COACHES CORNER: The importance of having a coaching philosophy


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Mark Hager (NZ women’s coach)and Graham Reid (Aust. mens coach) above are two former International players who have made the successful transition to becoming successful International coaches. So what underpins their success? To be an effective coach, the first thing you need to do is establish your coaching philosophy. Without out one it is like a ship without a rudder. However it is seldom taught to new coaches on how to develop a coaching philosophy. It is generally acquired through experience. 

Why is a coaching philosophy important?

A coaching philosophy provides you with direction and internal motivation.

In today’s sports coaching world, it’s easy for coaches to lose sight of the reasons for why they wanted to become a coach in the first place. As coaches we can get so caught up with the distractions of coaching, and all the stress that comes with the job, we often forget why we wanted to coach in the first place. So to have a personal philosophy of coaching that is instilled deeply, sports coaches can always remind themselves why they want to be a coach and how they’re going to change athletes’ lives.

This is a very important step that allows you to apply very effective coaching techniques and reinforces good behaviours in your team environment. It underpins how you approach player management, game and skill development, create a sustaining and winning team culture.

When times are tough and wins are few and far between, you need a strong system of coaching. It’s not appropriate to significantly change your philosophy. Confidence in what you believe is negated rapidly, if the coach ‘loses their way’. Have confidence in your coaching philosophy – have the faith and belief to live by it.

A sound philosophy leads to personal growth and coaching mastery. As David Parkin (former great AFL coach) explains “if you’re reproducing exactly what you did previously, then the best you can do is come a good second. Why? Because someone has already taken your bench mark and added something better and different to it.

Although the ‘system’ or philosophy can and should change over time, Parkin explains “often coaches get themselves into difficulty when they haven’t firmed up their approach, or they unexpectedly change their system.”

An effective coaching philosophy should help you to set goals to ensure your players and assistant coaches are all striving in the same direction. A code of conduct can help you achieve these goals.

What is a philosophy?

It is a philosophical framework is often called your philosophy of sports coaching, and it is simply what you believe about the sports coaching process, and how you plan to approach your athletes given what you believe.

Your coaching philosophy identifies your priorities in life, your values, the way you coach, the way you approach the game, your particular stance on game strategy, your take on team dynamics, relationships, conflict resolution, attributes you would like to nurture in your team…. you name it! It’s about the important things that will make you successful as a coach.

On a practical level, however, writing your philosophy of sports coaching and keeping it updated is a great idea.

A coaching philosophy takes years to develop; but, like mine, yours began the first day you started coaching. Your experiences as a player and observer will also help you develop just as world renowned basketball coach John Wooden developed his own. It becomes your own personal roadmap to success. Your philosophy continues to grow as you learn more about the game and dealing with players.

Your philosophy has to be yours. Like Chris Anderson, a legendary NRL Coach in Australia says with reference to developing your philosophy, “There is a 100 ways to skin a cat, but you must find your way!”

Secondly, a coaching philosophy takes time to develop. One’s philosophy is never going to remain stagnant once you enter the coaching world. This is a great time for you to think about how you wish to approach the coaching program, your athletes, the season, and the entire sports coaching process.

With every single year of experience, your philosophy will likely change. You will start to realize what it is really important to you in your coaching. If nothing else, just for you personally, this will help you keep the big picture separate from the details. When you experience a particularly difficult day, you might forget about the big picture and allow the details to really get you down. Refocusing depends on your ability to remember your goals.

Experience plays a big role in their development of your own. Of course some of the best coaches in the world had to learn from the school of hard knocks. In fact that is life. Yet they have mentally made a note of what works and what doesn’t work for them. And then they apply this wisdom into every coaching environment. Some parts of that philosophy will work depending on the players they have got, their management team or the club they belong to.

When you add up all your experiences as a player, observer, lessons learned from reading, ideas picked up at clinics, gab sessions with other coaches and your own personality, you have the beginnings of a coaching philosophy. Warning: Do not be misled! All this is no guarantee of success. The way you implement this philosophy is equally important.

Your philosophy should also involve your approach to the game including offensive and defensive strategies. Then break the offense and defense down into fundamental drills and procedures. Then, you must convince your players your chosen offense and defences will help them win games.

A philosophy provides guidelines for training sessions. Most of all, as the coach, you must make practices fun. When practice sessions become monotonous, players lose interest and focus.The coach must maintain a good team spirit, getting players up for each game. He must get the best from each player. He needs to be on top of athlete development. He must be aware of the players who need the most attention and understanding.

Coaches must use caution in his disciplinary measures; however, he must deal with such problems, should one occur during the season. He should stay on top of any situation that might cause team friction. At the first sign of conflict between players, they should be called in to talk it over. All such problems can usually be settled if they are not allowed to fester. Be constructive with criticism. Any suggestion made to one player applies to all. Praise a player who makes an outstanding play. A player should understand that a coach wouldn’t waste his breath if he did not like you. The coach usually criticizes players he plays the most.

The coach’s relationship with his players is most important. One-on-one conferences with each player before, during, and after the season are worthwhile. Use these conferences to discuss his approach to the game, basketball progress, weaknesses, shortcomings, health, studies, outside problems, the player’s contributions to the team, and selection of a college.

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The bottom line – The actions of every coach are guided by an underlying set of principles or beliefs; their coaching philosophy. So how develop your coaching philosophy. Firstly determine the things you value in life and then applied to sport. Consider who has influenced you the most. A good exercise is to determine your 3 selves, i.e., you your ideal you, your public you, and your real you. This is a revealing challenge. Lastly once you have determined your draft coaching philosophy ensure you communicate it to your team. Your team culture will flow from this act. Finally ensure that you accept it is a work in process where self-refle