Why coaching education fails

Volleyball Coach

Mark from At Home on the Court a while back flagged a really interesting article which criticizes common practices in coaching education and development. In particular, it lists the “ten really dumb things we do and call it Coach Education.”

That list is:

  1. Basing coaching education on sports science
  2. Failing to align coach development with athlete development pathways
  3. Believing competency based training is the new messiah
  4. Running workshops and conferences largely based on sports science, gimmicks, fads, and short cuts
  5. Giving token attention to mentoring programs
  6. Teaching outdated periodization processes
  7. Focusing more on teaching “what” and not “how” and “why”
  8. Creating courses based on the past, not the future
  9. Allowing course presenters who lack high level teaching, education, and communications skills
  10. Too much classroom-based coursework

I’m going to speak to a couple of points of particular focus for me. I encourage you, though, to read the full article.

I’ll just quickly touch on the sports science bit from #1. The main idea to that point is that as coaches we spend only a very small proportion of our time on this area of our work (the author suggests about 5%). In other words, it’s not a developmental area that is likely to have the biggest impact on our overall ability to do a good job as coaches. This is particularly true if you are – or intend to be – a full-time coach (or at least run your own program).

I especially like #4. It’s something that as a key part of Episode 3 of the Volleyball Coaching Wizards Podcast. We had a trio of interviewees share their views about the importance of how you react to presentations at conferences and clinics, and what you see other coaches do with their teams. I would add to that the fixation in those educational venues on games and drills and other technical/tactical elements. Think “How do I fix ….?” (see You don’t need a new drill).

The mentoring point of #5 is something that was among the first subjects I took on in this blog. I think it’s a major area in need to development in volleyball coaching circles, as too many of us don’t get that kind of guidance. Instead, we are thrown into things without much in the way of direction, advice, etc.

The idea of shifting from “what” in #7 is something which very much hits home to me. I used to be a very technically focused as a coach. At some point, though, my mentality started shifting. I began to realize that what’s going on between a player’s ears was the bigger issue which definitely gets into the “why” of things.

John Forman
About the Author: John Forman

John currently coaches for an NCAA Division II women’s team. This follows a stint as head coach for a women’s professional team in Sweden. Prior to that he was the head coach for the University of Exeter Volleyball Club BUCS teams (roughly the UK version of the NCAA) while working toward a PhD. He previously coached in Division I of NCAA Women’s Volleyball in the US, with additional experience at the Juniors club level, both coaching and managing, among numerous other volleyball adventures. Learn more on his bio page.

4 comments

  1. Lately reading through the net very often leads to remarks that technical training is not that important and that the mental side of the game deserves more focus instead. I agree – to a certain degree. Taking in mind how people normally react to trends, this trend will almost automatically lead to the point were most coaches don’t work on techniques at all. But we have to find out how something works better instead of cutting it completely off the menu.

    In case of techniques I think the focus has to shift from producing robots to helping each player individually. There are certain technical problems even on the highest level which hinder a player from using a certain technique in his best way. Finding these problems is a very difficult art. Most coaches I know have problems finding the basic mistake that leads to problems with a technique. And I’m still struggling with that again and again. This is one thing that should be taught in coaching education.

    We still need to work on the techniques of our players.

    • John Forman John Forman says:

      I can’t speak to the other stuff you are seeing on the net. In this particular case, though, I don’t think the argument is that coaches shouldn’t focus on technical training when working with players. The focus here is more on the development of the coach themselves as opposed to on the coach’s team and players. As I interpret the article, the case is being made that learning more about sports science should be a low priority item in the context of the whole set of coaches’ developmental needs.

      • Okay, so probably I misunderstood what Wayne wrote. I also had some problems to tell apart when he spoke about working on techniques (motor learning) and using technical equipment for measuring etc. But probably I mixed some more articles I lately read into my interpretation/understanding of that particular article. Thanks for clearing things. I still see the problem I discussed though 🙂

        • John Forman John Forman says:

          In terms of coaches dropping technical training, it kind of sounds like reducto ad absurdum at work. 🙂

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