Rowden Fullen (2010)
A number of Associations fast-track young ex-players into coaching and expect them to be immediately effective. We should however consider whether or not top athletes are the best people to be drafted into top coaching roles – many of the top coach educators are very doubtful.
In their opinion rather than exceptional athletes being regarded as having potential for coaching roles – being effectively fast-tracked through coach education programmes and swiftly elevated to high profile positions – perhaps they should be recognised as requiring extra support in making the transition to thinking like a coach, with more comprehensive input from coach education and the accumulation of coaching experience in minor coaching roles. We certainly need, they say, a more sophisticated talent identification process for prospective coaches than athletic achievement alone.
Coaching is well recognised as a cognitive endeavour, as opposed to the predominantly physical nature of athletic participation. Coaching and performing are specific and distinct undertakings and a period of learning and apprenticeship is required in each. Decision making is arguably the most important skill for coaches ahead of communication.
Knowledge and experience are crucial to the development of the coach and to his achieving of higher and higher levels. The essential problem about the attainment of excellence is that expertise and skilled knowledge cannot be taught in a classroom, not even over a number of years. Another problem is that knowledge and understanding are not transferable from one sport to another or even from one area of one sport to another.
The really experienced coach sees all sorts of cues in the preparation and movement build-up, in the stroke production and in the physical and mental characteristics, which enables him/her to be certain of how the player will perform and of which techniques and tactics are needed for future advancement. The less experienced coach does not yet have this ability (and may never have it). Ex-players for example often try to force the strengths of their own style of play (with which they are of course most familiar) on to the up-and-coming player. Also this capability is not something you can teach it must be lived. It is above all an understanding which grows and flowers in the coach over countless hours of meaningful participation in a particular sport (or other areas of life) and it is selective to that particular activity. Also bear in mind that experience and understanding is of little value if you don’t train anymore. In both coach and player areas, training is 90% of what you do.
Often unfortunately many top coaches now come from the ranks of former players. As a result although they may understand what top players need and feel, they often have little insight into what is required in the development of differing playing styles and the use of materials, or in the case of the women’s game, of the many and varied paths to the top levels. In the majority of cases most of the in-depth development of these coaches comes only from the training camps they have attended as cadets or juniors and of course what they have learned is very much dependent on the expertise and methods of those in charge of such camps and also in the continuity of the training. How many coaches in National Centres have ever actually ‘produced’ top players themselves? Few if any!
Many of our European Associations don’t seem to understand the differing roles played by the officer organising his own small area of the front line (the player doing his own thing and responsible only for his own development) and the general in headquarters administering and managing the whole war front (the coach involved with the development of a whole group of diverse players with completely differing styles of play).
To produce top players what we need is a coaching team, using a number of coaches with their own specialist skills. This type of approach will almost always lead to more playing styles and will stimulate players to be more creative and inventive. The coaching team will of course bring differing skills, knowledge and experience which will compliment one another. Another factor is to build up access to the supporting aspects, mental training, physical testing, dietary and massage and injury experts. It also goes without saying that the various team members, whether coaches or supporting specialists, respect each other’s expertise and are prepared to work together from the outset. Far too often our sport seems to engender both a parochial and proprietorial attitude towards players – even national coaches are not immune.