Saturday, November 10, 2012

Assessing and adjusting during your session

How do you know if your session plan is working?  What do you do if it's not working?

It's a scary moment for an inexperienced coach.  You feel so good about your plan and reality sets in.   Players are lost, not following the drill or bored.  NOW WHAT?

We've all seen it.  A coach is running a drill.  It's not going well, so he yells, as if to force it to succeed.  Oh, it's not working still?  OK, run 5 laps then we'll see.  Still? OK, no game at the end because the drill didn't work.  What one person feels is motivation another sees as losing control of their session.

Questions #1.  What is the main objective of your session?  Hopefully it's that every player improves and enjoys themselves.

The main thing in keeping yourself ready to adjust is to realize that if a training session falls apart, it's up to you to fix, and quickly.  Remember, if you are in North America, you see these players 1-3x per week in an environment where the players are not playing much on their own.  You need to get as much "soccer" in as possible during your time with them.

There is a chance that they are not understanding your message.  Consider these points:

  • Know your players.  Is your exercise appropriate for their age?
  • Know how people learn.  Children learn by (i) seeing (ii) hearing instructions (iii) doing
  • Do any of your children require differentiated instruction.  It's OK to ask parents at the beginning of the season "Does your child have an "Independant Education Plan" at school that might help me be a better coach for them?"
OK.  First, your session plan. 
  • Have your progressions listed.  Know what you're looking for before progressing.
  • Have your coaching points listed
  • Be organized!
  • Know what you are looking for to determine if you have success.  How will you know if it's working or failing if you don't know what you're looking for?
  • Plan ahead with respect to how you can take a step backwards if the players aren't successful
  • Understand where your players are coming from before training and make sure your session plan takes that into consideration.  Were they all at a teammate's birthday party?  Are they on a 5 game losing streak? Is it the last or first week of the school year?
  • Use LTPD as a guideline to see if what you're trying to achieve is relevant to their age.
Your clues that you need to make an adjustment
  • Most players aren't "getting it".
  • You are losing their attention - consider the possibility that you are talking too much, instruction is too vague (no demonstration?), too complicated or the topic is not relevant to their age group.
  • Avoidance of a drill or stepping to the back of a line, faking an injury or cramp, etc.  Some players will avoid doing something because they don't understand it.  Watch for that and figure out why.
  • They have a look on their face that is a respectful acknowledgement of what you are saying , but doesn't make you feel they really understand it. (Reading this look takes experience)

Adjustments you can make during a session
  • Change the area size, # players or distances in that part of the session
  • Change the conditions or challenge of that part of your session.  If they can't get 10 straight passes in 5v2, decrease it to get success then move back up.  If they can't do the hurdles, adjust the distance. 
  • Look inwards first before yelling.
  • Even if you are falling behind schedule and a drill is not yet succeeding, but the players are still working and interested, don't progress to the next one.  The session plan schedule is useful, but you have the final say.
  • Change your teaching method.  Know and understand different methods such as (i) Command method (ii) Question and Answer method or (iii) Guided Discovery.
  • Move on to the next drill if it's not directly progressing from the current drill.  Re-assess later, adjust and try it again another session
  • If things are falling apart in a big way, go to your small sided game and try to add some conditions in there to bring out the topic.
Adjusting a session in progress takes experience.  You have to think on your feet and have the confidence to make the change and carry on.

Some of these points sound very obvious, but some coaches get so stuck on what's planned that they feel pressure to follow it to the letter.  As you read this you might be thinking that I am touching on session planning, or body language, or reflection, or many other topics. The answer is yes yes and yes.  Everything comes together to bring about a great session and to progress to another great session.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The importance of body language

It's not what you say, it's how you say it.  It may be a cliché, but it's very true. 

A definition of body language found on is:  a form of mental and physical ability of human non-verbal communication, which consists of body posture, gestures, facial expressions, and eye movements. Humans send and interpret such signals almost entirely subconsciously.

When a person walks into a room, you watch them and before they say a word you've already formed an opinion of them.  You're not shallow or superficial.  They've already said "hello" with you via non-verbal  communication: body language.  That is your famous "first impression" that you never get a second chance to make :)

As a coach you have no choice but to learn as much about this as anything else.

It's a very powerful aspect of communication that very few people have complete control over.  It makes all the difference when starting conversations and gaining trust. It can also be used to manipulate.

Your body language can reveal the truth that your words are trying to hide.   Or it can distort the intention of the words you've chosen to relay.

It's estimated that 85-93% of what you say is conveyed through body language, while words only deliver 7-15% of the message.  Think about that if you are trying to rally your team back into a game or getting them to pick up the pace during a drill.  Think about HOW you deliver your message.

See it for yourself in front of a mirror.  Take a sentence that you would say during a training session or game and try to say it different ways with different body gestures.  "That was a nice try", "Are you playing today?".  Try slouching, standing up straight, hands in and out of your pockets, head up/down, frowning/smiling.  Now change which word you emphasize and even add a sarcastic flare to a word.  See how the message changes.

Picture this: you're at a party, walking up to the host, shuffling your feet, hands in your pockets, with a sad look and your head down, shoulders dropped, let out a *sigh* and say in a monotone voice  "Thanks for inviting me.  I'm having a great time."  See how convincing you are.

So what does this have to do with coaching?  Everything.  It's your #1 non-technical coaching tool.  Positive body language tells your players "trust me, I know what I'm talking about".  As a coach you are trying to get the players to buy into what you're teaching.  Who wants to learn something from somebody who's not excited to teach it? 

So, as a coach, control the factors that affect your non-verbal communication:
  • Look and sound like a coach
  • Be neat in your appearance (shave, clean clothes, shoes in good repair, etc)
  • Eat and stay hydrated so you are just as fresh at the end of training
  • Eliminate as many physical distractions as possible to avoid frustrations
  • Leave your problems at home
  • Mind your posture
  • Remember who you are dealing with
  • Make mental notes/reminders on your practice plan
Body language is very contagious. And minding it not only makes you a better coach.  It also makes you a better teacher, doctor, mechanic, WalMart employee, police officer, spouse, dog whisperer, etc, etc, etc
Some resources for body language