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Establishing a coaching philosophy

This is an excerpt from Sport Coaches’ Handbook by International Council for Coaching Excellence.

By Karen Collins

You can develop your coaching philosophy by following these five steps:

  1. Understand yourself and determine what is important to you.
  2. Prioritize your values.
  3. Identify your coaching objectives.
  4. Express your coaching philosophy publicly.
  5. Link your coaching philosophy to your coaching style.

Let’s examine each of these steps in some detail.

Determining What’s Important

The first step in developing a sound coaching philosophy involves self-reflection and understanding yourself. The key is to obtain self-knowledge. What is most important to you—family, caring, exercise, learning new things? What are your values? These questions are personal, and your answers should be as well. At the foundation, your philosophy is not about you as a coach but about your personal beliefs. What lies at your core? To help you determine your beliefs, work through exercise 3.1. First, brainstorm a list of the beliefs or values you feel are most important to you, then define them.

Prioritizing Your Core Values

Once you have completed the chart in exercise 3.1, it is time to prioritize your values. To do so, turn to exercise 3.2 and rank order your five or six key core beliefs. For example, if caring is the core belief that you rate as most important, rank it as number 1. Alternatively, you can assign a percentage to each core value (make sure that the values add up to 100 percent).

For some folks, boxes and rankings do not provide the best way to illustrate their values, and that is okay. We are free to be creative in this process and true to our own style and thought patterns. For instance, it may be easier for some of us to depict visually how our values fit together—perhaps in the form of puzzle pieces, where each piece represents a key core value. The pieces could be of similar size, suggesting similar levels of importance, or varied in size to indicate which are most important (see figure 3.1). If this approach appeals to you, consider also whether a certain piece might be located at the center to represent its importance. In this way, you can think through your values and reflect on how they fit together to form a connected, unified picture.

Identifying Your Coaching Objectives

Exercises 3.1 and 3.2 help you lay a foundation for your coaching philosophy by understanding your core values. The next step is to begin translating those values into effective coaching practice. More specifically, your values can help you identify coaching objectives, or goals for your athletes to reach. Coaching education experts identify objectives in various ways. For instance, Vealey suggests balancing a triad of objectives: optimal development, optimal experience, and optimal performance.1 Martens refers to similar objectives in different terms: development, fun, and winning.5

A coach should reflect on how to define and prioritize these objectives based in part on the level of sport involved. For example, sport educators can spend hours debating the importance of winning. At what age or level is it appropriate to focus on winning? No single answer exists, because winning is defined in a variety of ways. A U6 youth soccer coach might define winning not in terms of final score but based on whether her team consistently dribbles the ball in the right direction. Similarly, an age-group club swim coach might define winning in terms of whether the majority of his athletes achieve a personal best by season’s end. In contrast, a coach in an NCAA Division I sport program might define winning solely on the basis of the scoreboard.

It is equally important to determine how one will put the objectives of development and fun into practice. Fun for a high school varsity softball team might involve allowing the athletes to choose their favorite drill, whereas fun in high-performance international sport likely depends primarily on winning in competition. The coach’s beliefs and principles regarding these objectives exerts a strong influence on how they are defined and interpreted by athletes.

Objectives are often identified for coaches and participants by a sport organization. For example, Sport Australia (formerly the Australian Sports Commission) provides various guidelines ranging from starting at the grassroots level and creating an inclusive environment to the elite level of creating national pride and international success.6 Another classic example of prioritizing beliefs and principles can be found in John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success.7 Based on his core philosophy of being a teacher first, Wooden provided the building blocks to help his athletes reach competitive greatness.

In all cases, developing good coaching objectives depends on prioritizing them according to the core values that underlie your philosophy.

Expressing the Philosophy Publicly

Articulating your core values and using them to inform your coaching objectives enables you to create a sound working coaching philosophy. Therefore, it is good practice to make a list of your principles and objectives, present them to your athletes and their parents (if appropriate for the level) at the start of the season, and remain true to them at the first sign of adversity. Table 3.1 provides examples of working philosophies in the words of great coaches. Exercise 3.3 provides space for you to write your own coaching philosophy statement.

Linking Your Philosophy to Your Coaching Style

Once you have engaged in self-reflection and thought about how your core values inform your coaching objectives, the next step is to consider the implications for your coaching style. Your style should be a direct reflection of both your philosophical beliefs and your personality. Our truest selves are revealed when we face tense or adverse conditions in coaching. For example, if you are usually laid back and communicate calmly with a high level of information and clear instruction, your athletes have grown accustomed to this behavior. If you suddenly become frantic when the game is on the line and communicate ineffectively, then you are doing your players a disservice.

In fact, consistency may be the most important component of one’s coaching style. Athletes are more at ease, and thus perform better regardless of level, when they know what to expect from their coach. Consistency in style—expressed through both words and actions—helps build credible coaches.

More Excerpts From Sport Coaches’ Handbook



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