‘Whenever I take lessons, the coach always comes with their agenda.’ This is a typical comment of many club players taking lessons. How can a coach balance giving students what they want and what they need if those things may conflict?
We can categorize how coaches convey their message into two distinct ‘communication styles’, directive and cooperative. Coaches tend to choose a style based on their history (how they were taught) and their personality. However, using both styles is required to adapt to the needs of the player, and to best fit particular situations. Let’s place them on a continuum in relation to a player’s learning process and explore each one.
In this style, the coach says what is going to be done, how to do it, identifies the problem and gives the solution. The coach is the master. The role of the coach is to use the coach’s experience & expertise to make the players perform correctly by getting them to do what the coach says. Feedback is typically in the form of ‘prescriptive’ instructions (e.g. “Do this, Don’t do that”, etc.) The coach owns the learning process and the player has little power or input.
- This style may get players to respond quicker initially.
- For players who have no idea about what they need, this style can get to key issues quickly. (This can often be an advantage with starter players)
- If a player is unfocused, being directive may help them get back on track.
- A coach may be able to minimize management time with younger children by simply telling them what to do and when. This is an advantage when getting activities up and running.
- The majority of players will only make short-term changes with this approach. For example, they may do the movement the coach suggested in the lesson, but may not understand it (or believe it) enough to practice or use it on their own.
- The emphasis on constantly just following instructions may hurt a player’s confidence and self-sufficiency. Players may become dependant on the coach’s directions rather than developing their own sense of problem-solving and decision-making.
- It is very easy for the coach to become negative using this style (it is possible to be negative and cooperative as well). If they take a, ‘Just do what I say’ approach, they can easily dis-empower the player. They may forget that learning is a process and get frustrated if the player cannot perform what they ask. This frustration can damage the coach/player relationship.
In the cooperative style, the coach presents the material in ways to get the player’s agreement, sets-up situations for problem-solving, and asks questions so students can be involved in discovering solutions. The player owns their learning process. The coach becomes more of a ‘Guide on the side’ rather than the ‘Sage on the stage’. Ideally, both coach and player share in the learning process with the goal being to form a ‘team’. For example, in tactical and technical training, a coach using this style would set-up a learning environment where tactics and techniques are presented as problems to be solved to win more points (or lose less). Through the use of questions, players discover and experience solutions and establish agreed-upon objectives on what to do, and how to do it. (To download the acecoach.com article: ‘Using Questions in Coaching’ click here)
- Players own and are fully engaged in their learning process, which increases their motivation and increases the chance that long-term changes will be made.
- A better relationship is set-up between coach and player which increases the amount and quality of information exchanged.
- An advantage of this approach is the relationship it creates between coach and student. Players are less intimidated and may be inspired to explore ideas and ask questions.
- The coach gets more feedback from the player so they are more aware of how to improve the learning environment and individualize it.
- The increased use of questions typical in this approach helps equip players to solve problems and be less ‘coach dependent’. This is critical for tennis since coaching is usually not allowed (or not available).
- It requires more expertise on the coach’s part because the process is much more interactive (e.g. rather than just going through the ‘steps’ of a stroke).
- Coaches may fall into the trap of asking questions that are too broad and lead students into lengthy, unnecessary discussion.
- Coaches may talk too much and minimize the repetition required for the students to experience and learn.
- If this style is misapplied, the result can be no structure or control, with players doing anything they want and ruling the court (Even though a lesson is fully ‘learner-centred,’ and the cooperative approach utilized, it should still be, ‘coach driven’). (To view the acecoach.com article: ‘Learner-centred Coaching’ click here)
Typically, the directive style is most common and what many coaches default to most. When exposed to the cooperative style, they may respond with, ‘That takes too much time’. This is a misconception that only occurs if a coach misapplies the cooperative style. What really wastes time is having to go over the same things again and again because the player didn’t embrace the learning for themselves. Also, the goal of coaching is to play more successfully (not just mimic the ‘correct’ movements). For that to happen, independence, confidence, problem-solving, decision-making and tactical thinking are a priority.
WHICH STYLE SHOULD I USE?
As much as it is obvious this article is advocating for more use of the cooperative style, an effective coach uses both styles. It is recommended to use the cooperative style most when the situation calls for independent decision-making, and problem-solving. For court management, discipline, and drill organization, the directive style is recommended. Keep in mind both of these are simply optional approaches and the coach is ultimately free to use the one they feel will be most effective in the situation.