Wednesday, September 26, 2012
No, this season has been different for many reasons. Not the least of which is because we're so darn excited to play! At times I think that it would be nice to slow things down and to savour the moments I treasure with players - a chat on the bus, the brillance of seeing a player be successful in the application of a new skill, the last pass before the try, the redshirts working their tails off so they can be on the field next year, an in-depth conversation about strategy with one of my coaching colleagues - and then I think of how far away game day is and just want to hit the fast forward button.
And, man...it's only Wednesday....
Sunday, May 6, 2012
Tuesday, April 24, 2012
We had to cancel a high school game yesterday since it snowed in the morning and the weather was at about 4 degrees Celsius for most of the day. The concern was that the athletes would be freezing after doing a full warm-up and then playing the game and that the field would be torn up if we played three rugby games on it in the day. Instead, we decided to do a short, one hour practice that would get the athletes out of the elements in only an hour and would be a high intensity and fast paced practice in order to stay warm.
Brilliantly, not a lot of the athletes dressed for the weather. One would assume, I think, that since the games were not postponed until after student arrived at school that morning that all the athletes would have brought their warm rugby clothing with them. However, that seemed not to be the case! We still have some work to do on that front.
In any case, I don't get a lot of opportunity to coach the guys at the school so we just held a practice for the boys teams. Many of the guys have had only moderate opportunity to actually play and therefore have fairly limited understanding of the game due to rugby being a late entry sport. We often think that telling athletes what to do is a better way for the athletes to learn the game and so far this approach was frustrating for a number of the athletes. However, we need to trust that the players will learn as they play (experiential learning) and that we as coaches must help them recall and highlight what they have learned.
Given the weather, we had to keep the practice moving at all times. I also wanted players to leave with a few key lessons from the time they spent on the field. The two strategies I used were to keep the game moving in the down times (ball out of bounds, knock on) by counting down and to keep the team questioning conversations to VERY brief time intervals (we really talked for 30-90 seconds before going back to the game). To keep the game moving, I had to be quite verbally involved in the practice so by counting down 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and then saying 'go' the athletes weren't over-thinking what they needed to do, they were just doing it. They were also keeping (marginally) warmer!
When we wanted to make a point, we called the athletes together for a very brief questioning period where we highlighted a few skills throughout the practice. We looked at working together in support distance for offloads, working on when and how to kick strategically and how to maul effectively. All this in a 45 minute practice! That being said, I think that the learning would have been even more effective if we had had more time to question and demonstrate the parts of the whole that the players were missing.
In the whole-part-whole sense of games sense coaching, we were really only able to cover the 'whole' and really scratched the surface when it came to the 'part.' I would have preferred to have more time to repeat some of the learning in part before going back to the whole as the learning would have been more clear and solidified for the athletes.
All in all, practice was well done by all athletes even though they were fighting the distraction of the weather through the entire time. I hope that we'll be able to get some more time in better weather soon!
Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Sunday, April 1, 2012
This past weekend I had the pleasure of travelling to PEI to help facilitate a women’s only coaching course. This was made possible through a “We are Coaching” grant from the Coaching Association of Canada and provided the funding for the entire event.
We ended up with 6 course participants and had a very active and engaging session to start the day. All participants were able to coach a skill with a focus towards three goals for their session. They needed to make sure the “athletes” were having fun, to use games to coach and they needed to use a whole-part-whole approach. This group didn’t take themselves too seriously and by the end of the session, all participants had definitely had some fun. Also, all coaches ended their session with a game and spent some time in the “part” aspect of instruction.
Similar to other courses, there was some struggle with starting the coaching of a skill or practice with a game. All coaches finished their segment of practice with a game and had fun with their skills – the games are always fun! In reflecting on this, I believe there are several reasons why starting with a game was difficult for these newer coaches.
For one, most players have been coached through the system of warm-up, work on skills through drills, split to units, do semi-opposed work and then possibly finish with a scrimmage at the end. We tend to coach as we have been coached rather than by investigating more effective ways to coach skills to our athletes. It makes sense that what worked for us will work for others…and when people get more inquisitive it always helps to look elsewhere for improvements. That’s where the NCCP courses are very helpful!
Secondly, we tend to get caught up in the technical aspects of a skill. And, to further complicate this, many inexperienced coaches feel like they HAVE to focus on doing things perfectly rather than applying them to the actual game situation. What we tend to forget is that most of the time skills break down under pressure anyway…we may as well practice the skills under pressure right from the beginning. The coach can then focus solely on the key performance indicators that are MOST applicable to the situation at hand…and not feel like they have to cover every possible key point in only one practice. Also, a game allows the coach to see what key points the players intrinsically understand and therefore will not need to spend time on in practice.
Finally, those coaches who are thorough practice planners have a hard time letting things go into an “unstructured” environment. It is very difficult (without practice) to create the conditions in a game to ensure the outcome that the coach wants. For instance, you need to start with the outcome of the game that uses the skill you want to coach. Or, if you really trust yourself, you can start with any game and then simply watch for the details that need to be fixed or noted in practice. However, it takes time to make this happen and there needs to be two types of trust to do this – you as the coach need to be able to trust yourself and your knowledge and the players need to be able to trust you to help them identify the most important aspects to improvement on any given day or within a weekly preparation cycle or even within a larger macrocycle in a yearly training plan.
My thoughts here are thinking about what you want to be able to achieve by the end of practice. As a coach, we need to create these conditions in the first game activity that allow the attack or defence to be successful in their challenge – we can manipulate the attack or defence by requiring certain standards or rules to be met. Creativity always seems to reign supreme here! The more practice I have in creating these conditions, the better I’m getting in my own coaching practice. Watching others grow in the course this weekend was refreshing and enjoyable!
Saturday, March 24, 2012
Hopefully, creating the opportunity for students to ask questions, to think outside the box and to construct meaning from the connections hey make in the world around them will be meaningful both now and in their future!
Sunday, March 18, 2012
It's often been said that I enjoy reading and I've undergone a complete transformation in what I read over the past five or six years. Whereas I used to exclusively read non-fiction I have now done a complete 180 and gone almost entirely with fiction books. Several of these books can be seen to the right --> on my Shelfari bookshelf which is a neat little widget you can add to a blog. I usually have two or three of these books sitting on my bedside table, waiting (somewhat patiently) to be read. I had a very hard time narrowing the choices to only three! In the end, I wanted to make sure that the books wouldn't be chosen by their cover - they needed to look somewhat similar so that one book wouldn't win because it had an entirely different jacket design than another. That meant that Daniel Pink's A Whole New Mind was out since it's cover is bright orange and differs significantly from the books below. It also had to be accessible in Canada (sorry, Amazon.com) which meant that Character in Coaching: Building Virtue in Athletic Programs was also out. Both of these are books which I would not hesitate to recommend to both teachers and coaches and teacher-coaches, specifically in the later instance.
The three I chose for Will to choose from were mainly recent reads and the content of each book is something that I think about quite often in relation to both teaching and coaching. I've had several conversations with coaching and teaching colleagues on all of the books below related to teaching and coaching. The content provides incredible food for thought and definitely cuts into my REM sleep since putting these books down is a tough task. Below are the three books I chose:
One, Drive by Daniel Pink. By the way, Daniel Pink also has an amazing blog on all things from his books and more - it's a very interesting read and worth checking out whether you have read his books or not. Drive talks about how we should be motivated by autonomy in both business and education. In my understanding, if something relates to education then it likely relates to sport. I've found that when I have given both students and athletes autonomy in choosing what they learn and how they learn it (within, of course, the confines of the Ministry of Education or the sport season) their learning becomes almost exponential. This takes equal parts knowledge, trust, work and dedication to the task at hand. Of course, Drive talks about other types of motivation and many other parts of 21st Century learning, however, this is the one area which I feel is most applicable to coaching and teaching.
Two, The Talent Code by Dan Coyle. Coyle also has a blog filled with riveting and intellectually stimulating information. His book talks mainly about how purposeful, deep and focussed practice creates an expert. This is, of course, understating the scope of Coyle's writing, however, I believe it to be the crux of the novel. An expert, in Coyle's book, can be a teacher, performer, coach, athlete or musician. In my mind, I believe all of these professions have impacts on people that society mainly hopes are positive. Becoming an expert here can only benefit the small slice of humanity with whom each person comes in contact.
Three, Mindset by Carol Dweck. Dweck has a website called Brainology that is extremely helpful to coaches and educators. In a future blog I will speak about some of the ideas she mentioned in her book and how I used them in my classroom to promote self-belief and student achievement. In this book, Dweck talks about the two mindsets, "growth" and "fixed". The premise is that choosing the growth mindset allows a person to continue to grow though failure, risk-taking and a genuine love of learning while the fixed mindset sees learning as a chore and that one who does not need to work is successful and one who needs to work or to take risks is unsuccessful (ie, people in a fixed mindset are naturally talented). The book allows the reader to glean insight into the growth mindset through numerous studies and could even change minds about the mindset that is chosen early in life.
I'm curious which book you would have chosen...which book would you have picked and why? I'll share the final choice in my next post.
Thursday, March 8, 2012
One of my personal beliefs is that it is important for me to impress upon the players I coach that getting involved in the game as a referee or coach is just as significant as playing the game. Both Joce and Kait took this to heart and completed their NCCP Introduction to Competition training back in 2010 and were certified within the year. They have both stepped up and coached with the mini-rugby program in Kingston with the Panthers club and have also coached high school rugby. The best part of it all? Getting to watch them coach my daughter, Hannah. To watch these two tremendous women coach my daughter was to see why I coach in the first place - loving the people and loving the game.
Back to Thursday's practice - basically, the practice was entirely game sense focussed. We played, we changed conditions, we played, we asked questions and then we played again. It was great to chat about why and how we were doing the things we were doing with all three coaches and to have them contribute what we were all seeing.
Moral of the story? Coaching doesn't end when your players graduate...sometimes it's just the beginning :).
Tuesday, March 6, 2012
Firstly, it was a super experience since all three of the coaches were in a course that I co-facilitated last year. Secondly, they all did an incredible amount of learning in the games sense approach between the course and the evaluation. Finally, and most importantly, they totally bought in to a new and sometimes uncomfortable method of coaching due to it's unfamiliarity for most coaches.
The three coaches all had significantly different experiences in rugby going from one year of experiences right through to 30 plus years. They all had been coached by coaches who coached the typical way...warm-up, do some drills, finish with unopposed or semi opposed play. The typical "lots of talk by the coaches and not much work by the players" type of practice....that just isn't athlete-centred, fun or result-producing.... So, they turned the practice upside down, started with a game, asked questions of the players to set the goals of the practice and skill, broke the skill down to key points and mini practice, and then put it all back into a high intensity and extremely fun game. And, believe me, the players had fun - they were also looking forward to leaving for an overseas tour in just about a week's time. Intensity was solid and high quality work by all athletes occurred for 90-95% of the practice.
What solidified this whole experience was hearing a 30 year veteran of the game say (and I'm paraphrasing here), "This approach works. Why wouldn't I use it all the time?" And, "it's what we do in soccer...when I came back to playing rugby I went back to how I was coached long ago...this games sense approach is what we should always be doing!"
Makes my heart happy to hear this stuff. What a fabulous day in coaching!