What you see isn’t what you always get…

Learning within the domain of sport coaching is perhaps best understood as a blend of formal, informal and non-formal occurrences, opportunities to engage in observation, experience, debate and reflection. With this in mind, the past seven day’s have stimulated my curiosity and fuelled my aspiration. In fact, I have been bombarded with learning messages, instances where I was able to debate, dissect and synthesise the multiplicity of basketball knowledge on offer from the current World Champions. Indeed, having the opportunity to observe the practice environments of some of the best teams in Madrid has been an eye opener, and a pleasure. Some of what was on offer served to underpin and reinforce my thinking, and some of the presented content represented challenges to a number of sensibilities. Certainly for me, I would situate some of the more coach-centred practice outside of my own coaching profile. However, I recognise that as well as being a socially constructed endeavour, coaching is also a situational practice. This being said, I think what is important, and what will continue to be central to my development as a basketball coach, is accepting the breadth of knowledge available and filtering what is relevant and real for my context.

Whilst enjoying the hospitality of the Madrid Basketball Federation, I found myself particularly fascinated by the many similarities between my content, delivery and philosophy, and what was being presented on the hardwoods of the various clubs dotted around Madrid. I felt fortunate to be able to say “I do that”, it served as a comfort blanket to my practice, a way of confirming that what I do is within an acceptable tolerance of normal practice, perhaps even effective practice. This being said, I was intrigued by the very coach-centred approach to the development of their young players. It was most definitely a ‘my way’ of constructing and delivering on-court performance. It certainly seemed clear from the bleachers that many of the coaches actions were underpinned by a behaviourist mentality. Now this is perhaps an unfair statement as my observations were free from context and lacked any real understanding of what had passed before the actions. However, I couldn’t help but think that the approach would never resonate with me as an acceptable methodology, regardless of the level of play. The problem with this thinking was, the young basketball players moved with freedom, they appeared to be able to make decisions and execute moments of the game unrestricted. In short, they played a style of basketball I very much respected and yet was unable to replicate within my own context.

Moving beyond the volumes of content and to a state of reflection, I am able to consider the connections, interactions and exchanges enjoyed in the corridors, bleachers and dinning areas of the tour. The wealth of knowledge and experience on offer was phenomenal and served to really fuel my thirst for advancement as a coach. In particular, the depth of passion for the practice, and the technical knowledge that underpinned many of the coaches descriptions of their coach identity was impressive. Not only did they display declarative and procedural knowledge in abundance, they were analytical in their observations, quick to unpick what was on offer on the many courts we visited. The plethora of individual journeys was also intriguing, it really opened my eyes to the many developmental pathways present in pursuit of being identified as coach.

Our time spent watching the games was interesting, the coach behaviour on offer during many of these competitive exchanges was varied and sought to offer no really way forward. For example, at the junior level there was a great deal of instruction, although I wasn’t sure exactly what was being said, it was directive and often followed a mistake. On the other hand, the senior games saw a great deal of self presentation and management, a little like Goffman’s concept of the performative self. In fact, one or two of the coaches could easily have been put forward for an Oscar. The flailing of arms, the tossing back of the head and constant remonstrations were most definitely a reflection of a theatrical coach self. Yet, the on-court performance was impressive, thus challenging my thinking and questioning my entire thesis. For this reason alone, the notes, conversations and topical exchanges enjoyed will continue to shape and inform my practice as I visit and revisit the thinking of the many coaches that now contribute to my developmental journey.

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