In this article, coach, blogger and former Australian International Footballer, Joey Peters shares an article on the challenge for coaches to move from a control and command position to trust, optimising the youth development environment and allowing freedom for young athletes to explore.

The Learning Dynamics

Let’s move the sporting landscape from the old ‘Command and Control’ management method, which limits human potential in its stifling and restrictive manner, towards a ‘play-based’ facilitative approach. There we can respect and trust the science that clearly acknowledges learners capabilities as independent, engaged and self-regulating.

If the majority of coaches are commanding and controlling, it must mean any of the following:

  • We are not able to let go and embrace the uncertainly of trust
  • We are unaware of the learning dynamics within complex Systems.
  • We underestimate our learners capabilities and that they are indeed, the expert of their own life.
  • We believe deep down (with good intention or not), that ‘I know better’.

Reflection Time: Do you relate to any of the above in your own methods or at a specific time during your coaching journey?

We see it commonly in professional contexts where the coach is expected to portray themselves from the sideline as ‘the expert’. This also drives an ego-centric culture where it becomes Coach vs. Coach, not about Team vs. Team. Worse still, that’s what’s being modelled to the world of sports coaching. It’s there that we have lost, not only on score-lines but in our human potential.

However, we can also admire humanity, for it’s actually with good intentions that most coaches, (more obvious in volunteer contexts) come with the intention of wanting to help others.

This is why there’s a new way of coaching to share, one which people can trust to then extend to their learners and into their environments. One we can be confident in to provide experiences which are rich in learning about self, others and interacting environments. A place where each individual is supported in their Passion and has freedom to explore their Potential.

We started A New Way of Coaching: Focus Area 1 with the important challenge to let go of control.

Now we have a solid backing to let go of control and trust the learning dynamics.

Trust the Learning Dynamics

‘We must be able to help learners to become more independent in engaging with specific performance environments in regulating their own learning experiences.’

Excerpt From: Jia Yi Chow. “Nonlinear Pedagogy in Skill Acquisition: An Introduction.”

Reflection Time: If the above statement is our purpose as coaches, why do we still see this mechanistic worldview where authority figures (are perceived to) have all the answers and are in complete control of outcomes?

“We mistakenly see anything that doesn’t fit our linear mechanistic worldview as in need of fixing”  as Mark Upton eloquently explains and we strongly recommend reading more on Learning Dynamics from his blog Myfastestmile.

This ‘mechanistic worldview’ can deceive us from our natural complexity as humans, mammals and complex systems.

The Science Continues

“…Better reserved for the machinelike behaviours of robots in a steady state environment that rarely changes, such as a process production line in a factory.

Rather, learners must be helped to acquire skill sets that allow them to thrive in dynamic performance environments (such as sport), which are volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.

…The complexities that are present in any learning context must account for the dynamic interactions that emerge between each learner, the task and the environment, considered together as a complex, highly integrated, nonlinear system”

(Chow et al., 2009; Davids et al., 2014; Hristovski et al., 2011) Nonlinear Pedagogy in Skill Acquisition)

Embracing the Science of Complexity then, is key to informing our Play-Based Facilitative Approach.

Our players need to self-organise and regulate, explore uncertainty, make decisions and become the driver of their own experience. What can we do to facilitate this? Use the GAME PLAY LEARN framework:

  • Design the game
  • Let them play
  • Watch them learn

Yes! Once we’ve provided a play-based environment, we really can stand back and observe the dynamic interactions that emerge between each learner, the task and the environment.

Let’s remember our genius friend…

‘I never teach my pupils, I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.’
– Albert Einstein

Sound easy? Try closing the mouth and you may find initially it’s uncomfortable. It can feel like we’re not helping, we’re not doing anything. But that’s the thing, they are doing the learning. It’s not about us; it’s about them!

Once we’ve provided the learning conditions, we observe. It not only helps the players engage and tune into the game without our constant verbal interruption, but for us to really watch each individual, there’s a lot going on. If you think about it, how quickly and how many interactions are players experiencing in a game of football for example?

By the time we’ve analysed, interpreted and commented on one, we’ve missed another. Rather, by observing, you’re more open to seeing every individual, their capabilities and their interpretation of the game. Then there’s watching their collective behaviours. Complex!

The biggest tension will become when you attune to a game as coach, you can see possible solutions to help your players. But are we really helping them by giving them our solutions or do we want them to come up with their own?

Questions to consider:

  • How powerful is the learning experience to work something out for yourself, even if it takes longer than someone telling you?
  • How else does creativity emerge where players find novel solutions apart from a coach?
  • Let’s not interfere with the independence, engagement and self-regulating of learning dynamics.

This is where performance and learning environments differ. If a coach is under pressure to get results or is going for performance aims, they may try and experiment with quick, short-term solutions that will create an immediate impact on performance rather than be able to give it the time it needs to explore variabilities as a learning opportunity for the individual and team to work together.

Trusting the learning dynamics will develop:

  • Skill Acquisition/Adaptation
  • Game Sense, Strategical Innovation
  • Problem Solving Capabilities and
  • Long Term Human Potential
  • Sustainable Team Performance

So does that mean we become the silent coach? By no means! But we know we need to move to ‘Less audio, more aura’ – Louise McColl

It’s when we spend most of our time observing, we value and respect the learning dynamics so much, that we know ‘If we step into the learning process, we’d better add value”. (Mark O’Sullivan)

Some reasons we may ‘step in’:

  • We can sense the time to change the game or ask the players if they think it needs changing?
  • Ask a question to see if players can articulate the dynamics? For example, ‘what’s been successful for your team in this game?’
  • Facilitate any stoppages that may be used to connect the experience. E.g. A discussion during drink breaks or at the end.
  • We may get creative in drawing the learner’s attention to game information, For example, the use of sporadic commentary.

Understanding the place of verbal cues is important, especially when we know sport is a behaviour-driven and constraints-led more than the processing of verbal information.

Reflection Time: Take note of how you use verbal cues and if they are needed.

So a big challenge awaits. Can we move over? Let the players drive their own journey? Yes, it’ll be difficult to let go and not be in control. Yes, you can still facilitate. You can still be the guide, navigating the experience, but you can also stand back and trust the power of the learning dynamics in the experience.

To download Joey’s free e-booklet from Game Play Learn, click here.

Popular searches: defending, finishing, 1v1, playing out from the back, working with parents