Philosophies & Beliefs – Can they be blind us as coaches?
Philosophies & Beliefs, every sports coach has them, or will develop them at some point in their career. Its often one of the first things we are told, to start working towards or developing our own philosophies and beliefs from our knowledge and practice experience.
The ‘importance’ of holding a philosophy has often been discussed in academic literature.
Philosophies direct the coaches planning, practice and subsequent actions/behaviours within that practice (Cassidy, Jones & Portract, 2008, P56) and are central to the climate they create (Collins et al, 2011, P21).
Several practitioners & researchers have studied ‘the elements of a successful philosophy’. Vealey (2005) suggested themes of optimal performance, optimal development and optimal experience, Similarly Martins (2004) suggested themes of winning, development & fun contribute to a successful philosophy.
Until mid-way through the masters course, I never really had any philosophies or beliefs, or any I was consciously aware of! In the first lockdown period of 2020 I sought to begin to work out ‘my coaching philosophy‘ which I split into two parts, my inner beliefs ‘developing people over players‘ and my practice beliefs ‘train the game based on how we want to play the game‘. I also developed ‘my playing philosophy’ in my first year of the masters course, following on from my beliefs of ‘creating the all rounded player‘ by ‘training and player players in all positions‘.
Check out my coaching philosophy and playing philosophy here:
As well as my philosophies, I also hold certain beliefs for coaching practice. In my first year at university I came across a paper entitled ‘Maximizing Performance Feedback Effectiveness through Videotape Replay and a Self-Controlled Learning Environment (Janelle et al, 1997). The paper discusses the use of feedback in coaching practice, and one statement really stuck with me! Something along the lines of ‘when too much instructional feedback is given, the performer becomes reliant on that feedback, therefore when feedback is reduced, performance decreases’.
My last blog discussed ‘if coaches should work from a technical framework when coaching technical skills’. This has recently formed another one of my core beliefs, I don’t believe in coaching from a technical model!
So after coming to this point I thought to myself, great! 7 years into the journey and after not having any ‘written down’ philosophies for the first 6 years, I finally hold philosophies that I thoroughly believe in!
And just like Cassidy et al (2008) & Collins et al (2011) suggest, this has directed my coaching practice process!
So whats the problem?
Well, until recently, there wasn’t one! All was going well at Centralians, the players were developing both as individuals and collectively as a team, and playing good football! Until we had our second game of the season!
Let me backtrack here a second! In the summer, I created a contextualised beta model from my playing model in which I felt would be suitable with the players based where they are at in their ‘stage of development’ (biological, movement, physical, psychological, social qualities) as well as their technical ability and current tactical game understanding. This, if you like covers both the ‘who are you coaching theme and what are you coaching themes’ of the who what how model (see figure 1).
But with these beliefs in mind, and recent research into both pedagogical approaches of non-linear pedagogy and implicit learning for one of my masters modules, I decided that this was ‘how I wanted to coach’ in terms of my practice structure and coaching behaviours. I created the framework below for this module, created from the Coaching Practice and Reflective Framework (Muir et al, 2011), and is what I’ve followed in my pedagogical practice during my time at Old Centralians.
I believe that this is a suitable framework to follow to best develop players, allowing them to be able to come up with their own unique solutions to tactical performance problems, but in-particular I thought that Implicit Learning would give our team the edge in a league where I expected would contain managers and coaches that overuse instruction. To give a brief explanation, Implicit Learning ‘is where a player learns a skill unconsciously, without instructions or rules, which leads to limited declarative knowledge (Know that knowledge) about the skill’ (Verburgh et al, 2015, P1783, Quoted in Holmshaw, 2020).
When we hold knowledge about ‘how to’ perform a skill (by learning that skill explicitly) when we get into the game, the pressure, nerves and subsequent anxiety players experience take up a lot of the brains resources. As the brain has a limited processing capacity, the brain is less able to recall information about how to perform a skill, and therefore ‘chokes’ under the pressure, and skill failure begins to occur. Whereas when you learn a skill implicitly, you don’t hold this information on how to perform the skill, and therefore, you can’t choke in the game!
Similar, non-linear pedagogy is an approach that sits within the ecological dynamics framework (you can read more than this on my previous blogs!). Through NLP, players are ‘better equipped to perceive information, adapt their actions and make decisions and interact skillfully with the constraints in the playing environment’ (Davids et al, 2017).
So, I followed the above framework for my practice design in training, and my coaching behaviours in training and in the games. How did we do I hear you ask, we lost both games! Now I didn’t think this was a problem in the first game, but the second game, being 2 – 1 up at half time, the lack of the instruction I gave the team in the game, I felt really cost us!
Why? Well what I later realised is that the players didn’t hold enough declarative and procedural knowledge about the tactical game from their collective experience (i.e game management, when to pass the ball out from the back when to clear the ball ect).
This tweet form Mark really hit home with me. The pedagogy I have been using with the team is probably more suited to players that experienced this approach in their youth, being allowed to experiment, be inventive or creative. Yet the group I’ve got, have probably experienced coaching with these high levels of instruction, being told ‘what to do’ rather than being allowed to make the decision fro themselves. Therefore, they don’t hold enough ‘declarative & procedural’ knowledge of the game, to make these decisions themselves, because they’ve never been allowed to gain this knowledge.
So, in my case, my players ‘need’ the constant instruction in games to guide them to what decisions they should make, even though this goes against my beliefs, of allowing players to figure out the decisions for themselves!
This is an example of ‘considering the needs & wants of the players’, where are they at in terms of their development, and what do they want from you as the coach?
But did my philosophies & beliefs blind me?
Well, you might be reading this and thinking ‘you just haven’t correctly considered the needs and wants of the players‘, and maybe it took me until this point to truly understand these needs and wants of the players (coaching models never specify how long this process takes).
However, pre-lockdown 1 and pre ‘me having my philosophies in place’ I believe I would have recognised this straight away, and coached the team how they wanted by meeting their expectations. pre-philosophies and beliefs, I always said before I was an ‘adaptive coach’ and didn’t have a particular common style if you like that I took with every team or group I coached!
Yet, going into this role this year, I followed these philosophies & beliefs. I certainly considered the needs for the development of my GAME model, but in reflection I was naive with my coaching philosophy and beliefs on instruction! I didn’t consider these needs and wants from the players in terms of what they needed and wanted from me!
So Philosophies, do we need them & should we follow them?
100%, I am not saying that we shouldn’t have philosophies in place! Take my example again, my playing philosphy has worked fantastically with the team, We are the only team in the league that doesn’t lob the ball forwards to the target player! The playing philosphy and GAME model has directed the entire training process and I think helped us win the games we have, play as well as we have, and score the goals we have! However, this was contextualised to the needs and wants of the players, and I think this is a key thing here with philosophies & beliefs!
This quote reflects this for me (for any reading this unsure of Collins work see the image below for an explanation). You can have a coaching philosphy that might be ‘strictness’ for example, running a team like an Army Sergeant. This might be really appropriate for participants with ERE or even PRE reasons for participation, however for those who are from a PPW group, and their reason for participation is to enhance their social life, is using these type of behaviours and actions appropriate? Probably not!
I think as always the key thing is context! are your philosophies and beliefs appropriate for the context? If so then great! if not, then maybe you need to adapt these! Of course it is philosophy dependent, in my case my playing philosophy worked a treat, but my beliefs within my coaching philosophy were not appropriate for my own context.
And at the end of the day, as much as I disagree with explicit instruction all the time, my players need it to win games, and if we don’t win games I’ll be out of the job!
As I have experienced myself, having philosophies in place are so important and since I have discovered mine, they really help to guide the coaching process, having something to work towards that guides your practice and the decisions your make. However, once you have this philosophy in place, it can be very difficult to see any other way to practice, and this is the potential problem if it doesn’t work in your context. I think as coaches we should all have philosophies in place, but don’t be afraid to adapt or even ‘go against’ your philosophy if you need to! At the end of the day, the job of the coach is all about meeting the needs and wants of the players, and your philosophy should be informed around these needs or wants, in my opinion!
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