Is the Goal of Coaching to Educate or to Train?

I am preparing to teach a class on constraints-based coaching, and spent the weekend looking at different online videos in order to “flip” the classroom. I have returned to the video below several times because of one of its early points about education and training.

In sports, these words are used almost as synonyms. Coaching, teaching, and training are used without much thought to the differences between them. The video offers an interesting thought: education (teaching) and training are not synonymous. Training is a “reductionist goal; it’s aim is to refine an existing action.” Education is an “expansive goal; its aim is to increase the number of potential actions.”

The video asks: Which direction to take: get better at something that already exists or learn something new?

That is such an important point in coaching. What is a coach’s purpose? In some ways, there is the existing thought that “players are made in the summer, and teams are made in the winter.” With this line of thinking, coaching errs more toward training, as the goal is to refine the actions for performance. This makes the off-season the time for education, or increasing the number of potential actions.

Interestingly, we refer to coaches who do the training during the season as “teachers”, and refer to the trainers who do the educating in the off-season as “trainers”.

This offers another interesting point for trainers: are trainers or individual skill coaches training players – that is refining skills that are already there – or are they educating players by developing new skills or potential actions?

In the current basketball environment, where does the education occur? During the competitive season, the appropriate method probably is training, the reductionist approach where the goal is to sharpen the existing skills. However, if the competitive season runs year-round, as it seems to do now, when does the education occur?

From another perspective, rather than looking at periods in the season, one can look at periods in the overall development of a player, or the age groups. Younger age groups should be about education, as coaches increase the potential actions for players. Oftentimes, children’s growth is impeded because of a reductionist approach at a young age. How many coaches tell a 10-year-old post player not to dribble the ball? Is that a training or educative environment? At 10 years old, what should the environment be?

Winning and losing often turns a developmental or educative environment into a training environment, even with young players. The easiest way to win at a young age is to constrain players through external oversight. That’s why you hear a lot of youth coaches saying “don’t dribble,” “don’t shoot from there”, “pass to jimmy”, etc. Rather than create an expansive environment that likely leads to experimentation, mistakes and turnovers, in the process of growth, the coach creates a reductionist approach where he attempts to eliminate potential actions that could result in mistakes and turnovers, like the 10-year-old post player dribbling.

There is an interesting dichotomy. Are you training players or educating them? If you’re engaged in training, when does the education of the player occur?

By Brian McCormick, M.S.S., PES
Coach/Clinician, Brian McCormick Basketball
Author, Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League

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