and give them a helpful activity they can practice at home.
A FINAL THOUGHT
Making more time for personal 1-on-1 feedback will certainly create better players and a more successful team – it will increase your chances of winning the league.
But another, and perhaps more important outcome, is that your positive, encouragingly challenging words delivered 1-on-1, are words that can stick in a player’s mind for a lifetime, helping to deepen their love of sports, and maintain their on-going participation in positive, healthy, life-enhancing activity.
Which surely is what coaching is all about.
NOTE: This article is primarily for coaches of young players U12. For older youth players, particularly for high performance players, a higher level of detail in player feedback, and more structured goal setting and player self-reflection, can be useful.
But the principles remain the same.
(If you want to read more on this topic, you could Google the excellent work of educator Grant Wiggins, with his mantra of Less Teaching, More Feedback, More Learning.)
At BIGiDEASPORTS we are working on a coaching APP to help busy coaches easily track player progress and provide effective well done/what’s next feedback.
If you are interested in joining the pilot testing, please contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org