1 How do coaches design practice sessions?
Your exploration of coaching sessions starts by considering a typical situation in clubs and gyms. In Box 1, an experienced Irish coach (Adrian O’ Sullivan) describes two friends asking for help with their next coaching session. He identifies a significant contrast between them.
Box 1 Training session advice
I get two texts from friends of mine. Both have started taking training sessions with teams in their respective clubs. The first one (A) is along the lines of ‘I’ve just started doing a bit of coaching, have you any drills for me?’. The other guy (B) comes to me and says ‘The under fourteens I’m coaching are weak under the aerial ball; how can I work on it in a training session?’
Both questions might appear to be very similar. But immediately without ever seeing them on the training ground I know that one of these guys is already on a different level to the other. However, I also think that they are both limiting their horizons by seeking the easy option and asking someone for a drill.
Friend A has fallen into the trap that befalls so many trainers out there. He has sixty minutes to fill [emphasis added] on a Thursday evening and he wants three drills to fill the time before the kids play a match. Preferably drills that are easy to execute but look complex enough that the … parents looking on and the chairman of the club look at him and say ‘Jeez fair play to him he’s … good’.
He has no goal in mind for the session. No learning outcome that he wants the players to achieve and hasn’t identified any weaknesses to work on.
Friend B is thinking like a teacher [coach]. He has identified a weakness in his team and he is looking for a way to work on improving this in his session.
Activity 1 Training session advice
Read the contents of Box 1 about the contrast between a ‘trainer’ and a ‘coach’ from the perspective of Adrian O’Sullivan. From what sources do most coaches learn how to run their sessions?
An approach like Friend A (i.e. based mainly on using drills) is most commonly influenced by previous playing experiences of how they were coached: O’Sullivan calls him a trainer. They learn from watching what other coaches do. These are powerful shaping forces that are hard to change (Potrac et. al., 2007); training courses often struggle to change this perspective as beliefs about practice are handed down. In contrast, it is claimed Friend B (teacher/coach) is thinking about the learning goals of a session and sees participants as learners.
There is a danger that many coaches continue using the practices that they are most comfortable with, without consciously designing learning into sessions and then reflecting on it.