Coach’s Role in Skill Development

We measure a coach through immediate outcomes (wins), but his main function may be in terms of his long-term influence over a player’s skill development. In “Inside the brain of an elite athlete: the neural processes that support high achievement in sports” by Kielan Yarrow, Peter Brown and John W. Kraukauer (2009) published in Nature Reviews Neuroscience, the researchers write that a coach “can prevent an athlete from falling into local maxima for immediate rewards by evaluating a local action with respect to the future goal of winning, and thereby allow the athlete to attain the global maxima with maximal rewards (value).”

Essentially, if a player picks up a basketball, he seeks the immediate reward of making a basket. However, making a basket in the short-term may not develop a skill that is useful in the long term, and that is where the coach enters the picture. The coach understands what is necessary for the player’s long-term success, and he prevents the player from falling into the short-term bad habit. As the researchers write:

“A recent study supports the usefulness of coaching by showing that subjects do not necessarily choose the optimal long-term learning strategy when allowed to choose on their own (Yarrow et al., 2009).”

Therefore, the coach’s role is to promote long-term learning or the skills that lead to long-term development, not the short-term approach. When evaluating coaches, we must remember that the coach’s role is not short-term success, but long-term development, especially with coaches of youth players. If coaches fall into the trap of a short-term approach, and players tend to choose the immediate success over long-term learning, who will enhance the player’s learning or outline the strategy for long-term success? Who will set forth the optimal approach if the coach has a Peak by Friday mentality? What coach will maintain a LTAD philosophy when parents and random Internet posters evaluate coaches on a short-term outcome?

By Brian McCormick
Author, Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League

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