What Makes a Good Coach?

Altan Ramadan Toffa Leave a Comment


Alessandro Limone (Empoli FC) will be here again in July to share his knowledge and expertise with eager young Kiwi players and coaches

What Makes a Good Coach?
The Economist magazine seems an unlikely source of guidance for football coaches.

But the recent publication of a research paper investigating what schools can do to improve learning outcomes provides a blueprint that should be embedded in the mindset of every football coach.

The Research
The 2015 research was conducted by Mr. John Hattie of the University of Melbourne and considered 65,000 research papers that detailed hundreds of interventions to improve learning across 250 million pupils.  The research attempted to answer why some schools or learning environments thrived and others did not improve or declined.

The research finding is compelling.  Of all the interventions that a school can make to improve the learning outcome of a student one element is absolutely vital – the quality of the teacher.

Other factors do have a role to play but essentially the most powerful way to improve school time learning was to either have a high quality teacher or improve the quality of the existing teacher.

Unfortunately the recommendation to improve teaching does not resonate with the majority of people.

Over 70% of Americans believe that teaching is an innate gift – you either have it or you don’t.  It is the same line of thinking that suggests players are born with talent or not.  This view is a myth.  Teaching, like any other activity can be learnt.

The research went on to describe the things a teacher should do to improve the learning outcomes of their students.

How to Teach
The most important teaching elements, as suggested by the research, are high quality instruction and ‘pedagogical content knowledge’ – effectively subject knowledge blended with the teaching craft.

This approach was beautifully summed by one of the key directors of education in Singapore, Charles Chew when he said, “I don’t teach physics, I teach my pupils how to learn physics.”

This style applies equally to football or other sporting disciplines.  To create a fully engaged, learning environment the student needs to learn how to learn.

This can be done through a range of approaches.  The research recommended the importance of planning, varying the way that pupils/athletes practice, creation of clear goals and direction on how to reach those goals, and questioning by the teacher/coach.  Asking ‘how’ and ‘why ‘ questions help develop critical thinking which leads to better decision-making over time.

Teachers were also identified as needing to receive regular feedback and, more importantly, being able to change or innovate dependent on the feedback.  This is a key reason that Top Flight Football Academy has a relationship with Soccer Italian Style – the flow of ideas and, if required, changes in approach, are vital to keep improving our coaching capability.

What Not To Do
On the flip side, research also indicated what teachers or coaches should not be doing.   Top of the list was unearned praise.

Also mentioned was grouping by ability.  This is a particularly interesting finding as many schools and sports academies have a focus on having the best working together.  The danger of this approach is that different stages of development and potential are not considered.  An outcome may be that the potentially exceptional scholar/player at age 16 is not given the opportunity to improve based on relative standing to others at the age of 10.

The teacher/coach was also identified as being responsible for sharing complex ideas rather than the student/athlete ‘discovering’ these ideas for themselves.  This is a vital insight for football coaches in New Zealand – it is the responsibility of the coach to teach.

Implications for Coaching
Coaching is effectively a form of teaching.

The primary learning from the research by Mr. Hattie from a football perspective is that regardless of coaching frameworks, national systems, a standard curriculum, and a range of other initiatives that are put in place to improve football development in New Zealand, the best way to create a generation of talented footballers is to have high quality coaches.

For this very reason, it is vital that all junior coaches in New Zealand are constantly working to better themselves in order to improve our talent development prospects.

The Economist, June 11 2016, “Teaching the Teachers”

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