Are you a good coach? Can you give constructive feedback to your team and to individual players? This article is about how to be a better coach. My main and foremost advice is to take a dictaphone to the match (simply use your mobile phone) and record all instructions you give before and during the game.
Based on my own experience two kinds of improvement can be made. Awareness of being recorded will make you coach better than usual. You will try even harder to give a concrete advice to game performance as well as show more appreciation to the players. Secondly, retrospective analysis (analysis based on listening) reveals the facts and gives objective feedback which is often in contrary to your obstinate idea of what is your communication and information delivery like. That is because most of us have a tendency over-valuing ourselves. That is why it is a very good idea using a dictaphone more often than once a year.
How to Coach Correctly?
Considering the team meeting prior to the match cannot be long, it is recommended presenting the tactical information about the opponent (i.e. video type analysis) to the team earlier. This usually occurs during previous meeting or at the meeting before leaving for a match. Pre-game team meeting should be brief and rather summarize important information only. It has been proved that athletes remember information given at the end of the meeting best (stays fresh in their memory). Hence it is recommended commencing with description of opponent’s game following by presentation of tactics against the opponent. Summary of key points shall be recapped at the very end. Ideal way of making sure the instruction has been received is to use a checking questions at the end of the meeting followed by some types of team motivation.
Coaches enter the dressing room later than players. Coaching team leave players to cool down, to replace fluids, and emotionally calm down. Coaching team should use this time for a discussion between themselves. After entering the dressing room coach has to find such a place where every player can clearly see and hear him/her and any tactic board or schematics. Coach shall not start talking until he/she has a full attention from all players. Coach shall start with a brief review of opponent’s game tactics on which he/she makes necessary adjustments of the team strategy. At the end the coach shall highlight the key instructions again (control questions can be used). It is feasible to completely change the team spirit during intermission. On some occasions creating a “storm” in the dressing room is the right thing to do. Other times it is more effective talking calmly when vigorous speech is expected. Coaches should leave the room earlier so the players have a time to absorb the information, discuss it within the team and lines. During this time the team captain can expresses his/her opinion and/or motivate the team.
During the Match:
Information given by the coach should refer to future actions – the past cannot be changed and there will be enough of time to analyse it after the match. Ambient distractions from audience and/or referees shall be minimised if not eliminated in order to maximise players’ concentration for the performance. It is very difficult to be positive and enthusiastic on the outside as required by the situation (team must know that the coach is there for them) and remaining calm, detached, and rational at the same time. In fact every coach has to be an actor.
With regards to the physical and emotional strain of the players it is necessary to set clear and concrete instructions. The biggest mistake coach can do is to revile player or team right after they step down from the court tired and breathless. It is also a mistake to address rebuke to blameless player or reproach individual for line or team mistake. Under any circumstances the coach shouldn’t rebuke a player who is about to join the game.
The hardest task for a coach is to learn using a positive approach and motivation. Rather than saying “don’t foul” the coach should say “try to play clear”. Any coach should avoid focusing on mistakes. Probably the worst instruction for a player on court is to say not to make a mistake. On the contrary coach should focus on right solutions to the game situation. Coach’s positive approach and positive feedback contributes to players’ self-confidence and helps to set a positive vibes within the team. English Floorball literature uses the term “Positive Coaching Alliance” (PCA) in reference to coach’s communication approach.
Unfortunately it is a common practise to often negatively criticize players rather than give them constructively positive feedback. Psychologists and teachers are aware that a person who has been praised for a concrete activity will more likely to listen and accept coaches eventual negative feedback. Nevertheless it shall be always clearly said how to act next time. As a coach reset yourself for using more of praising and positive feedback and avoid all the deterrent criticism and cynical comments as “What was that?” or even worse “Do it again and you’re out!” These comments have not only a zero information value but also result in stressing player and negatively affecting their performance.
The question is how to give an appropriate feedback. Of course this is not always possible to use however expressing an appreciation could be just the right way for a beginning. This could be followed by constructive criticism together with suggestion for future improvement and ended up with a positive motivation. This method of delivering negative (yet constructive) criticism in between positive comments is called “sandwich approach”. It is also known as K-K-K (Kiss – Kick – Kiss) principle. In general there should be more praises than rebukes. Try using a dictaphone to see how you deliver feedback to players.
It is appropriate if a player is withdrawn from a game to provide him/her with a feedback. Player should be briefed by a coaching assistant rather than coach after his/her adrenalin level drops down. Brief explanation about the decision and some comment to his/her performance finished up with some positive feedback is the right approach in such a moment. Replacing player should be informed about this change in advance in order to give him/her enough of time to warm-up.
During the Time-Out:
Time-out shall only be taken for serious reasons (sudden breakdown of the coach is not such a case). Leading team usually doesn’t take time-out towards the end of the match as they rather aim to keep the time going. Losing team on the other side uses time-out to rest their key players. It is wise to take a time-out when the team has a free-hit from an advantageous position or when power play is called.
The whole team should listen to coaches rather than only the line (five or six players) which is to restart the game. Coach should start talking only after the players recover and are able to pay attention. The emotional strain is significant therefore players have a difficulty to process all information given. Hence the coach instruction should be clear, concrete and brief. Thirty-second monologue full of negative criticism and rebukes is definitely not the right approach. Also a talk about future strategies isn’t any excuse for not encouraging the players.
After the Match:
Straight after the match the coach should only briefly thank to players for their performance alternatively no direct interaction is necessary. Under any circumstances the coach shouldn’t express any case of disappointment or negativity while still driven by emotions. Any negative criticism given right after the match can easily turn against the coach. The best way is to wait until the instantaneous emotions fade away and both sides restore their calm – ideally at the next training session. This can be however challenging for coaches on lower competition level where the teams play several matches in a day or over two consecutive days.
Every coach should also control emotions during an interview with media. As a bad example can be used a case of certain ice-hockey coach who stated in his interview directly after the game that he absolutely need a proper defensive player. It is not difficult to imagine what other defenders in his team felt like after they have read the newspapers the following day.
It is also recommended to avoid criticizing referees. It is not a coach place to analyse their performance as there are other authorities to do that. Coach’s role is to care about a team performance and not the referees.
In conclusion, a pertinent quote from an ice-hockey coach Scotty Bowman:
“You cannot control what your opponent will do. What you can control is what your team can do.”
Image: Martin Flousek, xflorbal.cz