The centre of my practice

Looking back, I can say with confidence that I feel as though we have had two good weeks of practice. In particular, we have begun to develop relationships across, through and around our programme, each of which has served to support and develop our aims and objectives. The depth of these relationships is very much a result of the time we have spent together and the structure of our practice. When I say the structure, I am thinking about our established way of doing things, based on the expectations of all stakeholders, and we have, to-date, done this very well. We could perhaps label this a coach-athlete-centred approach to thinking and doing, which Jowett (2017) suggests provides scope for inclusivity and mutual empowerment. However we view what we are doing, I believe, at this moment, and for this group of young players, that we are heading in the right direction.

This however, does not talk to the quality of our practice effort, energy and overall performance. I am merely thinking of the programming of our practice, how we communicate the content, promote learning and encourage autonomy in all players. In fact, I am pretty happy with the approach to this as I have spent a great deal of time planning and preparing opportunities for all of us to learn. The result being, that all players, for the most part, are confident in demonstrating their level of curiosity, both individual and collectively. If we were to discuss practice effort, efficiency and overall output I would suggest that the conversation my be somewhat different, a mixed bag if you like, and one that is reflected in attendance, engagement and participation in our online learning activities.

Recalling the actual structure of our practice sessions, they are very much random, we move between both sides of the ball, exploring various principles and then attempting to piece them together through advantage and disadvantage situations. I am however, somewhat concerned at the speed and effectiveness of our transfer. There are a core of players that respond to questioning, demonstrate an awareness and understanding of our principles and rules, and yet, when they enter into a competitive situation, it all appears to be lost. I guess we are back to the concept of Independent Thinking Athletes and how my coaching practice promotes / diminishes problem-solving and decision making, specifically, tactical decision making.

For example, if I focus in on the pedagogical effectiveness of my practice, specifically, the behaviours (Mageau & Vallerand) exhibited by self throughout our practice time, I see the provision of choice, a rationale for what and why we do what we are doing, and limited, if any, self referenced competency criteria. However, what I often find my coach self reverting back to is an element of control, wrapped within the content of my behaviours, but nevertheless, an intentional attempt to influence. In other words, the degree of instruction levelled at the players, particularly when we do not understand our individual role and meaning within what we are trying to achieve.

It is no secret that I have been battling with the divide between questioning and instruction, trying to find a balance that leans more towards empowerment through guided discovery. I wish for my communicative encounters to be free from power and to promote a sense of security so that the player(s) is confident, able and willing to offer their thoughts, opinions and ideas within the construction of new meaning. The research literature suggests that this is a move away from traditional thinking and a sensibility that reflects a coach-centred approach to practice. However, I find myself battling to come to terms with what I often believe to be my overly instructive nature. In fact, I will go as far as to say that my internal disagreement is fuelled by my impatience, my need to see a practice model that reflects my vision for the game.

Looking forward, we have our second game of the season tomorrow. Our opponents enjoy the comfort of a history that positions them as formidable foes, talented, aggressive and athletic. We have watched video, presented a scout and focused on our ontological being in an attempt to ready us for all that they have. Part of me is confident in our preparation, in where we have focused our attention, but part of me is scrabbling for security, for some way of knowing that my practice and my behaviour is where it needs to be!

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