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Safety and Welfare Organising and Planning

Rusty Nails It! Some Magic Advice on Returning to Coaching

Are you filled with nervous excitement at the prospect of getting back into the rhythm of life as a coach? Here are some great tips from a ‘wizard’ of the coaching world – Russell ‘Rusty’ Earnshaw – to help you dispel any fears you may have ahead of your return to coaching. Blake Richardson caught up with The Magic Academy coach

Twelve claustrophobic months and counting: of lockdowns and limbo; precautions and protocols. Little wonder that coaches are straining at the leash to make their long-awaited return to activity. Understandable too if they are a little ring-rusty when they are finally reunited with their participants in person.

Don’t be fooled by the name. Rusty Earnshaw will not be one of them. Ring-rusty that is. But he most definitely is champing at the bit to get back to coaching face to face.

Rusty (‘Russell’ is reserved for legal documents and for when he is being scolded by his wife!) has been busier than ever during the Pandemic. He has made full and effective use of digital technologies to stay connected with his players and fellow coaches, and has even managed to sandwich in a spell of warm-weather elite coaching in Bermuda (he was Russell quite a lot in those three weeks: “My wife was fed up of me posting pictures of the beach every day, I think. I just wanted to remind her where I was!”).

As one half of The Magic Academy – which he founded with his other, other half John Fletcher – coaching courses through Rusty’s veins.

And he was only too keen to welcome UK Coaching into his magic circle and reveal to us some of the coaching tricks he will be using to ensure a seamless transition when organised outdoor activities resume.

First, though, a quick summary of how the last 12 months have impacted on Rusty personally and professionally.

Adept at adapting

It’s fair to say Rusty is a glass half full kind of person, and he has managed to remain chipper throughout this tumultuous time for the coaching industry.

“I’m quite chilled about it to be honest. Having to be adaptable is the reality of coaching, and it equips you with the right mindset to be prepared for anything.

From leaving university, I had 15 years without a permanent contract. I was 37 the first time I signed one. I’ve also been through redundancy two and a half years ago. I have got used to life as a coach.”

Rusty admits that at first, he figured he was going to get a three-month holiday: “I didn’t. Boris was wrong!

“Fletch and I have just had to adapt like everyone else has and we have been doing things differently, and in different worlds.

“I’m probably working more hours but doing less travel. I’m eating less in service stations and doing more exercise. I see my family more. 

“And it has also led to lots of opportunities.”

Like the World Tens Series in Bermuda, which was held over three consecutive weekends straddling October and November – rich reward for a speculative message he sent on social media. 

There was a similar outcome form an email to England rugby union coach Eddie Jones saying, “I think I can help”.

This type of proactive behaviour has enabled him to continue supporting coaches and players, from participation to performance level, without the need for face-to-face contact.

Rusty says he has had more one-to-ones with coaches in the last 12 months than ever before, with particular success stories being webinars – “we have been getting big numbers” – and WhatsApp groups.

“The WhatsApp groups have allowed those coaching in similar environments to come up with solutions to challenges together, while the feedback from coaches attending the Wednesday and Friday webinars has been that it is really useful to have that structure in their lives. Coaches are used to having that weekly routine and rhythm.”

All that said, when asked if he was excited about a return to face-to-face coaching sessions, his tone was reminiscent of the moment you slip into a hot bath after a particularly arduous training session: “Oh, I can’t wait,” he whispers softly.

At the end of the day, it’s why I coach. You get a huge buzz from helping people get better and supporting people to be more confident and competent. Coaching, as Bob Muir would call it, is a caring profession, and that releases lots of feel-good chemicals in your body.”

 

An emotional release

Rusty feels the same mix of excitement, tinged with fear, that every other coach is experiencing right now after such a long hiatus.

Excitement at the prospect of:

  • Feeling the wind in your face and the thrill of the game.
  • Seeing and reconnecting with people that share your passion.
  • Escaping cabin fever and the nightly routine of binge-watching on demand TV dramas.
  • Reclaiming your identity as a coach. 
  • Reigniting your altruistic flame and supporting people to develop as people and performers.
  • Feeling the competitive juices flowing again. 

Potentially, you may have nagging fears around:

  • Your own fitness levels.
  • The concern that you have become deskilled and forgotten everything you learned from your last coaching course.
  • The fear of getting it wrong, in relation to the COVID rules and safety guidelines, or watching all those innovative ideas you have been busy dreaming up during lockdown fall flat in the first session back.

When sporting activities recommence, coaches will still need to give special consideration to social distancing, rethink the organisation of sessions and continue to adapt in response to ongoing changes in guidelines.

Here are Rusty’s top tips to help coaches manage their fears and channel their excitement appropriately, so they can look forward with confidence to the new chapter that beckons. 

We’re all fed up of being told what we can’t do. It’s time to start focusing on what we can do. 

Rusty's Top Tips

 

To quote Paul McGuinness: Children (and adults too) will want to be ‘wild horses running free’ when they first return, having been cooped up for so long. 

But remember too that people have been under a huge amount of stress, and so may be more emotionally sensitive. So, the challenge for us as coaches is to check in with them on how they are and how they are feeling. Everyone will have had different experiences. They might have lost a loved one, lost their job, had Covid-19 or have families who are working on the front line. 

Now more than ever is a time when coaches should be understanding and connecting with people, so they recognise who has had a particularly challenging time (Our Mental Health Awareness for Sport and Physical Activity+ course has been designed to help coaches better understand and support people living with mental health problems).

Coaches are so often focused on practice and design but, especially now, our first thought should be to focus on one another. So, following on from the first tip, my second would be to pay close attention to the behaviours we exhibit as coaches. If you want the kids to have a ton of fun, make sure they see you are having fun.

As a father of two children, I can vouch for the fact my kids are desperate to go and meet up with other kids and to enjoy themselves. It’s remembering that their needs come first.

If you are a children’s coach, remember to check in with the parents too. How are they feeling? 

Help parents become accustomed to new safety measures by giving them as much information as you can about the precautions you will be putting in place, such as restrictions around numbers, drop-off and pick-up procedures, sterilising equipment and cleaning kit. That can be a heavy cognitive load. 

I think now we might see an appreciation by parents of the influence coaches have. When they see their kids’ faces light up in those first few sessions back, I think a lot of parents will be making a beeline to their child’s coach to thank them. And I think they will value the respite too! It’s been a tough time for parents, what with home schooling and bored children climbing the walls indoors after months of confinement.

A simple exercise you could use on your first session back, to help you understand your players better, so that you can coach them better, is to ask them to share an interesting fact with the group. I was on a Zoom call today and the coach who suggested the idea came out with: ‘I once danced with Harry Secombe’. I loved that. 

Make use of co-coaches so they can help from a logistical perspective – i.e. managing the arrivals and departures process and setting up equipment in observance of Covid protocols – so that you are free to concentrate on your coaching. Think about the strengths of people in your team and who could be doing what.

You have to factor in that not everyone will have kept fit in lockdown, so there will be a higher potential for injuries. People, as they always are, are going to be at different points, and coaching is about understanding which bus stop people are at. 

A good exercise to help you do that, and a playful one that children always enjoy, is the animals escaping from the zoo game. ‘What animal are you going to be kids?’ Choice is a strong motivator, and this gives them plenty of options, together with the opportunity to practise different movement skills as they ease back into activity. 

That said, I imagine as soon as the car doors open, everyone will instantly sprint full pelt all the way to the pitch, so we could have some pulled hamstrings before we even begin. And that’s just the coaches! But all joking aside, if you don’t want players to run fast straight away, then make the pitches a little bit smaller. If you’re worried about people decelerating, think about the rules of your game. If you want to slow the game down, you might choose to play with a slightly different ball.

In our rugby sessions we work in smaller groups, of four or six, and up the problem-solving side of things by getting the players to co-create ‘levels’ of difficulty with us. So, a simple example: you might ask them to kick the rugby ball into a bin. Then the next level, increase the distance, or progress to knocking something off the crossbar. Or you might give each player their own square to move around in, almost like a chessboard, so it automatically maintains the space between players. 

What we have also done a lot of in between lockdowns has been getting the players to think like coaches: asking them to share feedback with their team-mates; planning the sessions with you as a coach; giving you feedback on your coaching.

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