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Learning in Three Dimensions

By Will Roberts, Youth Sport Trust

My own coaching journey began as a teenager. Both my parents were teachers with their own coaching experience and so I guess it felt inevitable. Nonetheless, I found I really enjoyed coaching and as a bonus felt that it helped me become a better player. I became pretty obsessed with this side of sport, working on how I could make a difference to the range of lads I was working with, and why.

The more I learnt, the more I needed to know. Working in  Volleyball, factors like physical growth and development were key considerations for teenage boys, and at every turn my curiosity around how to improve performance opened another can of worms. For someone who just likes to explore and learn more, coaching became my 'cat nip' - I was hooked… obsessed maybe. What I really enjoyed was getting to know more about the game I loved, and understanding how to really know and influence others in a positive way.

As I moved into match coaching, the interplay between coaches and athletes, coaches and officials, and athletes and officials became increasingly intriguing. I began to realise that we were all experiencing the game through a different lens. We saw different things, had different objectives and aims, we were motivated differently, and interpreted and read the game in unique ways. What could I learn from the officials in terms of managing my emotions? Why were officials missing decisions that seemed obvious if you understood the tactics and patterns of play the teams were using?

At the Youth Sport Trust (YST) we are fortunate to be able to work with significant creative freedom which allows us to be light-footed and responsive, but also to take calculated risks to see if an idea can fly. Since 2007, when we launched a National Talent Orientation Camp focussing on talented young athletes, we have expanded to work with talented young coaches and officials - on each occasion working with NGBs to identify young people and build this into their broader development pathways for these cohorts.  Individually, each of these emotionally intense environments had a lasting impact on the young people involved (as indicated by longitudinal studies), but we were considering each of the three roles in isolation.

We took a risk - we got talking about the development of coaches and how that is similar and different to how officials and athletes are developed. At the YST, we support all young people to fulfil their potential and so decided to take the plunge. We want to encourage all young people to be creative, aspirational, resilient and empathetic – and asked ourselves how we could do this for young coaches in particular.

There is a great quote about creativity - "talent borrows, genius steals" - usually attributed to Pablo Picasso…  but also to T.S. Eliot and to Morrisey…  perhaps emphasising how salient a quote it is! We took this on board when putting together our renewed National Talent Camp which took place in December 2014. We plagiarised what we saw as the best and most pertinent bits of our existing work with coaches, officials and athletes, and ‘buddied’ this with what we have learned through our 20-year history about multi-sport working.

We wanted to challenge the young people to consider new areas of learning alongside their peers from different sports, and from different roles within sport. The dimensions were layered on top of each other – ‘What is your values base… ?’ ‘What would you do if…?’ ’Who supports you….?’ Or ‘What are your aspirations?’ The concept itself was exciting to sports - we got seven NGBs involved in year one and are expanding this for year two. The sports commit to using the camp to inspire change in how they support the development of young coaches (plus athletes and officials).

This has led to some really creative and exciting work from the sports themselves, with some creating additional coach education workshops and masterclasses created as part of their support for young coaches, and others focussing on the provision of mentors. Importantly the sports’ buy-in to our ‘3D’ learning concept has been significant and we’ve been able to see it in use at various national training centres in the months since the camp as coaches and officials in particular have learned together.

By encouraging the young people to dream, develop and then challenge them to deliver on this, through an environment of constant comparison, we believed they would become more rounded in their appreciation of how to perform at their best, as well as how to get the best out of themselves and others. Again, the early signs are promising, but we await the longitudinal tracking data on the young people.

What might this say about coach education and development? We'll let you know more as we find out from participants and their behaviours, but for now to get more of an understanding of the concept of 3D learning please watch this.

A full piece will follow in the next edition of Coaching Edge.



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