August 04

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A Philosophy of Coaching

One of the topics we focus on in our education programme, ADAPT, is the importance of analysing and developing your own philosophy of coaching. Coaching is more than just passing on knowledge and information, and it’s far more than just facilitating training sessions or activating participants. Coaching is a high-level human interaction skill, and as such one’s own philosophy will play a large part in determining how effective one’s coaching actually is.

All coaches carry out their role based on  combination of their experience, knowledge, values, opinions and beliefs, likely with most unaware that they are doing this at all. This melting pot of factors amounts to what can be described as the coach’s philosophy. The question is – do you actually know yourself well enough to understand how these elements are combining to produce your own philosophy of coaching? Do you understand what your core coaching approach and methods are?

A coaching philosophy that is well thought through clarifies many aspects of the coach’s delivery and presents a consistent and positive message to the athletes being coached. One of the strongest benefits arising from a coherent and sincere approach to coaching is trust: simply put, a strong bond of trust between coach and athlete leads to higher levels of commitment and athletic performance. It is the wise and effective coach who takes the time to think through and formalize his or her personal coaching philosophy, and is then able to analyse and improve upon it over time.

Developing a philosophy

In developing a formal philosophy we can identify three key components that helps us formulate our coaching philosophy, the aim being always to improve coach/athlete satisfaction and to achieve superior results for the athletes both in terms of physical performance and personal growth. These three components are:

  1. Knowing yourself, your strengths, weakness and areas requiring improvement

  2. Knowing your context, what you are up against and the obstacles you may encounter

  3. Knowing your athletes, their personalities, abilities, goals, and why they are taking part in the first place

Know Yourself

It takes honest assessment to admit to having weaknesses, but we do all have them. However, it’s important that we don’t let them interfere with our good coaching judgment and the only way to prevent that is to be aware of what those weaknesses are. This may require some very critical self-analysis, or analysis from a fellow coach or tutor, and it may be painful at first but the results are priceless.

Equally, by focusing on your strengths you will be able to identify consistent ways to coach that utilize those strengths. Are you a good teacher, or motivator, or academic, or communicator or a former athlete? Are you dynamic or easy going, or hard-nosed or open and friendly? By taking time to make a serious assessment of your strengths and weaknesses and evaluating your personality attributes, values and beliefs you are better able to adapt your own style to the athletes being coached. In addition, you will answer those critically important questions such as why you coach, how you actually deliver as a coach and what objectives you are trying to accomplish. Another important question to discover the answer to is how are you perceived by others – by your students, your colleagues, your mentors? It may not be what you imagine and this information can unlock whole new ways of perceiving yourself.

Self-knowledge leads to self-confidence and you want to exemplify what you say, what you believe and what you teach.

Know Your Context

As important as it is to understand what makes you tick, it is equally important to understand the confines of your coaching context. By this I mean having a solid understanding of the specific attributes, backgrounds and diversity of the athletes you coach. For example, how much time do you and your athletes have available to train, both together and alone? What is your development programme based upon, and how far can you take it by enhancing and incorporating other aspects such as training psychology, nutrition education or more sophisticated methods of technique analysis? What funding, facilities, services and equipment are at your disposal? In addition, what are the short medium and long term goals for the athletes in your care?

There could be other restrictions that will affect your coaching delivery. These can include laws or policies on safe practices, club or school rules of behaviour, space and equipment limitations, the difference between public and private realms, school pressures and other activities for young people, parental or social interference, peer influence and pressures, etc. Knowing what you are up against enables you to tailor your training programme to the specific needs of the athletes you have in your charge.

By understanding the outside influences that will affect your athlete’s training you can incorporate those that are good influences and mitigate those that aren’t. And by adapting your coaching philosophy to reflect the coaching situation you are dealing with you become more effective and productive overall.

Know Your Athletes

Communication is a vital aspect in coach/athlete relationships. You have to talk to your athletes individually to determine what their values and beliefs are, what their goals are and why they are participating – all this amounts to knowing your athletes better. Without this knowledge the application of your coaching philosophy will be haphazard at best and completely off target at worst. Remember, a coach doesn’t exist in a vacuum – a coach is made whole only by the presence of the learner, which means their needs and goals should absolutely affect your methods, choices and decisions.

As a coach you are a powerful role model and can have a tremendous influence if you and your athletes are on the same page, so take the time to get to know them and their thoughts just as you get to know your own values, beliefs and habits. Once you know and understand each of your athletes – their strengths, weaknesses, goals, abilities and skills – you will be able to develop a more effective approach to coaching them and will see far better results that actually mean something to the athlete.

Process-Oriented versus Outcome-Oriented Coaching

As parkour is not competition-focused, we cannot stress enough the importance of educating athletes that it is more important to focus on their process of development and how they perform on a regular basis, for longevity, rather than transient results or outcomes that they achieve. Elite performance in competition is almost always mutually exclusive with health, and the point of parkour is to make healthy, strong individuals who can move well now and for the whole of their lives. To be and to last is a meaningful creed, not just a fanciful phrase.

I would urge all coaches to focus on the importance and value of the process of training and not so much on the raw performance outcomes with their athletes, and to encourage the athletes themselves to take this approach. This helps to ground our training in the present, to benefit from it every day both physically and psychologically, and to see mistakes and errors as simply part of the learning process that in itself is the purpose of training. It is important to understand that jumping better is a good thing, yes, but in the end it’s simply a tool through the application of which we challenge ourselves to become better people. Train the individual not just the athlete, and you’ll have a far-reaching positive effect on people that can ripple out to everyone around them.

And, I would suggest, that’s a far better philosophy to live by.