Attendance was varied, individual and collective effort good, and my general mood after three practice sessions was positive. In fact, I am not sure I could have asked for much more from the start of our pre-season training.
I had began the week thinking about a position statement, a position with regards to our togetherness, our collective identity and our level of play. It was clear to me that we were used to a different style of play, a more traditional approach to practice and a different type of coach-athlete relationship. The term ‘traditional practice’ has been ‘thrown’ around quite a bit if late, particularly within the pages of many of the top sport coaching journals. It is seen as an approach built on tradition, ‘a way of doing things’ that is culturally accepted and agreed upon as the most effective way of producing results. Much of my research (the 1000 hours+ of observations) leads me to thinking that basketball is ‘stuck’ in a traditional box, one that contains a high degree of instruction.
We started with some small game-based sets, an opportunity for the players to show me how they played, what they did well, and how they meshed together to inform and shape our identity. An ontological question indeed, but one that was important to me and to my practice. In fact, I have, for a number of years now, felt that knowing who the collective was, what each individual could / would contribute to the whole served as an indication of who we were and how we would play.
My questioning wasn’t great, I was more convergent that divergent, a position I continue to battle with and desperate to move beyond. It was difficult, we were making a high number of mistakes, both technical and tactical, I was struggling to get them to think, to solve the problem and be decisive in their next action. I had to force myself to stand back, to retreat to the quiet corner in order to allow us to be free, free to express our individual and collective identity in that moment. In short, I think it is so easy to slip back into the comfortable, traditional and culturally accepted form of practice. At times, I could feel myself moving into and out of this form, whenever it became difficult to promote individual thought I defaulted to a more instructive position. If anything, I knew I didn’t want to return to this form of practice, however, I often found myself, mid sentence, redirecting my behaviour, actively trying to alter the interaction to provide the individual player with a more powerful position from which to make a decision.
Some recent reading revealed that coaches often revert back to the culturally accepted mode of thinking and doing as a means of retaining power over the dyad. The use of communicative acts is thought to be a means of influencing the receiver, getting them to comply in some way to the meaning unit included within the instruction. In other words, a more instructive form of practice can be seen as steeped in behaviourist sensibilities, one that is considered to be important in the early stages of skill acquisition. However, tactical skill development is thought to be better suited to questioning as a means of stimulating cognition and promoting problem-solving through autonomy and the raising of confidence.
This confusion was evident in my practice, I was trying to find a place within the many interactions that was suited to my athletes, a way of being that made them feel safe and free to learn in a space that was comfortable. In fact I would go as far as to say that my coaching was suffering as a result of my inability to carve out, with any degree of certainty, an effective way forward. Perhaps I was trying too hard? Was I guilty of trying to be all things to all people? After all, my coach plate was pretty full.
With a week left to our first game I feel as though I need to be more effective, and my messaging needs to be clearer. I also need to connect more with the players as a means of creating a conducive climate of learning. This group of 15 young men, who, with the support of their parents, have placed their trust in my ability to lead and motivate them require more from me.