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Guest Blog: “It took you how long?” An appreciation of the ‘training journey’ as a consideration for coaching behaviour!

Whatever the weather or hurdles experienced along the way, players, athletes, parents and participants arrive for training. Each of them will have their own stories of the challenges they faced to get there on time. But why is this worthy of consideration by the coach? How could it be viewed to ensure harmonious relationships between all involved? This ‘harmony’ has been shown as one of the important qualities for successful coaching identified by youth sport coaches (Choi, Cho & Kim, 2000).

It was not until I attended a presentation by the director of a hotel chain (at a coaching conference!), was I made more aware of the need to acknowledge and consider this ‘journey’ and  its’ significance to the coach. The speaker referred to the importance of his staff appreciating the journey of the guests and all that it entailed. This could include delayed flights, bus connections, parking issues, and weather. These elements should be recognised, and as a result, influence the need to ensure a positive and welcoming experience. Being able to put themselves in the shoes of their guests for their journey enhanced the positive attitude shown by staff to customers when they arrived at the hotel.

As a result of this I decided to conduct some basic research into the players’ journey at the rugby club where I coach. I wanted this to be an insight into the levels of effort and commitment from them before they had even ‘laced their boots’. The findings could be acknowledged by coaches – no more knee jerk reactions to late arrivals and a ‘growl’ but maybe an understanding of their experiences. To have made these journeys should be equated / matched by the level of effort and inspiration from the coaching session.

The research profile showed that over half the players came straight from work and therefore had no time to go home and see their family. I measured journeys in terms of distance and time – the furthest travelled 71 miles each way and the longest (on a bad day!) 90 minutes. Many players arrived home over 5 hours after they had finished work. In addition there are the sacrifices season long and seasons long, non-attendance at social functions, leaving work early, tired limbs and tired minds. And all this so they can pursue their sporting passion. It is important to remember that at many levels this ‘pursuit’ has more than winning but enjoyment at its heart. This is an amateur sports club, like so many and yet I have rarely heard any coach refer to these considerations.

The implication for the coaches should highlight a greater need to ensure that the players’ journey is worth it! Eddie Jones, former Australian Rugby Union coach and current coach of Japan spoke recently at the University of Winchester regarding his coaching philosophy. He viewed himself as “a servant to the players” and that essential to his work was an enthusiasm to match any of them. This is supported by coaches in the previously mentioned research (Choi et al, 2000) who regarded enthusiasm and ‘fostering that same enthusiasm’ as one of the key qualities in successful coaching. Mallet & Hanrahan (2004) remind us that “at all levels of participation, the coach is considered the architect of the motivational climate”. To me this seems the type of phrase one should maybe post on a noticeboard to ensure this is not forgotten. There is almost an accountability that coaches have to all those involved for the creation of an inspiring and motivating learning environment. The drive (literally) by those striving for enjoyment, competition, fun and development of skills should be met equally at the training ground by the drive of the coach. 

The cold, windy and rain sodden evenings that too often welcome those hardened winter sports enthusiasts are elements out of our hands but the welcome we as coaches give is totally within our control. There is sufficient evidence to show that coach behaviour directly affects the motivational climate and therefore the motivation of the athlete.

So how should we as coaches react? Primarily to adapt behaviour based upon new ways of thinking. Piaget refers to ‘decentring’, where the coach (or teacher) becomes less egocentric and aims to truly understand the circumstances by viewing the situation through the eyes of the child in their group who has arrived late. It aims to reduce the chances of the adult failing to understand the child through a strategy of considering what their (the coach’s) words would mean to them and therefore encourage greater reflection on their considered actions. I suggest no ritual humiliation in front of others for being late, no ‘punishment’ drills and certainly not any of the ‘growls’. I firmly believe players, parents and children do not intend to be late for what could be the highlight of the week. This is their ‘release’, their chance to shine when maybe work and school / college are challenging enough. Take time to consider the journey, take time to consider why they weighed up those elements en-route to your session and did not turn left to home but instead turned right on the road to the club. Find time to talk to them, conduct your own research and maybe introduce a 15 minute element at the start – a window of time when those arrive can practice skills, socialise with team mates and know that there is an in-built allowance for late arrivals.

For those who seemingly do choose to arrive late then reasons may lie in the warm up activities which lack content and therefore perceived value. Missing the first few minutes may not be regarded as a loss because it is just viewed as a process before the really important coaching begins. Remember first impressions count so try to develop ‘energisers’ or ‘fire starters’ that engage the group immediately and therefore develop a culture where those warm ups would not want to be missed. Three fifteen minute warm up activities a week for a 40 week season (matches and training) represents an awful lot of coaching time!

Finally, research indicates that many coaches seek to continue their own learning and development in order to improve their performance and that of those they coach. McCrindle (2006) emphasises the need to understand and connect with players and participants to ensure greater awareness of the challenges the ‘emerging generation’ face. When coaching children, the ability to decentre can enhance a coach’s knowledge; prevent a widening gap developing between them and their group. Maybe this could be a part of the ‘coach development’ process. It is not about slacking on discipline but more about a philosophy of care and understanding alongside the consideration of the coach making it “a worthwhile journey”.

Guest blog by sports coach UK tutor Richard Cheetham

 

References:

Choi, D., Cho, M. & Kim, Y. (2005) Youth Sport Coaches’ Qualities for Successful Coaching. World Leisure. 2. 14-22.

Mallet, C.J. & Hanrahan S.J. (2004) Elite Athletes: Why does the ‘fire’ burn so brightly? Psychology of Sport and Exercise. 5. 183-200.

McCrindle. M. (2006) Understanding and Engaging with the New Generations. Coaching Australia. 11(1) 4-5.