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Coaching: A science and an art – by Daniel Seha

*Daniel is a young passionate and driven Cricket Coach. He’s completed a BSc. Hons in High Performance Sport. He has been a cricket coach for Cricket Namibia in a number of capacities, from junior national team, to Strength and Conditioning Consulting and Performance Analysis for the Men’s National Team. He is passionate about coaching cricket and the science of sports as well as coaching and leadership and we’re lucky to have his commentary below – enjoy!

With the increasing professionalism of sport, a lot of emphasis has been put on tactical and technical coaching. New science is being published monthly and the advancement of technology coaching is developing and changing quickly. However, coaching is more than an evolving science and technological advancements. Yes, it is important to grow and adapt to the changing and developing environments, however science alone will not produce world class athletes. Coaching is an art, a mixture of communication, leadership and management.

As a coach in the 21st century, one needs to integrate the improvements in science and technology with the ability to effectively communicate the correct information in a way which will benefit the athlete or team you are working for. Before I get more into detail about a modern-day coach, I would like you to take out a pen and paper. (or smartphone, we are in the modern era…) Take some time to reflect on what you would like from a coach as an athlete. Is it someone you can trust and who communicate openly with, or someone who is a technical expert? Possibly a balance between the two…

In the 21st century coaching is changing from the coach as the content expert, who tells the players what to do, and how to do it, to a collaborative and open approach. In this approach the coach is also a learner, and engages with his athletes on what is the best method and approach so that players can support themselves. Therefore, coaching is moving on from an instructional based approach to that which engages how the player feels and thinks.

Let us use an example of a powerlifter coach. For this exercise pretend you are a fantastic technical powerlifting coach. Your approach has always been telling the powerlifter what and how to lift because you keep up to date with all the relevant research and you are the content expert. What this style of coaching does not consider is the athlete itself, how he is feeling on that day, how does a specific movement feel, is he over trained? As a coach you will never know this because, frankly, you are not the athlete. Therefore, you need to adapt your approach to one which creates the culture of communication, where you can collaborate your knowledge with the athlete himself to obtain the best results.

Coaching is more than instructing. As a coach you need to recognize when to give advice, when to instruct or mentor and most importantly when to leave the athlete alone to problem solve and grow independently. For an athlete to think independently, you need to create an environment and culture where players and athlete feel comfortable communicating and feel secure in trying out ideas without any worry.

So, if coaching is not about instructing, then what is it about? Coaching is a method of growing people, it’s about support rather than criticism and it is about communication and effective leadership. Effective leadership is created when the coach realises that each player is different. They therefore require different methods of engaging, communication and advising. Effective coaching is therefore leading players to become their own best coach.

This style of coaching is centred around the athlete. Let us not totally disregard the high importance of knowledge about skills and performance as a coach, but rather understand that you might not be the expert. Most coaches should put their ego aside and understand that they might not always know what’s best for the player. Instead of you, as the coach, doing all the thinking, one should engage with your athlete or team as to what they require for performance to develop not only world class sportsman, but human beings as well.

So how do you develop your coaching style to this collaborative, open and engaging style of coaching to develop your athlete or team?

Firstly, one needs to put the ego aside and put your team or athlete first. In doing this you are actively engaging and communicating with them as to what they feel they want and need to perform. One should always emphasize listening, spend more time listening than talking. Remember, your athlete comes first. You can integrate this approach with your performance mindset to create a culture whereby you are facilitating and leading growth in your athletes. If you are running a technical session, engage all your athletes and lead them to finding the answer and problem solve the issue for themselves. By doing this you are facilitating their own thought process, rather than telling them. The players are becoming their own expert at the movement or skill through trial and error, engaging and communicating. Your role as a coach is guiding the players through a journey whereby they understand why they are doing the things they are doing.

On the sports field or in the competition arena, you are not with them to make their decisions for them and tell them what to do. They are out there alone, and you as a coach will need to trust that they will perform the correct movements at the right time. I believe you should train your athletes to think for themselves and be their own expert…