I think two main factors influence your coaching: 1.) your experience, and 2.) your personality.
If you are regularly going to clinics, listening to lectures and reading books, this can all help with improvement and growth. But nothing can take the place of actual coaching experience.
Whenever one of you aspiring coaches email me to ask for my advice, I always say, you to coach to get better. It doesn’t matter what level, whether it’s coaching AAU, camps or young children. It’s just as important for you to practice coaching as much as it is for players to practice for hours on end. Before playing in games, players improve in team practices or on their own. For us coaches, the game is our practice. That is what’s real for us. You can’t just teach a gym full of robots to get practice, so to gain experience, you must coach.
Over the years, I’ve learned, that a good learning experience for me are camps. In camps, no one cares if you make mistakes. Players are put into teams, and each team gets assigned a coach. It feels like a one-week mini-season. During this time, coaches gain a lot of experience from actually coaching. This includes giving pre-game talks, getting the offense set up, making substitutions, giving post game talks, and so on. Coaches even have the opportunity to get comfortable speaking in front of their team.
Also, some aspects of coaching can be learned from being an assistant coach, but others cannot. You can gain some perspective as well as experience that you can get back to when you are an assistant coach. You learn a few things that you should and shouldn’t do. For you as a coach, however, one critical learning experience is finding your voice and developing your ideas and philosophy. As an assistant coach, you usually don’t do those things because you follow the head coach.
A coach’s philosophy and voice must be drawn from the personality of the individual. For example, some coaches are quiet, while others are yellers. Some are reserved while others are animated. Some are more democratic and empowering while others tend to dominate. There isn’t just one coaching style that will work with every player and situation.
The personalities of a coach or player tend to be relatively stable. A person who is enthusiastic and engaging will coach in a similar manner. A quiet and reserved individual will have a tendency to coach the same way. Essentially, being a good person is an important aspect of being a great coach. I once asked my players what characteristics they thought great coaches had. Their answers included qualities like being disciplined, hard-working, patient, inspiring, caring, honest, respect, commitment and passion. As you can see, these qualities go far beyond someone’s hobby or profession. These qualities describe an individual.
To be honest, when it comes to sports programs, I’m not sure how I can or should teach coaches to be caring or honest. But from what I can see in my coaching community, many who are attracted to coaching have those qualities. Otherwise, they probably would be interested in a different hobby or occupation. Not too many people coach unless they are passionate about children or are coaching themselves. In fact, those lacking in all or some of these qualities have a tendency to find other ways to spend their time.
Since I believe in personality and experience, I didn’t have a detailed answer to give our coaches advice on how to become a great coach. What I did instead, I recommended that they start out as assistants and teach them by letting the watch our experienced coaches. As they continue to learn, our head coaches can start giving them some responsibility. Just simple things at first, like scouting future opponents, or running a drill during practice. When they have proven that they are capable of handling small amounts of responsibility, then they can hand more responsibilities to them. This will help them grow until they get to the point where they can run full practices by themselves. Our head coaches will observe and offer feedback once the practice is over. After our assistants can run a practice comfortably on their own, a team will be given to them to coach and be responsible for.
It’s easy enough learning the technical stuff. Skilled coaches have a good eye for the game and can see not only mistakes but also what has caused them. They also have the experience and creativity to come up with solutions to help the team or player get those mistakes corrected. That’s the toughest part to learn. I’ve got a set full of drills that I make use of, subtract or add to and adjust depending on the individuals and needs I have. The set of drills that I have is based on my philosophy and experiences. But, another coach’s will be different. I can’t just simply give another coach my drills. Every coach needs to learn how to come up with drills and methods based on their learning experiences, philosophy, mistakes, and background. This is very important to succeed.
I did mentor other coaches of providing them with apprenticeships and giving them other ways to gain experience. I didn’t give them a lot of specific advice. I did promise I would write about this and hope other coaches might be able to offer better answers than I did.
After a coach has gotten some experience under his belt, it’s much easier to help him out, since he will have a better idea of what he would like to learn. For example, after a few years of training and coaching players, I started to realize that I wanted to have a better foundation when it came to movement and training. That led me starting the blog you are reading right now. As I started training more players, and in turn seeing various effects of my training, it made me want to find out even more about learning as well as the ways that learning is effected by a coach. I never had any of these thoughts when I first started coaching. I coached, struggled and also learned from my experiences. I made mistakes. A lot of them! Then I eventually started seeking the advice, experience and research of others, and this is when I started to make progress in my coaching profession.
There are certain topics, for example, sports pedagogy, sports psychology, motor learning and biomechanics, that aspiring coaches can study to help increase their knowledge. But, that’s just one facet of coaching. Coaching also involves presentation, similar to performing on stage, acting or giving a speech. Coaches with experience learn how to improve their performance by using body language, different inflections or altering their voices when speaking. These aspects of coaching can be hard to learn by taking a class or reading a book. You need actually to do it and watch reactions from your players and coaching colleagues. I believe coaches learn the best when they need to find the answers themselves instead of being given them. Just like players need to find solutions in games to succeed and win.
You as an aspiring coach need to struggle and learn how to come up with solutions so you can improve and grow as a person.