The road back to coaching

Like much of the world (I imagine) the pandemic has given me pause for thought, an opportunity to reflect on my coach-self in a bid to define, and perhaps more importantly, redefine my coach identity. To begin with (lockdown 1.0) I engaged in podcasts, Zoom calls, individual conversations and additional reading as a way to embrace the gift of time and improve my practice in the absence of practice. It was exciting, in fact, I wrote pages and pages of notes, ‘to do’ lists and references to further self-help, instructional and biographical material. If nothing else, I was going to be more informed, knowledgeable and ready to re-enter the hardtops of West Yorkshire. The problem was, I was doing a great deal of theorising and no practice, I was holding on to volumes of information with no opportunity to explore, discover or reflect on my actions and reactions. Instead, I started to muse over my coach-identity, who my coach-self was and what purpose my coaching served.

Many of my engagements with lockdown learning material had reflected contact with the lived experience, biographical journeys through the coaching lives of many practitioners. Indeed, I too had shared my story, and in doing so, I uncovered a reality yet to be recognised. I was a part-time coach, I entered and exited the domain with little more than six to eight hours of exposure to the coach-athlete interactions I enjoyed. For many years I have sought the title of coach, chasing voluntary positions in a bid to gain recognition and be seen as a coach of standing. In support of this goal, I have enjoyed various modes of learning, education and upskilling in a bid to add credibility to my coach title. However, in the midst of a forced hiatus I found myself re-prioritising, returning to family and friends and indulging in secondary activities such as mountain biking and golf. In short, my coach-self had retreated in a bid to allow me time and space to reimagine my practice.

Some 13-months later and I walked through the arena doors to a crowd of young people, there was a hustle and excitement in the air, everybody appeared relieved to be back on the hardwood and ready to reengage in the three-dimensional artistry we call ‘Ballin’. I had sat the previous evening contemplating my return, diagramming our practice and theorising my contribution. I was keen to move away from blocked practice and promote a more variable version of learning. One that I had mused over, promoted within my contribution to the Player Development Framework, and now was excited to implement. Williams and Hodges (2005) introduce the concept of game intelligence, an overarching term that captures the importance of player anticipation and decision-making. I too had reported many times on the need to promote and encourage basketball players to become independent thinking athletes and reject the overt instructional behaviours exhibited by many during competition. This was my chance to be true to my thinking.

I drew a breath, expelled through my Wilson whistle and called the crowd to attention. I was suddenly very aware of the multiple eyes and attentions focused in my direction. I scanned the room, smiled and with great pleasure, welcomed myself and co practitioners back to the world of coaching basketball.

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