Coach Watching

I am on my way to England to meet a group of coaches with whom I have been in contact since 2013.

It is my tenth visit to watch them coach and to talk about their life in coaching. We meet up twice a year in season and out of season. This is a perfect sequence given my cohort of coaches is drawn from cricket and rugby union.

I am fascinated by the coaches’ lifeworlds and how they go about the art, science and magic of coaching.

I have not mentioned Edmund Husserl to the coaches but I have been profoundly influenced as a coach watcher by his discussion of phenomenology. When I spend time with the coaches, I am mindful of Edmund’s observation:

There are two sorts of truth: on the one hand, everyday practical situational truths … on the other side are scientific truths, and their grounding leads back … to the situational truths …

These situational truths exist in each of our lifeworlds that Edmund describes as “a realm of original self-evidences … and the world of straightforward intersubjective experiences”.

I try to be clear about my lifeworld experiences when I watch and meet the coaches. I have really enjoyed the opportunity to engage with their lifeworlds.

Packing my suitcase to travel to England is a very tactile way of thinking about my situational truths. Today they were brought more into focus by a Guardian article about the New Zealand rugby union coach, Wayne Smith.

I have been an admirer of Wayne’s coaching from the mid 1990s.

The Guardian article includes this observation from Tana Umaga:

Smithy treats everyone with respect, and sees the good. He wants to keep teaching. That’s what engenders everyone’s trust; buy-in from players. That’s why people think he’s one of the best coaches in the world, if not the best.

In the article, Wayne notes:

I was exposed to people like Andre Buonomo and Pierre Villepreux, who’s probably one of the greatest coaches ever.” Their mantra was athlete-centred coaching, focusing on decision-making over skills, on adapting skills to on-field situations. So rather than being instructional all the time, asking questions and getting descriptive answers to know whether the players understood or not.

When I turned up at Crusaders…[I was about] playing games for learning, asking questions to create self-awareness, working on people’s strengths rather than not just what they can’t do.

The article concludes with this paragraph:

After 2015, we lost six guys at the same time, who were quite possibly the best players that ever played in their position. Losing them at the same time should have been a massive hole for any team,” he says. “We thought, how do we get better?” He concluded that counterattack was the best form of defence. “The two things are linked: the counterattack is a really inspiring part of the game for me. We switch quickly. A lot of people say how creative the All Blacks are, or how much flair there is, but creativity is just practice that’s camouflaged. It comes from hard work.

The task of packing my case was much easier after reading Alexander Bisley’s Guardian article about Wayne. My lifeworld is permeated by a passion for teaching and the understanding approach that has pervaded Wayne’s coaching.

I am hopeful that my journey with cricket and rugby union coaches provides further support for teachers who are able to entangle their leadership with the following that is essential to athlete-centred coaching … and the creative expression of practice.

Photo Credits

On the pitch at Worcester (Keith Lyons, CC BY 4.0)

About to go out in Nottingham (Keith Lyons, CC BY 4.0)

Athele-led warm up at Loughborough (Keith Lyons, CC BY 4.0)

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