A season in between seasons

Having spent three weeks observing, marking and re-marking I now find myself framing my reflections on the practice of others. The up and coming graduate coach, the enthused beginner and the experienced other, all actively seeking to improve their practice, and all guiding me to think more about my own coach self. In short, I am learning from the very people I seek to influence, to stimulate and to teach. As such, I have observed a swimming class, football (by the boat load), P.E. lessons and tennis. The range of approaches, the injection of theory, underpinned by experience and driven by excitement has opened my eyes to how coaching is seen, thought of and experienced! How we present ourselves within a role frame entitled coach, the expectations that shape and direct both the title and our behaviour as coach.

Looking back on the season (ten weeks post our end game) I often wonder how much of what was achieved was actually influenced by me, by my coach self? The concept of transfer continues to intrigue me, to challenge how I construct my teaching and my coaching. For instance, can a constructivist methodology really result in an improved jump shot? Exactly what is a constructivist coaching philosophy? My students recite this to me in their written words and verbalisations of their practice, yet I am not sure I know what it means to be a constructivist coach.

Coach K talks to the concept of accountability (Toughness, Balis, 2007) and employs terms such as teach, instruct and guide. Nowhere does the word question appear, nor the concept of questioning. This being said, I concede that the language could be seen as a fine line between coaching and learning. Thus, the question remains, where does my behaviour intersect with the players learning? I feel as though I am continually being bombarded by messages that conflict with my pursuit of an Independent Thinking Athlete, and my wish to empower players to co-construct their learning and establish meaning that takes them forward in their performance.

In a lot of ways, 2018-19 was one of my most successful seasons, I was challenged to teach communication, to advance teamwork and problem-solving within my charges. In doing so, I explored my own ability to communicate, to enter into the young mind of the players and see the game through their eyes. I shared my fears, my ambitions and my short comings with the players, I asked them to make me better. As a result, we journeyed through models of questioning, leadership and personal development together. We explored relationships, identity and what it meant to be a young basketball player. I challenged them and they reciprocated. The growth was evident in our play, our interactions and the relationships that existed across, around and among us. Having opened my eyes to different ways to coach I now want to build on what I have learnt, continue to develop thinking that serves to empower students and players alike.

The space in between seasons has traditionally been a period of rest for me, a moment of service to my family team before returning to my extended team. Only this summer I have dedicated some of my time to continuing to engage in coaching conversations, to situate myself in learning spaces (iCoachKids Conference, FECC, UK Coaching Conference) as a means of expanding my coach self. In fact, I have previously sought to be accepted on to the FIBA Europe Coaching Certificate as a means of developing my tactical knowledge. If now asked, I would openly cite my lack of innovation and creativity on offence to be a major stumbling block to my practice. Do I understand ‘Horns’, ‘Flex’, ‘Flow’ etc.? To varying degrees, yes. However, can I unpick, counter and control the opponents offensive strategy within a game? I am not sure. Is this down to context or subject knowledge? Again, I am unsure. I tend to keep the game simple, to install minimal prescriptive movement to our gameplay. Yet I cannot seem to develop my confidence in this approach, I observe others and seek tactical evolution within my coaching. I recently turned to a number of academic papers written by Slavko Trninic, of particular interest to me was the concept of basketball knowledge, flow and game state analysis. I saw these concepts as the underpinning to the game and to my practice. Interestingly, at no point within these papers did the debate turn to specific game strategies. I question if I am fixated on something that is specific to a situation and developed out from the abilities of the players?  I see my attendance to the FECC as the answer, the knowledge I seek and the frame through which I will construct the next chapter of my offensive practice.

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