We were on a break: returning to effective practice

Week three of my return to the court and we are on a break! It is the May Bank Holiday, and our venue is closed. Reflecting on the two sessions since the ‘Return to Play’ leaves me divided. I am currently working with a wide range of colleagues, coaches with storied backgrounds, levels of experience and years of engagement. In fact, I feel quite lucky to have the opportunity to put forward my position, politick and muse over the pedagogical conundrum of ‘how to coach’. Indeed, we often move between variations of constructivist and behaviourist sensibilities in a bid to reflect our own knowledge and understanding of effective coaching. As a result, my intentions are clear, I have an enthusiasm for a return that engenders a greater athlete voice and moves me to the ‘shadows’, a position that is well documented within my planning, yet still my execution is left wanting.

My research over the past six years as led me to many corners of the debate, reasons for and against. However, there is an overwhelming presence, an evidence base that tugs on the thinking of many and puts forward a strong argument for autonomy supportive pedagogy. An approach that is underpinned by effective questioning, places the athlete at the centre of the process and reflects a symbiotic relationship. I would argue that many coaches are now aware of Jowett’s position that coaching is a relational activity, one that thrives on interpersonal connectivity. I consider myself to be a follower and have tried to develop my ability to engage and converse with athletes at their level, in their time and on their terms – a way of doing that I was introduced to as a National Teaching Fellow. In short if we want to engage students in a topic we must visit ‘their world’.

To this end, my questioning has improved, and I have worked hard to reduce the concept of ‘tell’ from my behavioural profile and embrace divergent probes in a bid to engage the ‘whole’ athlete. However, when faced with adversity, challenge in the form of a lack of understanding I found myself battling to resist the ‘tell phenomenon’, the low road to short term gain. Afterall, regardless of how we frame our practice, we are all contributors to the Player Pathway, and as such, we each have a responsibility to support elite and personal referenced excellence. However, to be effective, we must continue to practice from a place of authenticity, the ‘true’ coach-self, which takes me back through my many posts to the question of philosophy, why do we do what we do and how do our values and beliefs shape the behaviour we put forward as our true coach-self. Cassidy et al. (2009) referred to the concept as “a set of principles that guide an individual’s practice” (p57). The suggestion being that an effective session will reflect why we do what we do.

As I ponder the content for my third return to practice, I see chaos, games, conversations and challenges that are healthy, spirited, and most importantly of all, are underpinned by the concept of a motivational climate of learning. I see it, I can plan it, I absolutely believe in it. My remaining challenge is to effectively recreate the scene in my practice and through my behaviours.

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