Coaching Differently

Field hockey is surely one of the most dynamic and advanced of today’s sports always trying to turn the game more competitive to the ones who play it and more spectacular to the ones who watch it.

If we look into the recent history of field hockey we understand that there is been many changes, some of them quite radical, in what concerns rules (the offside, the selfpass, the unlimited substitutions and there was technology such as video umpire inserted, etc.)  as well as changes concerning  stick construction materials, goalkeepers, synthetic fields, etc.

Nowadays we all accept and are satisfied with the innovations that turned this sport more exciting however in order for this evolutionary process to succeed there was a great self-critical attitude inside the hockey community (can we improve? Where can we improve? Is it possible to turn the game faster and more appealing to players and spectators?) together with a huge disposition for change.

I believe that self-critic and adaptability are inseparable of today’s hockey nature and consider that these two characteristics are indispensable when leading a hockey team.

Me (Coach) and them (Players) or we (Team)?

 We coaches (or most of us) have the legitimate and well-meant presumption that we best prepare our athletes to compete by transmitting our knowledge, our ideas on every situation that can happen during a game, by assuming that with our experience, our expertise and (why not?) our natural calling for leadership, we are giving them the best tools for each given situation that can occur during a match.

That way we create a relationship platform where we can find a transmitter (coach) that delivers a message (the game ideology) to their receptors (players), meant to absorb and replicate the message delivered by the coach.

Many of us consciously or unconsciously place ourselves in an almost despotic position (if you know what I mean…) assuming that our role as a coach is basically to explain how to do and not to teach how to think.

This is an old-fashioned, anti-pedagogical and counterproductive style because it affects reasoning ability and the individual judgement of the players, decreasing the possibility of reaching their full potential as an individual (if I don’t think for myself, I will not be able to express my full competence.).

A normal training day probably consists of planning and preparing practice, to welcome the group of players, to carry out exercise X and Y, to correct players, to rehearsal tactic A and B hoping that during the game on weekend everything turns out as planned.  Unfortunately, teams that are used to this militarized style can experience some difficulty in overcoming unpredictable situations during a match because these players are used to follow orders and not to take decisions and to adapt themselves.

“I would like my players to think as coaches” and “I would only like to work with intelligent players” these are some of the usual clichés but are the coaches who speak this way (in many ways, diminishing themselves…), able to do an honest self-critic?

“As a leader am I motivating my players in order to allow (and stimulate) them to use their brains?”

“Am I allowing my players to think about the game? Am I creating enough room for questioning, doubting, discussing, reflecting, suggesting, deciding, etc.?”

Last summer I had the opportunity to attend a coaching course whose speaker was a well-recognized Dutch coach and it was very interesting and at the same time inspiring to learn a bit about the behavior he had when training younger players, always questioning and discussing ideas with the young apprentices in contradiction with the authoritative and autocratic style I mentioned before as erratic.

I must say that it was absolutely fascinating and rewarding to use that formula and to discover the amazing auto-analysis and auto-correction ability in children with their 10/11 years old even when performing the more complex technical variants.

Creating doubt, reflecting and the eventual argument between player and coach about different variations of the game like technical details (Why to choose a push pass in a short distance and a slap in medium/long distance?), tactical details (Why to channel the opponents build-up to our forehand?) or physical details (Why to run “shuttle-runs” or to do exercises based in aerobic intervals during training?) stimulating their reasoning ability allows a greater understanding of the game and training principles and specificities to reach the goal of having a team of “intelligent players” or “coaches-players”.

If we believe as I do that a team has more chances of succeeding if every player is individually more attentive, more intrinsically aware of the game and that the quality of each player is measured mainly by his decisions criteria than by his physical or technical characteristics then it makes sense to choose a coaching style concerned with the team as a whole and in which the distance between coach and players decreases where a permanent reflection and involvement of the player plays not only an essential role but maybe the most important role.

Bernardo Fernandes

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