Recently I had the privilege of helping teach a coaching course at my university institution to eighty students, most of which had never coached before. Not only was it (hopefully) a valuable learning experience for the students, it was also a great learning experience for me and my development as a coach. Across the course, the students adapted well to the teaching methods of the course. However, a few common mistakes could be found in nearly every single session that the students delivered. As a result, I have developed this list of the most common mistakes coaches (not just beginners) often make. This list should be a helpful reminder to all coaches on how to be better in their roles and ensure participants get the most out of their experience.
1. NOT DEMONSTRATING
Many coaches make the mistake of simply explaining an activity or game without demonstrating. Not only does the explanation eat up time and cause participants’ muscles to cool down, it also doesn’t do the best job at painting the picture for all participants. Demonstrations are the best way to ensure that all participants get a clear picture as to what they are supposed to do. Not only should the logistics of the activity be demonstrated, rules, boundaries and method of scoring should also go into the demonstration. Participants should also be actively involved in the demonstration, as the ball (or other sporting tool) moves.
2. NOT PAYING ENOUGH ATTENTION TO SAFETY
Coaches sometimes get so caught up in what they are doing next, what their players are doing and how they can intervene/give feedback, that they neglect to fully look after safety elements. Things like loose balls, equipment, doors, benches, etc. need to be looked after. Ensuring the participants take off any jewellery and that they have the proper equipment is also an essential element to consider before the start of the session. As coaches or sport educators, safety needs to be one of our absolute top priorities, but far too often gets pushed to the side.
3. RELYING ON “DRILLS” & NOT ENOUGH GAME TIME
The best way to learn the game of any sport is to simply play the game. Recently there has been a shift away from a “drills-based” approach in coaching to a games-based approach. One of the key things that I challenged the students to think about throughout the course is how they could make their activities more game-realistic, or if their activity was even worthwhile in comparison to simply just coaching through playing the game itself. The old model of coaching would suggest that “drills” (which I told the students were only for their dentists and Home Hardware) like skating in circles or dribbling through cones help athletes learn the basic techniques and skills of the game. But is this really true? Is dribbling through cones game-realistic? Can they not learn those same dribbling skills by playing the game itself and having the coach intervene at key moments? Absolutely they can. That way athletes are able to directly apply their learning to the game, and have more fun in the process. Coaches need to understand that athletes play the game for the game! As a result, our practices need to be as game-realistic and involve as much game time as possible.
This also includes warm-up activities, in which many coaches neglect to incorporate the ball or game-realistic elements into and opt for a “lap around” or isolated dynamic stretching instead.
4. ELIMINATION GAMES
One of the things that I kept harping on about in the course was my disdain for elimination games. Yet they kept on popping up nearly every session. Elimination games are bad for many reasons. First of all, elimination games do not give every athlete an equal chance at succeeding because they actively punish athletes for not being as good as their peers. Who in an elimination game is going to be out first? Usually the ones with the least amount of ability. And arguably, who needs to practice their skills most? The ones with the least amount of ability. So again, this does not give every athlete an equal chance to succeed.
Secondly, in some elimination games when participants are “out” they are simply told to stand off to the side, sit down, or wait for their more talented friends to finish the activity. Again, this does not allow participants the opportunity to actually practice their skills and learn, which is what practice is for! Finally, elimination games are often not game-realistic and often involve every participant with a ball, which can create unnecessary safety hazards for the participants. I think elimination games can be useful for engaging very young children, but only if when they are eliminated, they aren’t actually eliminated. If in ‘Octopus’ for example, they get their ball kicked away and they simply go and get their ball and try again, that’s fine for younger kids. But ultimately, you can challenge your participants in far better, more game-realistic ways than eliminating them in search of the very best.
5. NOT GATHERING EVERYONE’S ATTENTION BEFORE SPEAKING
The fifth and final mistake coaches often make is failing to gathering the attention of all participants before beginning to speak. If you don’t have the full attention of the participants, it only takes more time for them to learn the game or activity and more time for them to achieve the intended outcomes. It is very important for the players to be paying full attention to the activity so that they can understand all of its intricacies and so that they can remain safe. But this is not only the athlete’s responsibility to listen, but the coach’s responsibility to get the full attention of the participants before explaining and demonstrating. Coaches should also be mindful about their coaching position when explaining, ensuring that their back is not turned to participants and that every participant can see what they are attempting to explain.
So there it is! Five common mistakes that coaches often make in their everyday practice. Be sure to check out more Coaching articles before heading out.
Thanks for reading and see you soon!
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