In a series of blogs leading Master Professional Sports Coach and Former World Professional Coach of the Year, Adrian Rattenbury looks at what Business can learn from Sport and how to become a ‘Corporate Athlete’
Coaching is a true methodology which concentrates on directing, instructing and training either an individual or a group of people with the only aim to attain certain goals and objectives. The origination of the term 'Coaching started in the latter part of the 1880s and has always been heavily associated with sport and could indeed by traced back to the ancient Olympics. On the other hand Coaching in business didn’t reach any kind of prevalence in industry until the 1990s.
Sports coaches therefore have hundreds of years of experience over their corporate compatriots and as experience is what everyone looks for why not learn from people in sport who have been personally involved on the ‘coal front’ rather than people who are teaching how to apply the theories!
It is not unusual for coaches in the early stages of their career to be primarily concerned with what to coach. But as coaches develop their ability to decide what to include in a training session, how to link these sessions together and how to be able to construct their programmes. If you look at coaches and managers who have been involved in sport for a number of years you will see how they have evolved, become more confident, more comfortable with themselves and have really narrowed down their own coaching philosophy. As a coach starts to develop their focus should start to move towards the way in which they coach and to start to reflect on how they are coaching and not just on what they are coaching.
Although there are many approaches or styles of coaching as they are often referred to, there has been a tendency for coaches especially early in their careers to use more of an authoritarian approach to coaching. The background of this approach originated from the early twentieth century, when physical educators used a military style approach to ‘discipline the masses’. Indeed in some developing countries it is still not unusual to see a ‘military’ approach to teaching PE in schools.
Some of this is also based on the situation in which coaches are placed in terms of the size of the group being taught and the facilities available. A very large group with limited resources and limited facilities will need to be organised and disciplined and as such the authoritarian style is the most practical in these situations. It is though difficult for people whose personalities don't respond to this style and can be easily turned off. Similarly people who want to think for themselves will also find this a difficult style to work under.
That being said the ‘command’ style of coaching does have its merit in the transmission of information especially for motor skill acquisition. There are though alternative approaches to coaching that can be just as effective and more appropriate for other learning outcomes. If you don’t teach people what to do correctly in the first instance you will spend much more time correcting their errors and then re-training them to do it properly. Something which you could have done in the first place. How many times have you attempted a new skill without being shown or taught to do it and done it correctly in the first instance? How do you hit a drive 300 yards straight down the centre of the fairway if you have never picked up a club, or hit a topspin serve if you have never played tennis?
Employing a variety of coaching approaches is important because different types of content require different approaches of instruction. For example, coaching groups requires some different approaches from coaching individuals. Coaching also requires different skills depending on the age and maturity of the group being coached. You cannot coach a young player the same as a first team player, who cannot train a junior member of staff the same was as your senior management team.
As such a variety of coaching approaches should be considered.
In deciding what approach to adopt the coach should consider the intended learning outcomes of the training session and then consider which style or approach to coaching they will need to adopt during the session. What do you want to achieve? Who are you teaching? How many people? What is their current level? Etc….
A high level coach will also be able to change between the different styles during a single session possibly using some command style coaching to impart the initial skill development phase and then moving into other styles to motivate players, organise the groups, establish the targets for the session and be able to make the session fun and enjoyable, the learning experience positive and the outcomes and retention of the information for the group effective.
The coach is critical to the quality of learning that takes place in the coaching environment, and key to that are the approaches to coaching that are used. I am sure you will remember your favourite and less favourite teachers from school or the coaches you may have had if you have been involved in sport. From this you can draw your own conclusions on how you like to be taught, trained and treated.
The various approaches to coaching have been adopted from those used in teaching with specific reference to those teaching in physical education sport again being the basis of the role of the coach.
Coaching in sport was established a long time ago, long after we started to teach but still many years before it was considered a skill required in the world of business and industry. Coaching has and is an integral part of sport but has only more recently come to the forefront in business over the past 20 years. The coach is now regarded and respected in all levels of sport and commercial life with the position of a ‘coach’ being a highly reputable and accepted career in industry. One of the main differences with coaches in sport though is that they have virtually always played the sport they are teaching and usually to a high level whereas many coaches in business have never run their own business, managed people, carried out financial analysis, run marketing or promotional campaigns yet feel they are in a position to train people how to carry out these tasks having never done it themselves.
To become a coach in sport you have to be able to demonstrate the skills or your sport, not the case in business coaches. Over the past 50 years, academics have investigated a variety of teaching and coaching approaches and, although they have been theorised to produce particular learning outcomes, there has been little research into the practical applications of such approaches to coaching. Nor has there been much research into what approaches to coaching coaches adopt and why.
One of these researches was carried out in 1996 by Mosston. Mosston identified two broad approaches to teaching and coaching, namely, reproductive and productive.
Reproductive approaches to coaching are consistent with a coach-centred approach, in which the coach plays an autocratic and central role in the learning process. In this broad approach, the coach directly shapes the learning while the person being coached makes few or no decisions in the learning process.
In the productive approaches to coaching, the focus moves towards a democratic style, in which the coach facilitates or guides the learning. In general, the productive approaches, moves the responsibility for learning towards the individual. Thus, they have increased input into the decision-making in the planning, execution and evaluation of the learning process.
In considering which approach to take in coaching, it is useful to consider the goal or task, and the roles of both the coach and the individual in the coaching–learning process. Both approaches have their positives and although the reproductive route is probably perceived as being the best for teaching people new skills it is also important at a higher level if you need consistency of thinking. Managing a Premier League football team is no mean feat, balancing skill levels, resting players, language barriers and handling the ego’s. Even though you may have the most talented individuals if you let them all have a say in how training show be run or the tactics to be employed it would be chaos. So controlling the learning environment, setting some levels of input and discussion but ultimately having everyone ‘buy into’ the vision is the key to good coaching.
Coaching is often referred to as a skill but in my opinion it is more than that it is an art.
In the next blog of the series, we will invite you to think about how to select different approach for a specific task to be undertaken