This year I had the privilege of helping teach a coaching course at my university institution. The experience was absolutely amazing and better than I could have ever hoped for before beginning the course. Not only was it (hopefully) a valuable learning experience for the students, it was also very much a great learning opportunity for me. Here are five things I learned from the teaching experience.
1. EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING IS KEY
I’ve always been a major fan of experiential learning. I believe that the most valuable courses to me in my undergraduate degree were the ones where we were actually given the chance to go out into the community and learn, rather than sitting in a classroom learning the various definitions and terms related to. A few years ago I took an entire course on Event Management, without managing or organizing any real events. On the other hand, my Leisure and Community class was amazing because we got to go out into the community and experience what it was like to raise money for a local charity in the community.
I strongly believe the majority of the students in the course I taught this semester got more out of (and enjoyed) the practical sessions where they had the opportunity to coach in front of their peers more so than the seminars. I think seminars and lectures can be super valuable to students, but I think it’s also great that the students in this course were given so many opportunities to lead and apply the different concepts that they had been learning in class into real life situations. I heard from many of the students that they wished both days in the week were practical sessions, which having led that portion of this course, I was very happy to hear!
2. STUDENT INPUT IS VERY IMPORTANT
A lot of professors that I had in my undergraduate degree made the mistake of designing courses in ways that suited their needs more than the students. But I think student input is so crucial to the success of a course, ensuring students get a meaningful experience out of the class. Having the opportunity to talk to the students on a regular basis, they would often tell me things that they were not happy with or that they thought would make the course more enjoyable and better. Although I learned to be careful not to take students’ excuses for granted, it was very clear to me just how many great ideas they had on how to improve the course. Hopefully these students will all fill out their course evaluations and the department will be able to use that feedback to fix what needs fixing! If not, I think we really need to take student input more seriously. After all, the courses are for them, not for us as teachers, professors or institutions. It’s the same thing for coaching, where athlete input and intel is so important. The athletes should have a level of involvement in their learning and enjoyment within our programming and we need to remember who we are coaching for.
3. EFFORT > INTELLIGENCE
I think that intelligence can go a long way in university. But ultimately, the students who work the hardest tend to do the best. Students are absolutely obsessed with grades. Still being a student myself, I was not surprised whatsoever to see the obsession with grades from the students in the course. But I think what cannot be forgotten is that the students who put the most thought into their work and take the time to prepare and reflect on the themes of the course are the ones who do the best. Achieving high grades is not necessarily down to intelligence as much as it is about the effort put into the course. Unsurprisingly, I was able to see first hand that students who came to class more, simply did better in the course. This is the same for coaching, where you can always tell which athletes practice on their own and can visibly see the improvement of players who attend more practices and games than the ones who do not. How we keep players and students motivated to put in the effort is another question. But I believe the first two things I’ve listed above can be helpful to ensuring students continue to enjoy the course and are motivated to continue putting in the effort. In moments where students were unhappy or felt like they’re input was not being valued, a drop in the effort that they put into the course was evident.
4. IT’S REALLY HARD NOT TO BE THEIR FRIEND
It’s been a while since I’ve had a regular role as an assistant coach. Something I remember from those early days of my coaching career is that players tend to favour the assistant coach more than the head coach. The head coach has to be a bit tougher on the players and in charge of establishing rules, boundaries and many tough decisions that players (and their parents) might not always agree with. The assistant coach on the other hand can have a bit more of a relaxed role at times, just getting to have fun with the players and spend more time bonding with the athletes. I found this to be true in my role as a Teaching Assistant, having a secondary role to the main professor of the course. Even though I was fully in charge of all “practical sessions” in the course, many of the students looked at me as almost like a friend more so than a teacher, and someone they could vent to and have more real life conversations with. I remember my favourite teachers in high school and university were the ones that actually took time to get to know students and were able to joke around from time to time with the students. Due to my personality and my desire to just constantly help people and connect with them, it was very hard to not overstep my role. Even though I wanted to be the students’ friends, I had to be careful. I wanted to bond with the students and ensure they were having fun like my favourite teachers did for me, but I had to stop myself from being too much like a friend and ensure I was maintaining my professional role.
5. BEGINNER COACHES OFTEN MAKE THE SAME MISTAKES THEIR COACHES MADE
There are a lot of things in the coaching world right now that are becoming a bit outdated. “Drills” that have athletes waiting in lines, elimination games and punishments are all (hopefully!) being fazed out in favour of games-based learning approaches and atmospheres that favour autonomy, competence, relatedness…and fun! A lot of the students in the course often reverted to things that their coaches did when they were playing sports, making the same common mistakes each and every week such as the ones listed above. At first it was a bit difficult to get them to get away from these common mistakes and challenge some of these ideas, particularly elimination games. Elimination games like “Octopus” and “Marbles”, or the popular basketball activity “Bump” were used no matter how many times I challenged their conceptions of these activities and encouraged them to coach through playing the game itself. To me, this highlights just how important role models in sport can be and that coaches often want to emulate what their coaches did, without recognizing the faults within what their coaches did. Beginner coaches should recognize that they don’t have to come up with the most elaborate, creative activities and that coaching isn’t about the designing of an activity, but instead about how the coach teaches, how they interact with the athletes and how they intervene and give feedback. That’s what coaching is all about!
So there it is! Five things I learned from teaching a coaching course. Be sure to see more of our Coaching articles before heading out!
See you soon and thanks for reading.
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