The art of carrying out the perfect demonstration is an underrated skill, often neglected by coaches in the quest to get the activity going as quickly as possible. What coaches often don’t realize is that by not demonstrating, and by not demonstrating properly, they are wasting time as players are thrust into an activity without having a clue as to what they are supposed to do.
Over the course of the past year, I have been very lucky to hold the honour of mentoring other coaches in their roles. So far in 2020, I have begun a role as a Technical Leader of the community soccer club in which I began my coaching journey with, and led the in-person component of a university level Coaching & Leadership course for four hours a week over three months, teaching and mentoring over 75 students in the process. Across both experiences and reflecting upon my own journey starting out seven years ago, the most gigantic of all takeaways that I have had is that the number one thing coaches struggle with at the start of their journey is the art of the demonstration. The demonstration is probably the most critical component to any activity or game in a practice session, yet many forget about the necessity of the demonstration or neglect to realize a) how important it is to raising understanding and painting the picture for the players and b) how many crucial steps there are to an effective demonstration. As a result, in this article, I will break down every element to a perfect demonstration in helping coaches better paint pictures for their players.
Why we demonstrate
I don’t remember much about my first year playing competitive hockey. But for whatever reason one very striking image always stands out in my mind. It’s the image of a player at the front of a line, listening to the explanation of what they are supposed to do for the activity (which the coach would have undoubtedly called “drill”), and making the cheeky decision to skate to the back of the line instead. Why? Because the coach did not demonstrate exactly what the player was supposed to do. So the player felt afraid, and went to the back of the line because they wanted to see other players do the activity before their turn. Rather than having the chance at skating in circles or whatever we were supposed to do an extra time, the player decided to sacrifice their own chance at going first, so that they could see it in action before participating.
The moral of the story? It is very hard for a player to imagine every step of what they are supposed to do while listening to you explain. Instead, coaches need to demonstrate any activity or game, while explaining. We need to paint the picture for all players of exactly what we are doing. Otherwise we are like Picasso, with the players standing there confused about what the artwork is really about.
Quite simply, demonstrating saves you so much time. I remember one of my students in the Coaching & Leadership course challenging me on this notion. “But doesn’t it just take more time if we have to explain and then demonstrate?” The answer: No. Because you do both simultaneously. Don’t waste any time explaining the activity without getting the ball (or whatever equipment you are using) moving and the players themselves moving in the demonstration. My coaches may think I am crazy, but I have told them I would even rather have a silent demonstration than an explanation with no demonstration. Not only does it save time for learning; it also saves you time from having to answer a thousand questions before the activity begins.
Now with that, here are the crucial elements that go into a perfect demonstration, with some steps to match.
STEP 1: GET THE PLAYERS IN THEIR POSITIONS
Obviously there are some exceptions to this. Younger players (6 and below in particular) listen better when you bring them closer to you rather than scattering them all over the place and then trying to speak. But for the most part, players will understand the activity better that you are trying to demonstrate, when you get them into their positions of where they are supposed to be right away. This could be as simple as “Find a diamond shape! Can you make your diamond shape as big as possible? We have to the yellow boundaries. Which team can find their diamond shape first?” Now we have our players in their positions. Now we can demonstrate the activity. But what about activities that involve lines? Throw them away.
If you know your players really well or your activity design involves set starting positions, you can (and should) also tell your players exactly where you’d like them to be on the field to get to the demonstration even faster.
STEP 2: GET THE BALL MOVING
This seems obvious…of course in any demonstration you need to get the ball moving! But exactly what elements of the activity/game are you showing when you get the ball moving? Sometimes coaches miss some of the most crucial elements that make the activity function well, by sticking to what the players need to do in order to achieve their target of scoring a point. For example: “In order to score, you need to pass to the target player and finish on a one-timer.” That is great, but we also need the part about the build-up. How are we connecting? In what shape? What are some key factors that will help us score better goals on a more frequent basis? What does the defending team do if they win the ball instead? These are all questions we need to be asking ourselves as we demonstrate.
So with that, below are all the critical components that you need to show when you get the ball moving in any demonstration. I will also give examples of exactly what I would say in the explanation of my demonstration for each step so even though it is written as an explanation…picture me demonstrating!
1. WHAT ARE WORKING ON? – The nature of the activity. What are we doing? What topic is the activity focused on and what are the key factors to success?
Example: “I need green over here (point), white over here (point). I need both teams to get into a diamond shape. Who can find their diamond first? Green, can you make your diamond bigger? We have to the yellow boundaries. Okay perfect. Today we are working on what? (players answer) That’s right. We’re working on Support in Attack. So in this activity, we are working on our movement off the ball (begin to demonstrate while using the players) working the ball within our diamond shape and trying to score on net (score on net).
In probably under fifteen seconds, I have now been able to get the players in their positions, get the ball moving in their positions, and touch on key factors while getting the ball moving. Now I move onto the scoring method.
2. WHAT IS THE METHOD OF SCORING & HOW DO WE ACHIEVE SUCCESS?
Methods of scoring can range from a net, a target player, a certain number of passes, running with the ball into a zone, etc. It is important that we don’t just explain this and expect them to get it. Show them. Why? Because in the process of showing them how and where to score, you can also show them exactly how to achieve the level of success that they need in order to score more often (i.e. what are the key factors). In the imaginary example above, I used movement off the ball and the team’s diamond shape as I showed them where we were scoring.
Example: …Working the ball within our diamond shape and trying to score on net (score on net). If the defense wins the ball (pass ball to other team) same thing, they work the ball in their diamond shape, attempting to move off the ball away from the opposition defenders, scoring on net (demonstrate exactly that as the ball moves one step at a time aligned with what you are saying).
Sometimes you won’t need to have the defenders demonstrate what they do if they get the ball. That is IF, it is the same as the team you have already used in the demonstration (the attacking team). If it is different, demonstrate again their method of scoring/their goal or desired outcome. In total this part should be done in no more than fifteen seconds again.
3. SAFETY & RULES
Is there anything players need to know in terms of safety? Do they need to keep their head up to avoid running into other players? If so, demonstrate. If the ball goes out of bounds is it safe to go and chase after it? If not, demonstrate what you are going to do instead (kick a new one in). For most activities, you will not need to demonstrate safety. But always think about if there is something important enough that is worth discussing and demonstrating beforehand.
Finally, are there any specific rules to the activity? Is there a specific condition? (i.e. if your defender scores a goal, it counts for two). Demonstrate that. (Or add it in later, to not overload the players with information). Then are there any specific rules or restrictions? (Hopefully no restrictions). But if so, demonstrate that.
If your activity has so many rules that this part takes more than ten seconds, that’s already a red flag. Rather than overloading them right away with all the ins and outs of the rules, you can add them as progressions once they have a better understanding of the activity. If there are no extra rules to the activity, there is always one final rule that you need to demonstrate, which I like to reserve for the final component of the demonstration…
4. WHERE ARE THE BOUNDARIES & HOW DO WE RESTART PLAY?
Any game or activity has specific boundaries. You can simply just point to the boundaries and have them see it that way, since that should be a clear enough picture. But you should also allow players to understand not just where the boundaries are, but what they do when the ball goes out of play. For example, on a matchday with an 11v11 team, we do throw-ins. But in practice, we are always working in much smaller quarters doing small-sided games. A lot of the time as a result, we will use kick-in’s or other methods of restarting play such as restarting with the goalkeepers (because everything is rooted in playing out from the back). So it is important for the players to see that visual picture of what they are to do when the ball goes out, to cut down on wasting time, confusion and questions.
Example: If the ball goes out of play (lightly kick ball out of play), we will always restart with the goalkeepers, who will pass the ball into their team (point to the goalkeeper and have them play the ball in). The goalkeepers will always have balls in their nets to aid in that transition process (point to the balls).
Again, this part should take between five-ten seconds, no more than fifteen. In total now, you will have gotten in all of the important components of the activity in under a minute, without wasting any time.
sTEP 3: CHECK FOR UNDERSTANDING
I have mixed feelings about whether or not to ask if anyone has any questions at the end of the demonstration. On the one hand it can be a major time killer and open up a can of worms as players delve into the craziest scenarios of “Well if the defender has the ball like this, and the midfielder is here, can the goalkeeper do this?” On the other hand, it can be valuable to know because if you have demonstrated well enough, you shouldn’t have any questions…except for the one kid who always asks random things (you know the one).
So after you’ve completed all four of the components of a perfect demonstration (1. What are we working on? 2. How do we score? 3. What are the rules? 4. Where are the boundaries and how do we restart play?), simply play the ball in and check for understanding as you watch the activity unfold. In the first few minutes, you are not looking for moments to stop play and make interventions. Instead, you are checking to see if the players understand the activity. If many of them are struggling with something pertaining to the logistics of the activity (i.e. comprehending a rule) then you stop play and demonstrate that specific concept again. If it’s just one player, you can always talk with that player individually when the ball is out of play, to keep the game flowing for everyone else. Once you are confident that the players understand your activity, then you can begin to think about adaptations (i.e. rule adjustments, conditions to achieve your desired outcomes, field size adjustments) and interventions (i.e. what, how and who you are coaching, and potential stopping moments). Who you are coaching meaning – the attacking team or the defending team? Which players are most involved in the topic? Where on the field do those players operate?
If you can do all of that, you will be a next level coach. So just to recap…the four essential elements of a perfect demonstration are…what? (cue crickets).
1. WHAT ARE WE WORKING ON?
2. SCORING METHOD + TIPS FOR SUCCESS
3. SAFETY & RULES
4. BOUNDARIES + METHOD OF RESTARTING PLAY
I know the act of demonstrating seems simple, but if we don’t touch on these four things, players will almost always be left wondering and wanting to see more. It is important that coaches spend more time thinking about how to properly demonstrate their activities so that they can maximize learning time and minimize explanation time.
Thanks for reading and see you soon! Be sure to share your thoughts in the comments or on Twitter @mastermindsite.
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