Thursday, April 15, 2010

Situational Coaching

What's your coaching style?  Do you adjust for different athletes?  If you're not adjusting your coaching to the athletes you may be leaving some behind.

Now that's a choice many performance coaches have made.  Consciously or not, they have a coaching style, and if it doesnt work for some athletes they can go somewhere else.  If you are in a position where you can pick which athletes you want to work with, then this works.  More power to you. 

If you work in a team setting, or want to reach a larger audience, then you better be able to adjust your coaching style to your athletes.  Personally I enjoy the challenge.  It's one of the skills of coaching. 

Adjusting your coaching style doesn't need to mean that you do things that arent you, don't fake it.  Just understand that the methods of instruvting and motivating need to adjust based on the individual charactersitics of the athletes you are working with.

The concept of Situational Leadership as propsed by Blanchard and Hershey gives a coach one perspective in how they can do this.  Their leadership concepts were developed for business but have been applied in many coaching and military settings.  The following matrix of an athlete's skill and motivation relative to a task is adapted from  Pathways to Coaching, TLO 2001 by Bristol.

Athletes in each of these zones will need a different coaching approach to acheive their optimum results.  A fundamental concept here is that there is no one best approach to coaching,  It's situational.  It depends on the athlete's motivation and skill in that task.
• Guiding (low skills/low motivation): If you give this athlete a task and leave them on their own to do it, they probably won't succeed.  This athlete needs guidance, by a coach that stays close at hand giving positive feedback, pointing out success to fuel motivation, and showing them the task solutions. They are probably more introverted and less confident in this situation, so don't try to be a cheerleader or drill instructor with your motivaion. 

The guiding coach has to help the athlete envision a future they can create and take ownership of.  The short-term goals are key to achieving this. Progress is structured through a series of cumulative efforts and short-term tasks with deadlines. The coach needs to stay in close contact alongside this athlete to monitor the progress being made and give constant praise and encouragement for the achievements.  Critical feedback needs be deliver in the classic praise-critical-praise sandwhich and not in a public setting.

Directing (low skills/high motivation): This athlete is motivated and often may be working really hard, just at the wrong things or using poor technique.  The coaches job here is to harness that motivation and direct it to the right tasks and proper efforts.
The directing coach needs to effect a real commitment from the athlete on the direction of training and striving for an agreed vision of the future.  This helps ensure that activity is consistent with this goal and not have that high motivation fuel useless or detrimental efforts.  If you don't get them to buy in to your vision or your expertise, they will be off doing something else with all that motivation.

If the coach tries to fire this athlete up, but doesn't fix the skill or what the athlete is doing, burn-out or injury may be around the corner.  They don't need motivation, they need direction.   The coach stands alongside them and points them in the right direction.  This coaching may be reflective feedback and support or very authoritative directions depending on the athlete. The astute coach will be looking for the opportunities when they can reduce directions, as the athlete demonstrates increasing confidence.

Inspiring (high skills/low motivation):  This athlete has the skills, but has lost confidence or passion in what they are doing. 

You will need to work tactfully to explore the reasons that may be underlyingand creating the low motivation levels. Although often related, its important to discover whether the passion is gone or they have lost confidence. 

A range of short-term actions should be planned that will bring repeated small successes to build confidence and generate new enthusiasm. Working alongside in this context requires the leading teacher to be in regular contact throughout the programme of activities, maintaining a focus on the positives.

When the passion is gone, don't go for the over-blown hype.  Instead find the ways to re-engage them in the process and not just the outcome.  To be engaging tasks need to be at a high enough level or else they will be boring.  Helping an athlete find their passion takes a skilled coach, but will bring great rewards.

Delegating (high skills/high motivation): This athlete is very skilled at the tasks and is very motivated to improve.  If only every athlete was like this you may think, but this athlete has very specific coaching needs as well.  With this athlete you give them increased ownership of decisions and provide them the role of "self coaching" as a partner.

The freedom to experiment needs to be well supported to allow mistakes to happen and to learning from them. Coaching this athlete will be an interactive partnership that involves them in the decision making, program planning, and feedback.  You supervise, but don't micormanage.  You don't have to be next to them or even there for every task.  Get their feedback first to gauge how much feedback they need from you. You counsel, instead of direct them.

Ensure that opportunities are created to share this learning with other athletes.  Often creating new coaching opportunities and responsibilities for the athlete through coaching others, helps them themselves to further develop their own capacity in the team or group setting.

This video on situational leadership overviews the concept well although the computer generated voice may make you throw your computer. 

All in all, the final question is about how you are going to coach.  If you want to reach as many athletes as you can, and help them to their best possible outcome, then you need to condsider their situation.  Some basics of coach always cut across all these quadrants, but for continued and wide success you will have to adapt your style.