Punctuality being one of the identified expectations of the coach this year, and an attribute I believe I display with regularity, I arrived at our practice venue in good time. The scene before me was a common one, multiple courts occupied with enthusiastic faces, bodily movement in the familiar movement patterns of the sport and the ever present coach voice. Having organised myself, greeted the parents and cast an eye over my charges I called them in at 19.30.
Nine players stood before me, some eye contact, one or two smiles and an almost ‘what now coach’ expression staring back at me. “How are we all?” I smiled and waited for a response. Having received one or two nods and a confident “good coach”, I proceeded to handout game schedules and playbooks whilst asking the players what they think we should be doing for the remainder of the session. The response was less than full, so I posed a further question, “I would like to continue with last weeks theme, what do you think?” Convergent, if not directive, the reply was always going to be “yes coach.” The construction of a question as a means of prompting and promoting thought, particularly in the precise moment you wish to ignite cognition and reflection, is not an easy undertaking. I had to do a better job!
We moved into a number of drills – orientated around three of our five offensive principles – communication, constant player movement and ball movement. I allowed them to get deep into the drill before pausing play to ask them the aims of the activity. There was a degree of understanding reflected in their responses, a number of individuals countered confidently and in close proximity to the leadership voice I sought from them. We continued and the energy levels were pleasing. There was however a degree of noise from me that I perhaps could have done without, I wanted to hear them more than me, I wanted to feel their participation and see their learning occur in front of me. Silence and observation were difficult traits to achieve, especially as I found myself wishing to correct errors, to raise intensity and direct the flow of movement. This however was very much against what I had committed to, an athlete-centred approach that promoted the players voice above mine, that focused on the individual athlete and their reflection on and in action, and that removed me as the central theme of the training environment. The traditional coach to athlete monologue continued to gain momentum and the instructionalist took charge, much to my chagrin.
As we moved through the practice plan there was a declining flow of energy, at times the concentration levels of some of the players appeared to dissipate, leaving me frustrated. My coach default position would continue to gain ground as the dominant behaviour, challenging, motivating and consuming the air with direct instruction, took over. This was the complete opposite of what I had wanted from our practice. The final moments were not our greatest, what played out on the practice floor was far from the detailed, efficient movement, controlled by the decision-making and problem solving of the athletes I pursued within my planning. Perhaps this needed to be something we all strived for? Conducting and orchestrating are perhaps not the hallmarks of an athlete-centred approach that emits examples of dialogue and inquiry. Was it that I was inpatient? Did I want more than I was going to get in 90 minutes of movement and interaction? I departed practice consumed by a blend of frustration and disappointment, aimed directly at my performance, which at the precise moment of my emotional expression turned to my planning as an area for improvement. The drive home was a long one!!