At the time of writing, I am preparing a presentation for a group of coaches on coach communication, specifically focussed on themes around intervention types, connection with players, when and how we step in (and the impacts of this), or perhaps more importantly when we shouldn’t step in.

So why wouldn’t a coach step in if a player is struggling? Whilst skill acquisition is an area I am fascinated with, I am far from an expert. I like to lean into the work of experts like Mark Upton, Ric Shuttleworth and our own, James Vaughan for content that challenges my thinking. I recently read a great post from former Manchester United coach, Paul McGuiness who referenced Duarte Aruajo, “If the environment and the coach are unforgiving, the players won’t explore the environment.”

So how does this impact our interventions? Firstly, it should prompt us to design practices within our sessions that encourage players to find solutions to problems. The great thing about adopting this approach is that players may well find solutions that we could never see or imagine.

By doing this, we allow them space and opportunity to explore, see things, try things and refine things. Of course, the value in the coach then comes down to how we could probe, question or discuss this with the player and when we do it.

Importantly, not every player will necessarily be able to articulate what occurs in the game in a conversation, we’re talking about split second decisions where players are perceiving opportunities for action, then trying to execute a solution. I like a question from top academy coach, Dan Wright: “What is the game asking you to do?”

Secondly, when we feel that urge to jump in, correct, instruct, demonstrate, command or question our players, we need to consider that it can come with a consequence. We need to be clear that in those moments we add real value to our players, or are we just trying to validate our existence by talking?

I like to think of coach communication as a continuum, where at times players might need to be pushed or pulled. In between lies a space for players to be left to play. How we go about that is determined by the context we work in. At times a short, sharp intervention might add value to get a message across. On other occasions, maybe a conversation adds value after the session to encourage reflection.

Two things to consider.

  1. Remain as self-aware as possible. Are you stepping in for the players, or for you?
  2. Understand that different individuals may respond or receive feedback differently. Do you know your players?

One thing for you to try this week.

Try to plan your interventions. If you have a 30 minute practice in your session, perhaps you plan to step in for no more than a few minutes of this practice to ensure the ball rolls and the players explore the environment.

Be clear as to what you’re looking for, what you might see and be open to players doing things you didn’t expect. This could involve having a progression, adaptation (to increase or change the challenge point) or a question up your sleeve.

One critical resource on the topic.

Check out this great article by James Vaughan and Mark O’Sullivan on whether coaches are adding value, or anxiety to the environment.

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