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Posts Tagged ‘goal setting’

I’ve started a small collection of coaching books from yesteryear and continue to find really insightful bits of wisdom within them despite the game’s evolution over the years. Some of the big-picture, ethos statements – especially – have grabbed my attention, not only because of how well-worded they are, but because some are messages that we hear infrequently these days.

The latest comes from a little book – almost a pamphlet – I picked up at a used book store. It’s entitled Coaching Rugby Footballers: Some suggestions on the organization of coaching for young players (Extracted from the Manual of Rugby Union Football, Part Two).  Published by the English Rugby Football Union first in 1952 and later 1961, it kicks off Chapter 1 with this brilliant three-part objective of the game section:

General Principles of Coaching

The Object

1. The cardinal point for a coach to remember is that the game is played for the enjoyment of the players. The better each man plays, the more he will enjoy it, certainly; and the better the team plays, the more enjoyable for all of them. It is also undeniably pleasant to be on the winning side. But the game is played for fun, and nobody should be expected to play it in a state of anxiety, in the constant expectation of being criticized for errors he had no wish to make, of being told that he is “letting the side down” and so on.

2. Any coach on occasion will have to speak sternly – if he sees foul play, for instance, or a flagrant case of funking. But nine-tenths of his time should be spent in encouragement and in “showing how”. It is useless to say “Do hold your passes”; the player only wishes he could. If the coach can point out the reason why the player is dropping his passes, he will be able to be really helpful; otherwise is it usually as well to say nothing.

3. The object, then, is to promote the enjoyment of the players by bringing them to a pitch of skill at which they can play good football together, knowing what they are trying to do and how to do it. But it is not only this possibly distant goal that should be enjoyable; the intermediate stages ought to be so too. Practices and practice games can hardly be as exciting as matches, but they should never be boring.

There’s a lot of good stuff in those three paragraphs! The words that jump out for me are: enjoyment, fun, encouragement (vs “say nothing”!), together, exciting. Touching upon negative aspects of rugby that are still created to this day, I appreciate that they stress training should be free from anxiety, that a coach usually is better off saying nothing if the his (her) words cannot be helpful, and the pointlessness of criticising errors. On that last point, I think even little kids know when they’ve made a mistake. It’s always perplexed me why a coach or team mate would shout at someone for making a mistake – the player probably already feels a certain degree of embarrassment and/or lack of confidence, and anything but encouragement is sure to make him/her feel even lower!

The part that I love the most is at the beginning of the first paragraph, outlining a chain reaction of positivity and even an early model of athlete-centred coaching! Confident in abilities = happier player. X amount of players each feeling good about themselves and each other = a successful team. I think it’s important for all of us to keep this in perspective, and remember that ‘success’ doesn’t necessarily mean winning. We can only control what we have and how we go about improving upon it. What others have and what they do is out of our control, so how we measure ‘success’ must be relative – from where WE started to where WE finished, regardless of the outcome of games. Remember that, and you’ll have a happy team that enjoys their rugby. In the end, that’s all that matters.

… and if you missed it the first time, I dropped some other bits of wisdom from an old coaching book in this earlier post: https://conversationalrugby.wordpress.com/2013/12/22/wisdom-from-the-1970s/

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I just read this fantastic post on coach-heroes from Mike Davenport, a US-based rowing coach.  Here’s his great discussion on the acts performed by a coach-hero: Heroes, Zeroes and Coaching Sports

I’m not sure if I’d call myself a hero … but heroes rarely do, do they? Looking the definition Mike uses from Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth“A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.”   If it’s that simple, then maybe I am to some people?

It’s funny as I’ve often said to myself that I’ve “given my life” to this sport and to inspiring others to love it as much as I do, sort of as a way of saying all the other things I’ve given up on or delayed in life have been acceptable sacrifices. Sometimes I think it’s an excuse for missing out on other things, and while I never ask for praise, I occasionally get reminders of the absolute truth of that statement. Coaching is my calling. Helping others grow as athletes and people is my passion. I shouldn’t apologize or feel embarrassed about it.

I’m regularly trying to improve my abilities as a coach and pushing more and more toward ‘athlete-centred coaching’. I’m now two months with a new team and have appreciated that they’ve been patient with my (rare?) performance-not-results outlook, constantly demanding that they figure things out for themselves and answer more questions rather than receive easy solutions from me. I’m starting to hear those little statements that I don’t fish for, and truthfully am embarrassed to hear (God knows why, but I always respond with a sheepish chuckle, a thanks and avoid eye contact).  I’ve been hearing how the guys really have fun at my training sessions, how I’ve made them think about things no one’s ever challenged them on, and how they’re seeing improvement and feeling more together as a team. What else could a coach ask for?

I think a lot of coaches would feel they’ve ‘given’ to their sport, but heroes are selfless and I wonder how many truly are doing it for their athletes and just their athletes.  I’ll admit that I wasn’t always like that either, but can honestly say that for the past six years I haven’t really cared about results (despite winning a couple of titles one of the best seasons was a losing one because every single player enjoyed the process and felt we improved over the course of the season).  I want more coaches to be like this and am a bit of a preacher when someone dares let me talk about coaching philosophy. Mike’s scale, showing that there are way more ‘mortal’ coaches than heroes, is probably unfortunately quite accurate. In the sporting world, at least, I don’t think there could ever be too many ‘heroes’. Even if you’re not making headline-worthy changes in the lives of athletes, a philosophy focused on each individual’s development does make a small (if not large and maybe not realised until a decade later!) difference in their lives as someone other than their family and friends and caring teachers is trying to make them a better person. I wonder how many coaches have even a simple philosophy or goals that are athlete- rather than results-focused? Is that message clearly communicated to players? Do they hold themselves / are they held accountable? Is it something that’s refined now and then? I don’t think most coaches have to do as much research as I do on my sport and the craft, and their players don’t have to be tested to be future super-stars so long as everyone’s having fun. It’s a simple goal but an important one. Find ways to ensure the athletes have even more fun and having opportunities to learn – even passively, if not directly – to become more self-aware and self-confident through the selfless heroic efforts of their coach.

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There was a great question on The Huddle coaching forum recently asking how willing we are to allow players to swap positions.  The author suggested most responders said they allow changes, but given the questions / answers usually given on the forum, I think most – if not all of them will be coaches of pre-teen athletes.

I’m a bit on the fence on this issue, but because I coach teens and adults.  When I coached U14s, we really didn’t focus too much on positions specification, except at set-piece time.  And even then we’d have kids propping and hooking who’ll probably never do it again in their later years.  I was also trying to get everyone confident with passing, receiving, and spotting opportunities that I’d be happy for most to play the ball as a ‘scrum half’ or ‘fly half’.

With the U16s, however, we typically select players where they’re best suited by size, strength, ability, etc. but I have what I think is a reasonable policy on players swapping positions. I always tell the boys that they can tell us what position they want to play, but they have to prove their ability and / or commit to learning and developing abilities for that position. I’m about player development and fostering a love for the game first, so am all too happy to help a player get more out of the game – but feel that at teenage levels of play they can’t be just gifted such a swap. (If for no other reason, than for safety’s sake!) One great success story was helping a kid who’d been a hooker at U16 with his school become a scrum half and then fly half at U18 with my club team. He asked realising he was proving to be too small for hooker and having a love for open field attacking.  I was more than willing to help (maybe with a bit of frustrated-front-rower, wannabe-halfback mindset myself!), and we spent countless extra hours before and after training working on passing, receiving, positioning, kicking, timing, etc. In addition to doing a great job for my club team, he ended up playing fly half and full back at U21 club and university level as well!

For teens, I don’t think letting them make such drastic positional changes is even good for the fun of it unless they’re willing to be serious about being able to meet the demands of the position. We play so few games at the high school level in Canada as well that to do so would be denying game time to a kid who’s already been playing that position and deserves as much time as possible in it. I wouldn’t therefore want to drop those kids to the bench or move them where they weren’t happy to accommodate another kid who just wanted to try out his position on a whim.  As mentioned earlier, there’s also the safety factor to consider, especially if a smaller or relatively weaker player has a desire to become a forward. I feel that if they truly want to make the swap, they’ll be more than happy to put in the work to make it a reality. Coaches should be willing to support those efforts as our first priority should be to foster a life-long love of the game in our athletes.

If a teenaged (or older) player wants to swap, and is willing to put in the work, this has to be a post-season or early pre-season declaration so we can work toward getting him up to speed.

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I’ve recently joined the Twitter-verse and despite being sceptical before about its value, a friend encouraged me to try it out and just look to ‘follow’ people who I might find ‘in the know’ on subjects important to me.  I’ve been trying to find stuff to do with coaching and some have already paid off, with some offering interesting thoughts and others links to articles, etc. I’d not have found on my own.

One such person is a coach from Australia called Damon Emtage ( @damonemtage ) who seems to post regularly articles, videos, etc. to do with coaching across many sports.  I find this extremely useful, because sometimes I feel that rugby’s a bit behind other sports with regard to introspection and examination of the finer points of what we do.  (My first sports were American football and basketball and even at the high school level I feel I was taught more about tactics and techniques than I even see in elite rugby programs.)

One article he’s posted that’s got me thinking about the new season is entitled “Coaching Behaviours: Working towards a Greater Coaching Philosophy – An Interview with Ben Bartlett” which featured in Soccer Coaching, vol. 54 (2011).  A pdf of that article can be found HERE.  Bartlett is a regional coach development manager for the Football Association in England.  I met a couple people in this role with the RFU at a clinic a few years ago and they blew me away with their knowledge of the game and the coaching practice.  The interview with Bartlett highlights a few areas that all coaches should implement as part of their coaching philosophy and team structure regardless of level.

The highlights for me are:

1. Developing an actual philosophy and outlining a set of personal values which is shared with your team (and parents of your athletes if you’re working with teens or younger, in my opinion) so they know what to expect from you.

2. Maintaining a strong, if not total, athlete-centred focus.  In my opinion, only at the university, provincial or international level should ‘winning’ be at the forefront of one’s focus.  At all other levels, we should be encouraging athletes to enjoy the sport, learn more about it and themselves, and to grow as both athletes and people.  With my teams, we treat winning games and the league as the bonus on top of all those other good things (our ‘Dream Goals’).

3. Encouraging athletes, in the framework outlined in point 2, to take ownership for their learning and development.  Establish expectations for both athletes and coaches.  Do this with their input, if not actually demanding they create them as a team, with you there to clarify / re-direct unrealistic expectations.  These can be as simple as attendance expectations and go as far as keeping a diary to track progress.

4. Establish a professional relationship with all players to be able to track their progress and hear their concerns.  It might also be useful to bring team captains into this so that players know they’ve got several people to turn to if one is preferred over another.  This will allow coaches to know how things are going and to be able to better support / adapt / alter as needed.  Even knowing something simple as ‘For what reasons are you playing?’ and ‘Are you enjoying yourself?’ can allow a coach to know how to plan the season and training sessions to meet players’ needs.

One that wasn’t covered directly, but is a way to establish and measure the above, is to hold a goal setting session with the team.  Again, I encourage players to come up with these themselves and I’ll be on hand to help clarify, but not direct.  If they’re not used to the process, the language will be quite vague so the coach’s best role can be to chose the best wording for their input and check if all agree on it.  Their goals should be SMART – specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, and time-referenced.  I like them to set a few team goals related to performance, and then encourage units and/or individuals to set one or two (maybe an attack and defence) personal goals.

Some won’t be interested in the individual goals, and I think for club or school athletes, that’s fine.  The team goals, for example, can be measured on points scored / limited (on defence), or by tactical criteria – esp. if you’re not scoring or being scored on a lot! – such as line breaks made or tackle completion percentage.  These are difficult to keep track of, but video cameras are relatively cheap these days and there are often volunteers available among injured players, students needing volunteer hours, or parents who’re willing to operate it!

Finally, it’s important to have some meetings to check how things are going and see if goals need altering, and then the entire team should re-visit these at the end of the season to gauge success and see where to go next season.

Goals should:

  1. Have a clear definition
  2. Have justification for importance
  3. Have a clearly outlined pathway for achievement
  4. List possible obstacles and strategies to overcome those obstacles
  5. Include a declaration, preferably signed by a witness (as I feel it establishes accountability)

Attached is a sample of the goal setting tracking sheet I used with a high school team.  I’d probably simplify this next time I use it as there’s some repetition and the purpose, at this level, should be to provide some focus and accountability, not necessarily establish a professional approach (unless you have athletes who are already in provincial or national sides!)  As mentioned above, not all of my players were interested but for those who were, it allowed me to support their progress and even to incorporate their goals (as most were so general they’d be shared by others, whether they told me or not) into my practice planning.

Goal Setting Sheet

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