Striking the Learning Balance

Posted on Jul 23 2020

Coaching across all sports and levels has continued to embrace new ideas and evidence-based approach to teaching and driving performance. Coaches are now more open to input from experts and willing to consider the “science of coaching.” But how do you strike the balance between the science and “feel”?

The access to information and learning has never been greater and coaches now have endless platforms to learn, absorb new information and communicate with experts on a raft of coaching related topics.

The recent COVID shutdown has magnified this, with a host of webinars, on-line clinics and Zoom meetings with coaches sharing and gleaning information from colleagues, sports science experts and leaders in the fields of teaching and learning.

It has been valuable learning and professional development for coaches at all levels and has fostered the spirit of sharing amongst coaches globally.

But what is the balance between the science of coaching and spending time on court engaging in trial and error? How do we juggle the “new” information with simply “getting reps” on deck?

We discuss some ideas here to strike that balance and ensure coaches continue to grow and develop through a combination of “on the job” experiences and the ongoing quest for information.

Engage the Sieve –

Accessing new information is not the challenge; sifting through what is useful and can be implemented into your coaching is.

No question most coaches are life-long learners and constantly wanting to gain a competitive advantage by accessing and using the latest techniques, methods and technology.

There will be a lot of readily available information, that is a given. The challenge for coaches is to engage their “internal sieve” to sift through this information. Aspects to consider when sifting through the newly acquired learning –

  • Is this relevant to my personality?
  • Is this relevant to my setting?
  • Have I unpacked this sufficiently to incorporate into my coaching?
  • How much is too much for the players?

The “Coach’s Eye” still rules –

Even with the advancements in all areas of coaching and athlete development, the concept of the “coach’s eye” is still relevant and crucial for coaches of all levels.

What is the “coach’s eye”? In simple terms, it is what the coach sees out on the floor and how they process that information or stimulus.

What you see and observe as a coach is still the most important stimulus or information you will receive as a coach. Think of it as “thinking in 3-D”.

Whether it is in practice, individual/small group work or a game, this ongoing information gathering is the cornerstone of the successful coach.

Experiences key to learning –

Experiential learning is defined as the process of learning through experience and is more specifically defined as “learning through reflection on doing”.

Basketball Australia coaching doyen and FIBA WABC Chairman Patrick Hunt defines it as “learning is a change of behaviour due to an experience” and has presented numerous clinics on the value of experiential learning.

All professions have a key element of “on the job” training, be it in a trade or into the medical professions. The key driver in the learning is the doing.

In basketball terms, it is simply “getting reps”. Coach more games, run more practices, work on your craft in the appropriate setting – the court!

Trial and error remains a valuable learning and development methodology. You need to see what works on the floor for you and your team to balance new information and stimulus.

Eyes, ears and questions –

“Vires acquirit eundo” – Latin for “we gather strength as we go”.

There are no “quick fixes” to learning and development, it needs to be incremental and through varied experiences.

Watch more games, coach more games; observe more practices, run more practices; ask more questions, have more conversations with other and don’t underestimate the importance of taking your own notes.

Replace on-line with in-person, invest time in attending rather than “getting the notes” or watching the video later. It is of course not always possible, but being present and experiencing a clinic, game or practice session is so valuable in a coach’s ongoing development.

It is an exciting time to be a coach with the huge amount of information, science and learning available. Enjoy the journey and the exciting challenge is striking the learning balance.


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