Lynn Kidman is a coach educator who since 1994 has been training coaches to inspire athletes and develop great human beings. Lynn has helped to develop several coaching education programmes which base their philosophy on athlete-centred coaching. Lynn has authored Developing Decision Makers: an empowerment approach to coachingand Athlete-centred Coaching: Developing inspired and inspiring people. She has also co-authored (with Stephanie Hanrahan), The Coaching Process: A guide to improving your effectiveness.
I gave the opening question to ex Rugby League and Rugby Union international Anthony Sullivan.
Do you have any information on the origins of structured coaching sessions? When it developed and why it developed into the norm?
LYNN KIDMAN: In my opinion the traditional structured coaching session is greatly flawed. I am not saying coaches shouldn’t plan, but the tradition, warm-up, drill, drill, followed by a full on game, does not help athletes to practise in the context of the sport. Often drills are isolated and don’t have much to do with the application to the competition. All learning opportunities (I call them this rather than drills), should be in context, should have a realistic, authentic experience.
The human being is a complex, dynamic system (Renshaw, 2010), therefore learning any kind of movement involves many inter-disciplinary factors, integrating aspects from the task, environment, and individual. I advocate the constraints approach, which is very different from the traditional learning with repetition. A constraints-led approach focuses on the dynamics of movement, recognising that skills cannot be learned in isolation, but that task, environment, and individual constraints must be taken into account to acquire a particular skill
Any skill attempted in a competition will always be novel. Though many of the fundamentals are the same, the ability to change the movement to match the defense or offensive play, or the environment in which the skill will be performed is always novel. So, having a plan that meets the needs of the athletes, being able to change the plan, because the athletes (or coach) have found something that they need to work on and using the athletes’ ideas, needs to be part of any coaching session. Maybe is should be changed to coaching sessions, to athlete learning sessions.
FOOTBLOGBALL: The more I got into coach education and deeper the discussions get with regard to coaching ideas, philosophy etc I have started to form an opinion that it is less about how I coach but more about how they learn. My ability as a coach is defined by my understanding of how the players learn. What is your opinion on this train of thought?
LYNN KIDMAN: Wow, great train of thought on your part. There are two ways to look at coaching, one is from entirely the coaches perspective, where they are the most knowledgeable and one size fits all, where some athlete may learn or better performance, but not many.
The other way to look at coaching is to figure out how the athletes on your team learn. Coaching is so extremely complex. It requires so much understanding of people, and a huge self-awareness on the coaching part. People are different, everyone is unique and one size does not fit all. If coaches could understand why they think the way they do, it would lead into an ability to see that not everyone thinks the way they do. We are all constructed different, brought up with different values and expectations.
All athletes develop in many ways and at many levels as a result of the sport experience, regardless of the specific manner in which the programme is administered. The importance of growth and development of individuals—physically, cognitively, psychologically, socially and spiritually—cannot be underestimated. Athletes learn about themselves, others and their world as a result of their involvement with sport. They learn verbally and non-verbally, and from hidden messages given in the sport context. Such growth and development accrue as a result of direct contact with people and encounters with various situations, regardless of exactly how the coach behaves or what the nature of the sport environment is. An athlete’s interaction with any given environment always brings about change (i.e. learning). It is safe to state that an endeavour so meaningful and so profound to so many will lead to many important, albeit often personal discoveries.
Dave Clarke from Quinnipiac University USA sent me the following questions.
DC: Why has Australia and New Zealand become leading countries in coaching education and sports science?
Lynn Kidman: I can’t speak for Australia, I still think they are a bit behind in coach development as compared to NZ. I suppose NZ is a small country, and we can create a national coaching strategy. We had a Task Force in 2006 made of coaches, coach educators and administrators who developed the philosophy of the NZ Coach Development Strategy. See the website http://www.sportnz.org.nz/Documents/Communities%20and%20Clubs/Coaching/coach-dev-framework.pdf
I am not sure if we are leading, but we are sure pushing holistic coaching and ongoing learning as our key philosophies. The National group does not advocate qualifications of coaches, but more of finding learning opportunities to match coaches’ individual needs. We have a long way to go, but we do use the National Coach Framework as a living document.
We also have some great advocates, like Andy Rogers who started the Greater Auckland Coaching Unit. We have a Coach Development Centre where coaches can just come and have a chat. We have Tertiary institutions who continue to push the philosophies of athlete centred, like ours, AUT University.
DC: Who were the biggest influences in this development?
Lynn Kidman: Coaches, researchers in coaching, athletes and that we have a national Development Framework. Sport NZ, our national sport organisation, advocates these philosophies. There are so many people involved. One of our biggest influences was Paul Ackerley, who was the coach development manager for Sport Recreation New Zealand in 2006. I guess he would be the main person who managed to get these changes internationally.
Another bit influence was a visit we had from Rod Thorpe, the TGfU advocate from England. Around 2004, he came and did many workshops on Games and how we could learn through them. He made quite an impact on PE Teachers and Coaches, and the rest of us of carried on.
DC: How will this status help the game of soccer in New Zealand?
Lynn Kidman: Football in New Zealand was greatly influenced by John Herdman who bought into the ongoing learning, athlete-centred approach in Football for about 6 years. Many have carried on his vision, but while he was here, the youth curriculum for football was redesigned. Check out this website for the strategic direction in coach development for different sports http://www.sportnz.org.nz/en-nz/communities-and-clubs/Coaching/For-coaches-/
FOOTBLOGBALL: I think that emotional components and interpersonal relationships can play a key role in learning. Soft skills like self-image, decision making and confidence are hard to measure. Probably explains why soccer finds it easier to accept the biological sciences than the behavioural and social sciences. Do you think that using methods you have developed can help the coach to understand, measure, evaluate and encourage changes in behaviour (in both player and coach) that will lead to better “learning” for all parties?
LYNN KIDMAN: Here is a quote from one of my students Ignacio: Coaching is a situational activity, in terms of, it doesn’t happen in isolation, so you need to incorporate or at least recognise a lot of different factors that actually make the whole thing work. Like one of the things that I have been thinking a lot is that it is integrated, something that Tony said. You have a team of 15-20 players, so you have 20 different athletes, so you have 20 different needs. You may have to, I am coaching the team, so I have to take care of the team, create plans and strategies and integrate activities that will work. But still, you need to know that you are training individuals who are completely different, in terms of how they want to play the sport, how they react to specific feedback, how they internalise specific experiences, different families, different ways of observation, different everything. How you make sense of this whole process, its quite daunting, quite challenging. But at the end of the day, you need to create, facilitate an experience that cares for all these athletes. For me that means focusing on the intangibles. I guess it is going philosophical in a way or humanistic way, those things that you can’t see because your athlete tells you something, how he expresses himself in training, you can see in his eyes, or how he expresses himself in training, how he wants more, how he processes the things that you don’t see straight away, but you know that are happening, things like that. Then you have all the parents asking you do this and do that. You have to have the internal belief that what you are doing is for a reason, even if it goes against the status quo
FOOTBLOGBALL: Recently my girlfriend and I had a meeting with our daughter’s (5 year old) kindergarten teachers where they showed us examples of how they work with children. Their teaching methods were very much hands on learning- stimulation and creativity through use of guided discovery. They worked with nature, water, sound, stories, paintings. It was very inspiring and brought me back to an interview I did with Dave Clarke where he said that “youth coaches need to become more like the kindergarten teacher”. I think that there is more than a hint of truth in this. What do you think?
LYNN KIDMAN: Totally agree, but this is hard work for many coaches because of the way they think. We have been brought up in the Western world to do as we were told, so we have been educated out of being creative and innovative. Sir Ken Robinson does a great youtube about this, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iG9CE55wbtY
FOOTBLOGBALL: If experience is the greatest teacher of the young, then it is vital that we make the experience an enjoyable process. Do you think that the best way to achieve this is by allowing children to be creative through the experience of solving problems? How in your opinion should we structure practice for effective learning? How do we help player’s learn to organise information and action?
LYNN KIDMAN: See some of the answers to question 1, but the best way for children to learn is offer learning opportunities for them to solve problems and through the solving of problems, allowing them to make mistakes, encouraging them to make mistakes to learn. I think the biggest problem we have in sport now, is the pressure to win. Winning is part of sport, and there should be a win-loss part in competition, but losing is OK, we learn from losing. So what we are doing is training young athletes to win, and they follow coaches’ game plays and such, but they haven’t learned anything, unless they have ownership for the direction and the learning that they want to achieve. The parents are the key problem here, and it is not their fault, it is the societal expectations through professional sport that has screwed up our focus on learning and development of children in sport.
In many cases, youngsters are not responding solely to their own interests, desires and needs, but rather are fulfilling the needs of the adult leader, the coach, the team, parents, or other significant ‘non-players’ in the experience (i.e. feeling the pressure from coaches, adults, peers to go all out to win). In essence, the underlying philosophical stance we present here is that decision-making capability should be returned to the performer. In recent years society has supported a major shift to fully empowering the coach, most often with the consent and encouragement of the parents. Too often it appears that this ‘shift’ has been detrimental to the health of the athlete.
FOOTBLOGBALL: Could one of the ultimate aims of coaching be to help the players learn to recognise problems before the problem exists or become apparent? You could almost say anticipate problems. Solve them before they appear.
LYNN KIDMAN: Yes, but the coach needs to provide such a learning environment.
FOOTBLOGBALL: I have come across a negative attitude to the word learning in some young teenagers. I think that this may be due to how modern schools still operate (standardised testing, irrelevant curriculum) . This spreads in to sport where there are just as many traditional views that seem to be carved in stone (authoritarian coaching, isolated technique drills). How can we change the mental model and experience relative to learning, especially in team sports?
LYNN KIDMAN: This is a good point. The word learning connotes school, because often schools have assessments and stuff, and the learning doesn’t always suit individual needs. Even in school, we are advocated standardised testing which doesn’t test learning, it tests knowledge and encourages rote learning. So if it isn’t working in schools, why do we keep trying to do follow the schools’ ways in sport?
It is easier to be autocratic, to not have to deal with individual differences. It takes a lot of work and challenges to actually focus on athlete learning. I think to change the mental model, we really need to get to the top, to the administrators who make decisions on coaching and athlete performance. If they understood that development of individuals in more important than a focus on winning, different decisions would be made. We have been focusing on becoming more humanistic for 20 years and have made small progress only, but small steps.
FOOTBLOGBALL: The player’s immediate environment includes the coach, leaders, parents. Each of these groups are valuable to the players learning process, and all need to be empowered and enabled to learn themselves. Would you agree with this?
LYNN KIDMAN: Yes, it would be great to get everyone to be more self-aware. See Daniel Golemans work on Emotional Intelligence.
FOOTBLOGBALL: If we value learning, we respect that it is not a race. Then the potential for a transformation away from the conventional football education paradigm is extraordinary. Yet with how many coaches does this register? There are many well-meaning attempts to promote excellence among our young players but it more than often happens in the parallel universe of a result orientated environment. Is it any wonder that the development of an individual can get lost in the traditional conveyor belt of talent identification? Especially when during this very important early learning period talent and winning/ beating an opponent are not recognised as distinct concepts. We must respect the fact that learning and development are non-linear. We must allow space for natural curiosity where critical thinking and creativity are encouraged. –Mark O Sullivan December 2013
LYNN KIDMAN: Great comment, the constraints approach to learning skill (see Davids, Button and Bennett, 2008: Dynamical Systems Approach: A constraints approach to learning.
Some stuff out of Chapter 6 in The Coaching Process: In essence, the constraints-led approach suggests that the manipulation of constraints (task, environment, and/or individual) enables individuals to self-organise and problem solve optimal movement patterns in specific, realistic contexts. Based on this notion of dynamics of movement, a coach’s role is to provide opportunities to practise in match-like situations so that transfer to competition itself is seamless and realistic. Newell (1986) suggested three constraints that influence performance at any time:
Task constraints include the rules of the sport, available equipment, player numbers, and the relative state of the game. For example, if defense is the purpose of the game, then the coach might provide points for the defensive team when they force a turnover. Or, a condition might be given that there are 30 seconds left in the game and the score is 10-3.
Individual constraints include the physique, mental (cognitive and psychological), and social skills of an athlete such as self efficacy, emotional control, motivation, technical skills, and fitness level, all of which can influence decision-making behaviours.
Environmental constraints include weather conditions, the laws of physics and nature (e.g., gravity, altitude), or practice facilities. These environmental constraints also include the social experiences of the individual (e.g., social constraints such as family, peer groups, the culture of a sport club, previous access to high-quality, developmentally appropriate coaching; Davids et al., 2008).
Coaches need to understand these constraints so they can observe a learning activity and the constraints that might occur in that practice environment. Through this understanding, coaches then manipulate constraints to enable athletes to learn about that particular situation, realistically. For example, if an athlete is standing watching a learning activity and not engaged, that is an individual constraint that must be changed so the athlete is included. The coach might alter the task to overload one team or change the scoring system and purpose so all individuals can participate. From Ian Renshaw:
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