Looking ahead to the tournament

Good attendance, good early efforts and good all around approach to our final practice together. I came away feeling good, an emotion that I went into the practice with. However, was it all that I wanted it to be, or indeed what it needed to be? Did we create a climate of learning through problem solving? I am not sure. The practice started with 15 minutes self directed activity, most were engaged, but not all, social loafing comes to mind followed by varying degrees of self-determined motivation.

3.15pm was the time they had to be finished with their own practice and arrive in the middle of the court ready for our group practice. I stood observing them at 3.14pm. Some made their way to the middle of the court, others attempted to get the last repetition out of their time. As the clock struck 3.15pm there was the odd murmur of “come on, into the middle”, nothing convincing, nothing that rang of leadership confidence. I so wanted to hear the emergence of a leader, somebody that was willing to challenge and hold their teammate to account. I spoke for about three minutes, no more. I set the scene, posed a number of short questions, and introduced them to the content of the session, which I had written on the board. It included our aims and objectives for the session, which we used to agree what it was we were going to cover. They were up beat in their body language but lacking in responses, I waited as long as I felt I could and then I reluctantly moved us on.

The underpinning aim of the session was to introduce a number of concepts that we could apply to our game play. In doing so, we moved through a great amount of content, the players debated, shared ideas and sought to solve problems collaboratively. I stood and observed, allowing them to learn unencumbered by my voice (Smith & Cushion, 2006) not wishing to infringe upon their space. It looked good, felt good, and I was happy that we were moving in the right direction. However, I have to confess that I was often uncomfortable, itching to intervene to offer something, to correct a movement pattern or to praise a thought or decision taken. This was particularly true when something was outside of where we (or perhaps I) wanted to go.

I have often spoke of transfer, moving our learning in to game play. We appeared to understand the concepts, agree what was required, but then this was not reflected within our decision making and motor movement. I could see some intent was there, and that we sought to help each other to develop our ‘vision’ for the desired outcome, we just couldn’t seem to arrive at an approach that was successful. It is here that I struggle most with the whole concept of athlete-centredness. Nevertheless, other than the odd correction and motivational dialogue as a means of keeping them going, I continued to construct meaningful questions, praise what I thought was good and remain a silent observer to my practice session.

Our time together was now over, our preparation complete and I had selected the twelve players that would travel to the Regional Tournament in Manchester in just seven days time. Had I successfully prepared them? How would we perform? Would we ‘hold up’ to the pressures of tournament play? The questions were now directed at self, I knew that being observed was part of the tournament process, a selection of sorts to a role I desperately sought. Yet I couldn’t leave all that we had worked on, the goal was to remain true to the process, to work through each Moment of the Game in a manner we had prepared for.

I often think of the advice given to me by a very effective and successful coach, “be your coach-self and nobody else”. It made great sense to me, in my own mind I was very much a simple practitioner, I believed in operating at a level appropriate to the athletes and competition. Simplified language, principles and concepts applied well can make for a very effective team. Would we be effective? Would I be effective? Only time would tell!

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