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Sisters are doing it for themselves

Observing Siblings as Coaches, and how this can relate to coaching groups and teams

Whilst on holiday this summer, as most families do, we spent a huge amount of time in and around the pool. Having 2 young children, this involves a lot of time ‘coaching’ them to improve their technique, having fun and, in the case of my youngest daughter, overcoming fear and reservation to try something new.

A more reserved, reflective individual compared to her more outgoing, daring older sister, we were keen for her to become more confident in the water, hopefully increasing her fun in the pool, and reducing the worries of us as parents around both the girls not being restricted as much in their play. As parents (a coach and a teacher), we are often guilty of starting most activities with what not to do, as opposed to what can be done. I found myself highlighting what we shouldn’t be doing in and around the pool, before what we can do.

After a few days, I had a moment of enlightenment whilst watching both the girls play together in the pool – I wasn’t the best coach for them all the time – it was each other…
My older daughter had taken on the role of the coach, carefully explaining and demonstrating how to jump and dive into the pool to her sister. She offered to jump into the pool together, as an initial support to take that ‘first step into the unknown’.

Within a morning at the pool, there was an obvious and visible improvement in her confidence and development in the pool. Over the next few days, this development continued, and the competence of both of them improved through their interaction.

This was noticeable even more when a mini disaster struck – my eldest fell and split the back of her head, which necessitated a trip to the hospital to have a wound stapled and a ban from the pool for 5 days. During this time, we saw a stagnation of the development of our younger daughter as she lost her ‘buddy’ – we also had to deal with an injured frustrated athlete who couldn’t swim, practice her gymnastics and have difficulty wearing a hat!

On her return to the pool, the improvement in performance of her younger sibling was noticeable again….

Some things to consider for your coaching:

  • Be prepared to coach by ‘not coaching’ – creating an environment and relationships within that can be just as useful.
  • Be open minded to be aware that your own role as a coach can improve you as a performer, as well as reflecting on you as a coach.
  • Utilising Players and teammates as coaches (either formally or informally) – Michael Calvin noted in his book ‘Living on the Volcano’ a comment by Arsene Wenger “You can’t possibly get round to every one of your players after a game and ask how they think they did, so players have to be good coaches”.
  • Understand when you need to pass your performers on to improve performance – at some point, the best way for performers to develop is with someone else.
  • How does injury (or even in a change in circumstances) effect not only the injured player, but those around them? Are you aware of what happens when the emotions that underpin life and performance are put under pressure (please see my next blog “Are you an ‘Inside Out’ Coach?” for some more thoughts around this…).

We came away from the holiday with two improved performers, both with their swimming but their ability to work together and support each other. Yes, we still have the nuclear blow outs as siblings do, but they still look out for each other and notice the absence of the other.

Almost sounds like I am describing a team or coaching group…..wait a minute…

Happy Coaching and Parenting!

Jon Woodward is a Coach Education Advisor at sports coach UK. He is a parent, coach and coach educator fulfilling various roles with various sports – and can be found tweeting ( @JonWoodward74) and blogging about coaching and life.


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