Practice…

Having had a week off I was ready to return. Our previous game had been a difficult one, emotions had been high and the blame disease had attempted to creep into who we are. Thankfully, the players did a fantastic job of fighting through the bad calls (perception),  the short bench and the heightened level of play, and although we lost the game by two points, we won the war. We would be better as a result of the game, we demonstrated that we could be mentally strong and that we could stick together and continue to grow. In fact, take away the loss and we had won that game.

To start our time together the players engaged in a five minute mindfulness exercise. The activity was suggested by the second team coach and I thought it might do them some good. However, it wasn’t very successful, in part because it was a ‘mass’ exercise engaged in by three teams, but more so because we hadn’t planned or prepared for it. This being said, a number of them sat quietly in an attempt to connect with their inner player and I am sure they got something from the exercise. I actually thought that I would have liked to have joined in but for the fact I was afraid I might fall asleep!! For whatever reason I was feeling tired, a real sense of fatigue had consumed me over the previous forty-eight hours and I was tired!

I spoke to one or two of the players, asked them about school, their half-term holidays etc. and allowed them to settle into our practice space. The co-captain was busy organising them into their first set so I let them continue with their proposed warm-up. They had become pretty good at self-organising, arranging themselves and getting themselves going at a high level of intensity. Could I comment on the quality? Were we learning anything in those moments? I think so, there was no challenge from me but they did, at differing levels, hold each other to account. As I stood observing them I recalled a recent conversation with a performance manager who had referred to performance environments as the best opportunities to learn. I didn’t disagree with the concept of an elevated setting (high-order thinking and practice), however, I thought that he had failed to make the distinction between high performance and high-performing. I would argue that the landscape I currently resided in, at times, was a high-performing one. The players, again, at times, operated at the ‘edge’ of their ability, that surely must be the definition of high-performing? I certainly would describe the high expenditure of effort and thought in pursuit of predetermined outcomes as a high-performing activity.

I wanted to keep it light, the players’ had just returned from a week off and I wanted us to ‘polish’ and shape our movement, refine our interactions and tidy up how we played. To this end, I sat and talked with players whilst we moved through our different concepts. The players challenged and corrected each other, the engagement was high as they problem-solved and corrected both the technical and tactical elements of their play. Were they the best players in their age group? No, however, they were acting like it! The level of accountability was high, they questioned each other with confidence, applauded effective movement and shapes and worked together to improve their understanding. At one point within the practice there were two small groups of players in different corners of the gym, each with a tactics board, drawing up corrections and demonstrating what our movement should look like. I sat and smiled, I had asked one question of them collectively and they had given me their answer.

Our scrimmage at the end of practice yielded a mixed bag of results, in part because we had a blend of players working together that did not reflect our regular rotations, and further because we had two returning players that were somewhat out of the picture. I asked the players to coach each other, to offer feedback, both corrective and summative. Again, I am not sure where I would locate the learning in this as I failed to bring it all together at the end. However, the players were vocal, they appeared to be engaged and so I was happy with our ninety minutes.

I drove home contemplating what had just gone before me, my contribution at a recent coaching conference, and my identity as coach. In some respects I was happy with my thinking and my actions, I was comfortable framing them as coaching and me as coach. However, this was not always the case, I felt as though I could do so much more but was coming up short… I pulled on to the drive, grabbed my bag and entered the house, having failed to answer my musings I climbed the stairs looking forward to my six hours of sleep.

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