Learning to lead through sports coaching
My sports coaching philosophy

My sports coaching philosophy

I was asked last week to give an opinion about pre-written session plans for cricket coaches. I gave an answer that was probably longer and more complex than my fellow coaches expected. It occurred to me afterwards that the answer pretty much defined my sports coaching philosophy – and that it would probably make an ideal opening post on a sports coaching blog.

What is a sports coaching philosophy?

First, I should probably explain what I mean by a “sports coaching philosophy”, and why I want to share it with the world.

I’m talking about the values and beliefs I hold about what makes effective sports coaching – specifically football and cricket coaching. (I play golf occasionally, too, and wouldn’t rule out coaching that in the future.)

These values and beliefs form a framework that I use to guide my thinking about how I coach. This includes how I plan a coaching session – how I will structure it and what activities I will put in it. It also includes how I will interact with the children I coach – what I will say to them, what I will ask them and so on. And it will define how those things will change over time as they grow from childhood into adults.

Why do I want to share that with you? Three reasons. Firstly, I hope my thoughts are useful to others. Secondly, by writing them down I am able to clarify those thoughts better. Thirdly, and most of all, I love being involved in conversations about cricket and football coaching – and if this blog can start some conversations then that would be brilliant.

My coaching values and beliefs

The easiest way to start explaining my coaching philosophy is to quote the answer I mentioned above. It won’t make much sense on its own, but I can go back through it to capture the key points.

The answer was:

For me it’s about balancing individual player needs and individual coaches’ philosophies with universal needs and wider club culture.

In other words finding a way to help players develop when they all have different needs – we had a lad in the nets last night who’s technically very good but scared of the ball, for example – and we all have different coaching styles, while remembering that there are some things that everyone needs to work on and we want to have as much consistency as possible to ensure the transition into senior cricket is as smooth as possible – i.e. players feel like U13s, U15s, 4ths, 3rds, 2nds and ultimately 1sts are all the same club

So, what did I mean by all that?

1.    It’s not just about technique

Helping people develop at football, cricket or any sport – or any skill at all, I imagine – isn’t just about training them to have the technical skills they need to perform it.

I’ve heard it said that performance in sport boils down to being able to make a decision and execute it. That means equipping players to deal with the complete range of mental and physical attributes they will need to perform at whatever level they play at.

2.    I may not be right

I have my values and my beliefs, but they aren’t necessarily correct. There are plenty of coaches at the cricket and football clubs I work at who have more traditional ideas than me about what good coaching looks like. And who am I to say they’re wrong? Over time I just hope I find out more about what works and what doesn’t.

3.    There are some basic, fundamental things that everyone should work on

Even before I started cricket coaching in 2016 I think I already believed that players should learn a sport widely and deeply. Saying a cricketer is a batsman or a bowler while they’re still an Under-9 seems daft to me. Similarly, earmarking an Under-7 footballer as a winger or a defender or, worse, a goalkeeper is ridiculous.

They’re kids first and foremost: at a primary school age they should all be practising running, jumping, changing direction, changing speeds and thinking about what they are doing.

In football they should be practising running with the ball, receiving and controlling the ball, protecting the ball and manipulating the ball with different parts of their feet (both of them).

In cricket they should be practising throwing and catching, and learning a rudimentary bowling action, how to play a vertical batting shot and a horizontal batting shot. 

(And as much as possible they should learn those through games rather than queueing up in lines and being instructed in isolated practices or “drills”.)

4.    Have an end goal in mind

Coaching is not an end in itself. To get the most out of the experience, the coach and the player should have an end goal in mind (even if, for an Under 7, the end goal is just “having fun”). At Clifton Alliance Cricket Club, I’m developing players who one day we hope will play for the senior teams. At Rawcliffe Junior Football Club, where there is no senior section, I want to develop well-rounded  thinking, athletic adults. These different long-term objectives give context and purpose to the sessions I’m planning for this year, this season, this week.

5.    Live the culture 

I try to embed my coaching philosophy in everything that I do. That isn’t always easy, as the culture of the organisation I’m working with won’t always lend itself easily to my own values and beliefs. But my view is that I’m going to have to be authentic if I’m going to be successful – I can only be myself.

A coaching journey

These are evolving over time as I learn and experience more in both sports. At the moment I’m coaching cricket twice a week at my local club, and twice a week for the junior football club, in small groups under current coronavirus guidelines. When things return to normal I expect to resume coaching for the professional Academy football development centre where I volunteer, and finish my FA Level 2 coaching qualification. I also continue to read around the subject and listen to coaching podcasts. There’s absolutely no way my coaching philosophy won’t change as I carry on my development journey.

I want this blog to tell the story of that journey.

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