Elite Coaching Trends

The United States Olymic Committee published an article on elite coaching and its trends based on interviews with the various national team coaches (Olympic Coach Magazine, winter 2008).

The article found that:

experience overwhelmingly remains the major way that coaches develop a coaching style, followed by modeling or observing successful coaches. Those two methods alone account for over 87% of a coach develops their coaching style.

If experience is the major way one develops a coaching style, how does one get experience? That is always the question. If you don’t have experience, how do you get hired to get the experience? This study suggests that a coach who has been a Head Coach at a lower level might be the better choice over an assistant at the same level; for instance, hiring a high school head coach over a college assistant for a college job. But, that never happens. However, if developing a coaching style requires experience, then that college assistant is learning on the job as a head coach making a huge salary and there is no guarantee of success.

Does this mean there are better ways to hire coaches? Does it suggest that maybe there are other, better ways for developing a coaching style, though nothing fully replaces experience?

As the article says:

If this is a tendency for young coaches as well, it raises an important issue for future coach development. Can we only hope that the young coach has a good coach to learn from or had a good coach as an athlete? The old adage of “you coach how you have been coached” is an area that coaching education may need to address.

I often argue against the “follow your mentor” approach because coaches blindly do what they have always done without thinking about why they do it. The way we teach certain things becomes the absolute way to do it whether it makes sense or not just because so many coaches do it a certain way.

In terms of body of knowledge, coaches ranked the following three at the top:

1. Skills of your sport
2. Strategies of your sport
3. Teaching of Sport Skills

Apparently knowing the skills and strategies is more important than being able to teach the skills. As for areas of study, coaches studied:

1. Skills
2. Sport Psychology
3. Strategies
4. Biomechanics
5. Physiology

At an elite level, I have to believe you know the required skills. For instance, I understand basketball skills. I do not spend any time, really, studying basketball skills. I study physiology and biomechanics to find a better way to perform the skills or train athletes. In an effort to find a better way to do things, I study outside basketball to incorporate that learning into my basketball background to improve my teaching and training. This gives me greater creativity in my teaching, as I am not beholden to basketball drills. Last week, to teach a concept, I used an old soccer drill. If I had read through more basketball literature, I would have done the same basketball drills. However, the players loved the new drill and it worked in our next game.

The end of the article offered a list of 20 additional insights of attributes and skills important for coaches, which I found interesting:

1. Ability to instill belief/trust/confidence in athletes
2. Big Vision, balanced by ability to set and adjust goals
3. Care about others more than self
4. Perseverance and a sense of humor
5. Attention to skills development of athletes; tailored to athlete needs
6. Precise training techniques and coaching on a daily basis
7. Ability to filter
8. Problem solving orientation
9. Ability to observe without judgment
10. Desire to improve through knowledge
11. Quality Decision makers under pressure
12. High level of integrity and fairness
13. Ability to multi-task with equal amounts of high energy
14. Knowledgeable and with an ability to transfer knowledge simplistically
15. Focused on the process
16. Creative, open minded to new ideas and approaches
17. Having thick skin
18. Flexible, but decisive
19. Excellent instructional skills, ability to deliver messages
20. Understands critical zone training

Maybe in the hiring process, or coach development process, we need to develop a matrix or test which demonstrates these qualities. In one of the management books I read this year, it talks about how the best managers hire for talent, not experience. However, another book suggests that managers conducting interviews rarely come to a consensus on the best choice. If the best managers hire for talent, but struggle to agree, how can we develop a better way to hire coaches which involves measuring for talent? Typically, coaches get their first jobs based on their playing career, which proves very little about one’s aptitude as a coach. Once a coach gets his foot in the door, its basically connections and recommendations by someone of influence. Rarely is coaching talent measured or considered. These recommendations possibly offer some thoughts as to a better way to hire a new coach.

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