How the United States helped me

In October 2014 I stood outside Uclan area as a inexperienced, shy coach with no confidence and little academic coaching knowledge awaiting for feedback on what I would describe now as a shocking session and waiting to hear whether I had passed my assessment and would be travelling to America to have the experience of a life time coaching for the summer of 2015…

Somehow I PASSED!! and received the information I would be travelling to Texas for 2 1/2 months to coach children aged 2-16 with a variety of playing abilities, scary right? Before going I didn’t know how I was going to cope, I didn’t think I was a good enough coach to take a group of 20 children aged between 2-6 for an hour never mind a for 73 days straight, little did I know this trip would change me as a coach forever.

Sitting here now reflecting on where I am as a coach now compared to where I was in October 2014, I wouldn’t believe I am the same person or coach. The trip itself was an unbelievable experience, living with a different family each week, spending time visiting places (not that there was much free time), meeting new coaches, tapping into their knowledge and ways of doing things and gathering thoughts on why they do what they do and also giving coaches thoughts and ideas on what I do and why and providing other coaches with the little knowledge I had.

I turned up on Day 1 like a little boy, I didn’t haven’t a clue what to expect, I had been going through my coaching book writing session after session expecting something to go wrong, thinking how do I deal with the kids if they aren’t interested? what will the parents think, a british coach coming over here to teach the game and they don’t know what they’re doing… Wouldn’t be a good first impression would it. Thinking about it now I don’t know what I was scared of, I absolutely loved it. “The pleasure of being able to help the performance of others, irrespective of who I coach, internationals to children, I ensure people get enjoyment out of it” – Thats one statement I followed throughout my time in America, as long as the children are having fun and learning while doing so then thats good enough for me.

Starting on Day 1 and leaving on Day 74 saw me develop enormously as a coach, I remember boarding the plane home with Amersterdam being the first stop and thinking “Wow, I can actually do it” for the first time I started to believe in myself, I gained a form of confidence I never knew I had, I developed a determination, a strive to succeed, to learn, to develop. All from that one small thought it gave me the wake up call that I can do it. Coaching everyday during my time in such an amazing country helped this, learning different cultures, different ways of playing, watching American coaches – some good, some not so good, picking up ideas of things I can use in my sessions, having detailed discussions with parents about their child’s development, gaining feedback from parents, coaches, club organisers on my performance as a coach was an extremely valuable part for me, it helped me to reflect on how I did things on Day 1 to how I did things on Day 73, was there a difference? if so, what was the difference? how have I changed as a coach? what have I changed? there are a trail of questions I ask myself in terms of my development as a coach, I am always looking to improve and without the reflection process you are limiting your own development as a coach.

Throughout the last month of my time coaching in America I was confident enough and fortunate enough to be picked to coach on a Saturday (some would say not so fortunate, as my friends were floating down a river drinking beer all day) at a advanced development centre. These sessions were extremely challenging for me coaching advanced players as throughout my time so far I had been coaching at beginners and early stages of development with the odd advanced player. However, I took to the sessions like duck to water it confirmed to me that I wanted to be in the advanced/elite player environment as a career and as I move forward as a coach. I arrived at each session 45 minutes before start time to set up, my sessions plans had been thought out thoroughly the night before, through the feedback I received I challenged players well on a regular basis, allowing them freedom of play and giving them the chance to put their skills into practice.

My experience overall was a life changing one, It made me think how much I want to succeed in the game I love and gave me the kick to come back to England and work as hard as possible to improve and learn everyday. So thank you America for the life changing opportunity.



You don’t know until you try

Blimage Challenge

The blimage challenge, a cow on a trampoline, strange right? and how can I possibly put this image into a coaching context? For numerous days now I have been thinking and coming up with different thoughts of how I can put a cow stood on a trampoline into a coaching context.

Seeing a cow on a trampoline was for sure a shock to the system, would seeing a 6 year old kid doing 30 kick ups be a shock? Im sure it would, but why is this? How would you know that a cow can’t stand on a trampoline or a 6 year old kid is unable to do kick ups unless they try?. You don’t, which is why I believe giving children or cows as we see in the imagine the chance to try things they may surprise you.

Of course I’m not saying that every 6 year old kid can perform 30 kicks up on a regular basis and its clear that each child is different but how do we as coaches know kids aren’t able to do things unless we give them the chance to try things?. As a coach its easy to persume that kids can’t do things maybe because of their age, height or stature but whats the harm in giving them the opportunity to try it and yes failure might occur more than you would hope but kids won’t learn unless they try things. Im sure many coaches are reluctant in giving kids the chance to try things because they don’t want failure in there session or ensuring everything is performed with the technique instructed by the coach, as a coach will that surprise you? will that make you sit back and think “wow, I didn’t know he could do that” personally, I don’t think it will, I think it will take away the personal identity of the player and limit the opportunities they may take to try things.

So back to the image, a cow on a trampoline isn’t something people would be used to seeing and may think it wasn’t right and question why that was happening…

Surely you can link that to football? Seeing a young player dribbling with the ball taking on 4/5 players on a regular basis, I’m sure many coaches aren’t used to seeing that happen and maybe the player gets called greedy by parents for not passing to their son/daughter, for me seeing that identifies the player being given the freedom by his coach to try that, having the confidence to dribble past players with the ball, trying it time after time when I’m sure a large amount of time they may lose the ball. Yes I’m sure the players may get tackled a large amount of time but would the player dare to try that with a angry coach on the sideline giving the player abuse every time the ball is lost, questioning why they didn’t pass earlier, not using the “easiest” option, I don’t think they would.

So how do I get the cow on the trampoline in the first place?

Being restrictive as a coach is not something I enjoy, I enjoy having freedom in terms of letting sessions “look” messy, giving players leadership to create things how they see fit, for example creating areas they believe are suitable. Coaches should enjoy doing things differently, seeing different things, letting players do different things, it’s all part of the learning process for both coaches and my players. Without trying new things it will limit the learning and development process. In the image above the cow challenged itself to stand on the trampoline just like players and coaches should challenge themselves to develop new skills.

To conclude my blimage challenge, in my opinion coaches should strive on allowing players to develop different skills, giving them the opportunity to try new things, with doing this coaches will see new things, things they probably wouldn’t expect to see from players but thats all through giving the players the opportunity to try.

Playing to learn

So how are coaches able to use a game based approach within sessions effectively? Well below I have attached a video comparing two coaches and the way their coaching styles differ when using a game based approach.

After watching the video two to three times, I started to jot down notes to pick out the key messages of the video and how the coaches approach differed from one another and how did it affect the players performing?

I found coach ones approach was very instructive through demonstration and telling the players the position they “have” to stand in and how to hold the racket when playing a specific shot. Chelladurai (1993) focuses upon coach-athlete focus and belives coaching is “in essence the art and science of decision making”. Do I think coach one’s approach to the session is enabling the players to make their own decision’s? No and although the session claims to be realistic to a game, the coach wouldn’t be there during a game instructing his players what positions to stand in and how to hit the ball so why do it during sessions?.

The instruction throughout the session is taking away the opportunity for the players to make decisions, be creative and take risks without the coach correcting them every time they don’t use the “correct” technique they were shown. The FA Futures game quoted “A young player who is made the feel confident, capable and trusted to be creative will have a greater chance of fuffiling their potential than one who feels afraid to fully express themselves”. To which I feel sums up the session produced by coach one on the video, instructing players to perform a shot in a specific way shown by himself and correcting if the technique shown to them wasn’t correct. So, the technique wasn’t the same as what he showed them but the result was what he wanted, do you intervene and correct the player?

So how did coach two’s approach differ? When watching the video one thing stood out for me more than anything with coach two, the opportunity he gave the players to practice in a game based situation with no instruction on how to play a specific shot. Instead he used questioning to pick the players knowledge on how to overcome certain situations and when they may play a certain shot, he then provided them with an environment to play in a game like situation. For me, I found this approach extremely more beneficial for the players compared to the approach taken by coach one, (Thorpe, 1992) quoted “when there is an emphasis on drill, children are often turned off, with their greater emphasis on game play, such alternative teaching approaches can be more motivating” which backs up the approach used by coach two. By using a game approach, the players were challenged to think about what they were doing and why. It places the focus of a lesson on the student in a game situation where cognitive skills such as tactics, decision-making and problem solving are critical.

Traditional Coaching v Games Based Approach

Traditional Approach

Games based Approach

Warm Up

Warm Up

Skills Practice

Game followed by questioning

Repeated Drills

Play Analysis (tactical/ technical)

Small sided Games/ Game

Game followed by questioning Repeat Cycle

Cool Down

Cool Down

How does the model comparing the “traditional” coaching approach compared to a game based approach relate to my coaching process?

During my session I try extremely hard to ensure each individual is engaged in my sessions, having fun and learning. One thing I used to hear every week when I began coaching “When are we having a game?” but now I would be extremely surprised to hear that question…. That being I try to make every session game based, I try to give my players the opportunity to play in game like situations when they are made to think for themselves rather than me giving them the answers. I often think to myself why should I stand here and instruct players on what to do and when to do it? its their game so let them play it.

One quote I hear all the time throughout sport – “Let the game be the teacher”. I couldn’t agree more, the best way players will learn is by giving them the opportunity to play the game and letting them learn for themselves.

Reference list:

1)Chelladurai, P. (1993). Leadership. In R.N. Singer, M. Murphy, & L.K. Tennant(Eds.), Handbook of research on sport psychology (pp. 647-67 1). New York [Accessed 13th November 2015]

2) Available at: [Accessed 13th November 2015]

3)Thorpe, R. (1992). The psychological factors underpinning the ‘teaching for understanding games’ movement. In T. Williams,L.,Almond,&A.Sparkes(Eds.), Sport and physical actiuity: Moving towards excellence (pp. 209-218). London: Spon.

4)Coaching through small-sided games [Available at:] [Accessed 13th November 2015]

Why question them?

For me as a coach effective questioning can be an extremely difficult process, knowing when, how and what type of questions to ask your players is an important coaching tool in terms of identifying your players learning process. “Teachers use questioning and discussion to assess the effectiveness of their teaching and promote pupils’ learning” (Ofsted, 2012).

i recently attended my ECB Level 2 Cricket coaching course of which ‘Questioning’ was a coaching tool which was highlighted on a regular basis as an important tool to use. Before the course questioning was something I thought i used well and on a regular basis in order to draw out thoughts and understanding from my players. The course gave me a different thought when focusing on questioning, before demonstration on a batting drill the coach educators used an example of giving players specific tasks such as “you 3 look at my hands, you three my feet and you three my head”. After demonstration they went round and questioned the players on what they thought they saw and why something may have looked like it did, for example “So you said my feet moved forward when playing the shot, why do you think this may help me?”. This form of questioning was not something I had ever thought of personally and links in nicely when performing a demonstration when relevant.

Questioning is a coaching tool I believe to sit high up in importance for me, it enables me to gain an understanding of what my players are thinking and how they are feeling which may lead to how they perform/act in a session/game. Although, this is a tool that will help me during coaching asking questions based around How has their day been? What did they do at school today? What have they had for tea?. The vast majority of the time these questions are asked by myself without even thinking as I am interested in each individual and how they are, which could lead into the way they may perform or act during my session if they have had a difficult day at school or have fallen out with someone at home. Which relates to the importance of knowing your players individually and how each individual learns and acts as I know for a fact each one of my players acts and performs differently during different situations.

When questioning I usually use open questions to my players, for me using open questions is the best way for me to understanding the learning that has taken place by my players. Using open questions will prompt a different answer from each individual, this relates to the comment by (Ursa. R, 2003) which he stated “Open questions are used to discover the responses that individuals give spontaneously”.Using open questions will allow players to give you detailed feedback on there thoughts and feelings. For example one question frequently is “What do you think you could have done differently?”. Rather than the players replying with a “YES” or “NO” answer the question requires them to recall previous events and gets them thinking about decisions they made and maybe things they could do differently if they did the same thing again.

When do you question them and Why question them?

I generally use questioning throughout my sessions, questioning players rather than giving them the answer will help to develop learners, players that think about things, plan for certain situations, know how to deal when they are put in certain scenarios and for me most importantly make decisions for themselves. Questions such as “How do you think that helped your team?” “What do you think to what just happened?” “Why did that just happen?” Asking these sorts of questions will help me to understanding what sorts of things my player is thinking about and why they are thinking what they are. If I don’t present my players with questions to get them thinking how do I actually know they are thinking? they might be trying to do something when your goal of the session is the complete opposite, so without questioning you could be in two complete different worlds. For me giving players the answers limits individual learning, by questioning you are giving them the equation but leaving them to solve the problem.

So i now know why i question my players, But why does questioning help me as a coach?

Well questioning as a coach helps me to gain an understanding of whether my players are understanding the aims and objectives of the session, it enables players to become more engaged with the session by allowing them to think for themselves about how they are doing things and why they are doing it. This will help to develop the players psychologically which relates to the FA’s 4 corner model with giving players the opportunity to develop as thinkers. As a coach if I am able to develop thinking players it will go a long way in creating players that are key decision makers, creative, leaders and develop them as people for the future.


1) Questioning to promote learning [Available at:] %5BAccessed 4th November 2015].

2) R.Ursa et al Open Ended vs Closed-ending questions in Web Questionnaires 2003 [Accessed 4th November 2015].