The process of coaching is complex, it is both an individual and social construct (Cushion et al, 2003), with a multifaceted mix of meanings, values and practices. In part, this is because humans are inherently different, they participate in sport for a myriad of reasons, exhibiting behaviours and traits that are driven by their individual complex psyche. This can equally be applied to coaches, why is your coach a “coach”? Do you have an understanding of their motives, philosophy or training principles? Do you care? As a coach I hope you do.
Athletes face a challenging pathway in their pursuit of peak performance, this includes countless hours of training, rehabilitation from injuries, the stress and anxiety of training, competition and life, and external social factors. To be successful, the coach needs to have an understanding of why some athletes perform when others do not, and why some athletes are motivated to achieve, whereas others are motivated by the fear of failure. The inner workings of the athlete is crucial for the coach to understand, and develop a framework for recognising why athletes make the decisions and exhibit the traits and behaviours they do.
Encouraging and supporting athletes to act, think and behave in a certain way is the responsibility of the coach; a very challenging undertaking. Thus, the development of a strong coaching philosophy, and understanding the personality, emotional and motivational processes of each athlete in their care is pivotal to the ability to be able to positively influence them.
The coach is the provider and interpreter of the sporting experience, and accordingly the coaches’ philosophical beliefs are fundamental to the climate they create (Collins, 2011). The coaching philosophy is a model of beliefs, values and approaches that reflect the way in which the coach practices his trade, it is complex and dynamic system that is continually evolving. Through experience and learning coaches evolve, and gradually develop a greater understanding of what they stand for, and how they forge their athletes to better prepare them for the battle of competition or self-improvement.
There are many coaches out there who see this as a bit of waffle, and place not merit upon the development of their own training philosophy, but without this important foundation how can they truly develop. We have all seen those coaches out there who jump from fad to fad after read of a training set, or some new training component, placing little thought into how it fits within their overall philosophy or the long-term development of their athlete. It is these coaches who fail to engage with the philosophic concept, who do not grasp its relevance nor its ability to clarify practical problems.
“A coaching philosophy is a set of values and behaviours that serve to guide the actions of a coach.” – (Wilcox & Trudel, 1998)
A coach’s philosophy is so much more than the motherhood statement that so many sprout, little account is taken for context or constraints in these declarations, resulting in a lack of credibility and flexibility to be truly functional. Recent research with some elite coaches and their subsequent coaching philosophies by Saury and Durand (1998), indicated an acute awareness of the need to remain flexible in practice, thus maintaining the ability to adapt to changing circumstances. However this does not mean that these coaches act without principle or guiding ideologies, these coaches require a level of flexibility based on a continuous step by step tuning to the sporting and athlete context, which is embedded in deep knowledge and commitment to an established framework of behaviour.
For those coaches who are new or lack experience the development of a philosophy provides them with the opportunity to identify and clarify what is important to them, and develop a clear understanding of the framework that is going to guide their training methodologies.
If you are an athlete reading this, question your coach (if you are a coach maybe ask these of yourself), what is their philosophy? What framework and training methodologies do they base their coaching practice upon? How do they develop their long and short term plans? Do they have a model for long term athlete development? How well do they communicate with you, or you with them? What does your coach stand for? Hopefully your coach has an answer.
Weinberg and Gould (2003) state that it is the ability to motivate an athlete that separates the excellent coach from the others, however, this is only part of the coaching puzzle. The coach also requires a thorough understanding of their own coaching philosophy, for this forms the foundation for all of their decision making. What is important to the coach in terms of beliefs, values and approaches, reflecting the way in which they implement their coaching practice. Dick (1997) identified the process of coaching as “more an art than a science”, intimating that being a knowledgeable coach is of no use unless they are able to communicate that knowledge to their athlete, and developing a coach / athlete relationship which influences the athletes’ development and facilitates psychological growth.
In essence, the coach needs to be able to translate their thinking, idea, or command into athletic action in another human being. To do this successfully, they need to understand how personality, emotion and motivation drive the athlete toward successful action, or not. The coach needs to ensure they provide the environment, leadership and context to meet each individual athletes’ requirements.
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