Learning new tricks with "Ted" at ICCE Global Coaches

I was really fortunate to attend ICCE Global Coaches House this week, for which the core purpose of this is to provide a networking and learning opportunity for sport coaches from around the globe whom are in Gold Coast for the Commonwealth Games. Attendees included “Next generation” coaches preparing to be future Commonwealth, Olympic and Paralympic coaches, coaches working with athletes on the high performance development pathway who wish to learn from this pinnacle of sport achievement, Commonwealth coaches once their events are complete, Coach Developers, who work to embed coaching cultures, improve coaching systems and practice in business and sport, and/or Representatives of sport and coaching organisations.


The focus early in the week was "coaches as learners" and how great coaches never stopped learning. It was awesome to have Graham Henry offer his experiences and knowledge as opening keynote surrounding this area. He described how adversity, perceived and recorded failures (through win-loss ratios) inspired him to self analyse and continue learning. He addressed when he took charge of Wales Rugby Union national side, he had around 25 years experience of coaching. However, after unsuccessful B&I Lions tour, he had lost the support and morale of dressing room and the players within; only then did he realise "the game was about the players, not the coach" and promised to never let this happen again through self reflection and learning new tricks.

He started to dig deeper into the ideas of what creates and keeps good people and good teams. His points were initially raised by Peter Conde (AIS Director) whom spoke before Henry and said: 

In order to win gold medals, you don’t just need gold medal athletes, you also need gold medal coaches and gold medal support staff around them.

Henry used an example from an observation by Sir Clive Woodward where England's support staff were double of Graham's in their 2002 Six Nations loss. Woodward said at the after dinner function "You don't expect your 4 lads to beat our 8!!"; he replied that he believed he did but led him to realise that he needed greater expertise through more people around him whom also have the passion to do the job. After long periods of self reflection and professional setbacks, he found himself involved in NZ Rugby and eventually in All Blacks head coach role after 2003 World Cup. However, it was 2004 Tri-Nations defeats and culture issues which really led to changes within All Blacks values and goals. Driven by leadership group of players and supported by coaches and other individuals such as Sir Brian James Lochore and Gilbert Enoka, they re-addressed the goals of the national team, looked at building culture within the group and coaches acted as a resource for the players whom were feeling disenchantment and pressure when in the jersey. 

I have talked previously around one of the areas of research surrounding this application before being Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). This theory has the coach standing as a recognised more capable other to the athlete with their requirement being to engage in contextual collaborative and learning relationship with athletes to ensure optimal psychological functioning for maximal sporting performance. The coach or more capable other plays a significant role in transitioning athlete from other’s assistance to self-assistance through ideas such as leading questions or prompting higher cognitive thoughts to assist independent problem solving and improved performance in next similar situation. Having three stages in shifting from assistance by others, transition stage and assistance to self, this supports the theory that “development appears twice”. This theory believes development firstly occurs inter-psychological between peers or playing group for this context, prior to occurring intra-psychological, where we internally process and develop.

I have believed this Vygotskian approach to team based learning would be strongly advantageous in a rugby union atmosphere. A collaborative exploration into the technical and tactical sides of the sport offer the support required for elite players whilst allowing coaches to unobtrusively redesign coaching environment based on player’s learning styles, acknowledging various philosophies, outlooks and player identities. This method may less impact team cultures and social dynamics as approach is physically and emotionally safe for involved athletes whom have control over their learning methods with all tasks being meaningful and understood. Ideas within sessions to build a sense of ZPD include open games and skills exploration akin to ideas in TGfU, aimed at discovery of new techniques and problems solving strategies along with improved coach communication such as open ended coach questioning and honest feedback to allow players to discover solutions. However, feedback and advice to players from coaches should never be “negative judgements of performance because levels of confidence, motivation and enthusiasm shall not be boosted by negative one to one conversations” (Bullock and Wikeley, 2004).

Henry talked regarding AB's desire to become the GOAT (Greatest of all time), not just within rugby union yet most successful team across all sports. He mentioned how they adopted solutions focused mentality (similar to growth mindset) while player driven goals were around the process over results, discussing ideas such as quick daily reviews of what they should keep doing, stop doing and start doing.  He mentioned: 

Culture eats strategy for breakfast....the better we are connected, the better we play

Summarising, he listed the main areas targeted to gain continuous improvement and learning were:

  • Connection to others and self 
  • Player supported and self analysis 
  • Mental strength; ideas such as blue head vs red head and ability to focus on next task and get on with the job. 
  • Player ownership and combined responsibility 

These ideas were supported in Dr Masa Ito (Nippon Sports University) & John Bales (ICCE) workshop where they discussed the leading trends in teaching and learning for the future were project based learning, life long learning (mediated or unmediated) and student centred learning by placing pedagogies that place individual needs at the heart of learning. Like outlined by Sir Graham, I believe continued learning requires self motivation within a supportive environment, observation of and understanding yourself and targeted audience, creative thinking and innovative methods in ever changing environments and settings.