Technical Coaching – Should coaches follow a technical model/ framework/ guidelines when teaching sports-specific skills in skill acquisition?
It’s that time again! bit later in the month this time, busy busy busy at the minute with the masters, the management role at Centralians and the podcast, but finally have had an hour or two spare to write up some of my latest thoughts.
So, anyone that knows me as a coach knows that for a long time now I have hated the idea of teaching players technical skills in a prescriptive-based practice manner. I discussed this topic with UK coach developer Marianne Davies In S2EP8 of The Sports Coaching Podcast, Marianne gave a very detailed insight into the problems of this prescriptive-based approach by following a ‘one size fits all’ technical model, and it really did get me thinking! I would encourage anyone who is reading this blog to go and give that episode a listen! (really worth your time).
Of course I have to be careful and make what I’m saying as clear as possible (I have taken this lesson from twitter!) I am not saying as coaches we shouldn’t use technical instruction. Context is key and the sport that you are within will no doubt determine this, we know that some sports are very technical focused (such as archery for example) and no doubt require high levels of technical practice.
Contrary to the common perception on me as a coach, I do not have a problem with technical based/focused training sessions (although I don’t believe they are beneficial! see my blog on tactical periodization), my problem is the coaches behaviours and actions that I see in sessions that frustrate me! Coaches using high levels of instruction and prescribing technical solutions, so that each player is ‘corrected’ to perform the same technical skill in exactly the same way!
As a young lad who started playing football at the later age of 12, I didn’t experience too much of this myself in football (although I was always told to pass the ball using the side-foot), but it was actually my experience as an amateur surfer where I really began to question why we should follow the same technical guidelines from a ‘technical model’. When I learnt to surf at 15, the ‘stand up’ technique that the instructor taught to everyone else didn’t seem to work for me, so to his credit he turned to me and said ‘just experiment, try out a couple of different ways and see if that works for you’, and I did, and eventually I was able to stand up on the board and ride the waves into the shore.
It worked for me, but fast forward 5 years later and I’m on a surf trip in Morocco, and the instructors are taking apart my technique, and getting me to start from scratch like everyone else. They were coaching me to replicate this same ‘standing up’ technique that they were teaching everyone else. What happened I hear you ask? well I failed, I couldn’t stand up using this same technique and reverted back to my own ‘created solution’ if you like. I can remember these instructors shaking there heads at me and trying to correct me, might I say with much frustration to them! Sound familiar?
As Marianne says in S2EP8 ‘why do we teach coaches to correct players technical errors compared to for example what an elite adult olympic male should look like’. You might be sat at home reading this quote and thinking ‘why not?’, Well essentially what Marianne is saying is that why are we correcting our athletes against this elite olympic male, when none of our athletes are a direct copy of this individual this technical template is based on. As we are all aware from basic human evolution, from a physical and anthopometric perspective, none of us look the same, we do not have the exact same physical or biological traits, so why do we get taught and corrected to perform technical skills the same? IT MAKES NO SENSE TO ME!!!!!
Yes we can be similar (and the same) heights, weights, shapes and sizes, perform similar (and the same) sprint times, lift the same weights and so on! But how often is it that we have a group of individuals that have the same of similar characteristics? This certainly doesn’t happen in football, our team of 11 doesn’t consist of 5 identical Quintuplets and 6 identical Sextuplets!
The other issue with working from technical frameworks is that they do not always take the context in account. Marianne makes a great point on the podcast on this when she gives the example that in equestrian, young riders new to the sport are often taught the horseride technique from the technical model based on an elite rider. As Marianne explains, the problem is that an elite rider is taught to ride the horse to maximise speed! wheras for a beginner rider, the aim is to just stay on the horse, and not fall off! So why would we teach beginners the expert model? which in this case, makes it more difficult for beginner riders to actually stay on the horse, surely that isn’t beneficial for beginners?
I realise I have started moaning about this rather than offering up the potential problems of working from a technical model. Well, I actually discussed this in a prior blog post ‘Assessing the traditional coaching approach – the effect on player development & decision making‘ where I get a bit more academically. To be brief, the main issues is that we are constraining players! we are taking away their adaptability to come up with a unique technical solution to the tactical performance problem. Instead, when we as coaches correct what we see from the technical model, and by doing this, we limit players ability to be able to deal with unique performance problems that arise in the sports they play! we constrain players! and dare I say take the creativity out of them!
From a coaching perspective, the big problem in my opinion focuses around the word ‘Judgement’, if we are not teaching technical skills from scratch (to young players), we are making judgements on technical performance based from a technical model. Futhermore, when we think about talent development, are coaches (and scouts) making decisions on player potential based on performance of technical skills against a technical model?
So should we be teaching players technical skills in sessions?
As I said earlier, some sports are highly technical in nature (gymnastics, archery, diving, swimming) and do require technical coaching, and yes, there is that question of well, were do they start without learning the technique somewhere? Quite a difficult one I admit, and again its potentially really a sports specific question! From my perspective as a football coach, a footballer and a surfer, I don’t think we need to teach or correct technique from a technical framework. I tend to think about Jordan Speith as a great example here.
If you look at Speiths technique, it is against the technical model, however, this guy won the Masters! So is their really a problem with that? It could be argued that Had Mr Speith technique been corrected to replicate the technical model for the golf drive, then he may not have achieved what he has in his career.
When I see technique that isnt by the book should we say, I ask myself two questions.
1) Is the created solution safe? yes I want players to create a solution, but not at the detriment of causing the athlete pain or injuries (may be contradicting myself here, but this is where we may need to slightly step in)
2) Does the created solution solve the tactical performance problem?
Unsure? let me give some examples,
Does the created technical solution to pass the ball in football allow the player to solve the tactical problem of maintaining possession?
Does the technical solution to perform the front crawl arm movement in swimming solve the tactical problem of minimising sprint time?
Does the technical solution to perform a certain stance in boxing solve the tactical problem to Deflect and Avoid the opponents Punches?
It the created solution solves the problem, and its safe, is their any problem with it?
So how do we go about coaching technical frameworks?
Again, difficult questions as it is potnetially really sports specific. If you have listend to my podcast, you’ll know that I often state my displeasure at ‘blocked repetitive prescriptive practice’, however, its important to be aware that I am looking at this from a football perspective. As Geraint Davies stated in S2EP11 of the podcast, sometimes this type of practice is required, and will be for some sports more than others!
To me, I tend to think about if I was teaching a group of kids football from scratch. Would we have to teach them some from of technical’s to begin with? yeah probably, maybe the basis of how to pass a ball, or how to shoot. But to me, where I think we go wrong, or have gone wrong in the past is going, no that passing solution you have come up with isn’t correct, it must be like this (see technical model). Lets not take away thier creativity or adaptability, if they come up with a different solution that you havent seen before, dont be tempted to correct it! ask yourself, is it safe? does it solve the performance problem? if yes is the answer to both, then leave it. Again for those that want a more indepth read into why we shouldn’t always use prescriptive blocked practice, check out my blog on this on the link below!
Can the same be said for other sports? Depends on the rules and the mental model. Take gymnastics, I believe on the floor they are scored on their technique, or diving for example, again I believe scored on their technique and execution. So in these cases, no blocked prescriptive practice is evidently required. But lets take swimming, does the technique need to be by the book? in my opinion as a former swimmer, no! because in swimming, the pre-lusory goal is to win the race, not to be judge on your technique! So if the swimmer wins the race with a technique that doesn’t exactly replicate the technical model, is that a problem? In my opinion, no, lets leave them to it!
In sports where winning is not based on technique, I think best to avoid blocked prescriptive practice!
But what does this look like from a coaching practice perspective?
From my perspective, blocked practice is spending a session continuinely working on a specific skill (prime example I always mention getting players to practice side-foot passing in pairs in football), that would be the Practice Structure.
The prescriptive element is the coach correcting mistakes as he/she visually see’s them, using a lot of instruction and feedback with the player to get them to replicate the skill, this would be the Coaching Behaviours.
So what do we do?
In terms of practice, as Scott Martin states in S2EP12 of the podcast ‘let them play’. As the FA is currently promoting on its coaching courses, play the game, everything is advised to be game based. This is something I follow with the Tactical Periodization approach, in which suggests that should you play the game and focus on the tactical part of the game, the technical should naturally filter through.
In terms of coaching behaviours, again, let them play. I am a big believer that sometimes the best coaching is when you stand there and don’t say anything! A bit of praise and positive encouragement for trying these new solutions, lets encourage players to be adaptable and creative, and limit our instruction and feedback on technical skills!
My blog this month you could say is more of an opinion post, from my experience in my own coaching, and what I have learnt from my guests on The Sports Coaching Podcast, and what I have learnt through the last 5 years on the Masters Course. Again, I recognise some may disagree with my posts and argue that blocked technical prescriptive practice is required, and it certainly is for some sports. But for the sports with the main aim of trying to win, to score, be the fatest ect, do we really need such a high emphasis on technical development? In my opinion, no we don’t. I think we can actually perform more harm than good, and constrain the players that we are workign with.
Hope you have enjoyed this blog, again your thoughts, questions and feedback are always welcome. If you would like to hear me chat a bit more about this then check out my appearance on ‘The Soccer Coaching Podcast’ where I talk in a bit more detail (link below).
Thanks for reading, and take care!