Good coaches are learners. What often separates the average from the good coach is their process for continuing to learn. Research on serial winning coaches has confirmed that as well: coaches repeatedly at the top of their sport were shown to be highly curious, lifelong learners who drove success through vision, values, and environment.
The concept of learning is easy, but sometimes it can hard to implement as we get stuck in our routines. Below are three overlooked ideas that can help jumpstart your own development as a coach in non-traditional ways.
1 – Peer review
I had the chance to catch up with James Marshall last week and he reminded me of a valuable coaching tool that too few coaches use: have another coach watch you in action. Recently he invited a colleague to watch one of his sessions as a learning experience for her, but after she shared her notes he learned as much from the process as she did.
Having someone observe you gives you a new perspective on our coaching. We often get tunnel vision and focus on a few elements, not realizing gaps that appear. Having an outside perspective is therefore invaluable as it shows us how others view the session. This outside perspective doesn’t have to be from an expert. It doesn’t even have to be from an experienced coach. Simply having an outside set of eyes is enough for you to learn.
Here’s simple exercise: ask an outsider to watch your session and describe what they think the intent of each element was? Whenever I ask that question the answer always make me rethink at least one element of my session to see how I can make it fit in better.
2 – Give up control
In an article earlier this week Andy Stone talked about his transition from being an architect coach to a gardener coach. When we focus too much on the plan, we often inadvertently pay less attention to the feedback all around us: how are the athletes responding, and what direction do they go when they are given a little freedom.
I used to panic if I missed a session or two as a coach. Now I see it as a test and a learning opportunity. How does the session proceed without a coach watching over them? This gives you insight into the intrinsic motivation level of the athletes and how you can potentially improve it. What adjustments do athletes make? This is where the coaches can learn as they can get the athlete’s feedback on what they think is working the best. Even leave part of the sessions open and let the athletes fill in the blank. You’ll be surprised by the ideas they can generate.
Even when you are present, think about how you can give up control. It can be as simple as talking less and watching more. I’ve written for years about the advantages of being a quiet coach. It doesn’t just help prepare athletes better, it can help you gain a new perspective on your coaching as well. The less energy we spend on controlling, the more energy we can dedicate to learning from the environment around us.
3 – Bottom-up learning
As coaches, we like to think about the learning process as top down: we impart knowledge to our athletes. As we mentioned on this week’s GAINcast, learning can also be bottom up. Back on GAINcast 144, Frank Dick explained this in more detail:
“There are some things in life you can be taught, but there are other things you can only learn. We have to create situations where athletes and coaches are not handed a solution and are obliged to work their way through it.“
In a recent HMMR Podcast we got the Bondarchuk training group back together and that highlighted how this approach was so integral to his success as a coach. From the outside he doesn’t seem like a classically good teacher. But he lets athlete figure a lot out on their own since there are some things he can’t just tell them.
This might seem like an approach to help athletes learn more, but this then feeds back up to the coach’s own learning. Often a top down approach will not find the a solution. By switching to a bottom up approach we can find and learn from that better solution as a coach.
The takeaway: it’s about the environment
One common theme for each of these ideas is: environment. Learning is often less about action as it is about environment. The right environment inherently forces you to learn. If you want to learn, put more energy into the environment you create than you do into which book you choose to read next.