“The perfect session” Why players shouldn’t be the only ones learning during a session

The idea of delivering the ‘perfect’ coaching session can prove restrictive for coaches who want to learn and get better, explains FA Coach Mentor, Graeme Carrick.

Asking players to step out of their comfort zone, try new things and experiment, are common coaching requests. However, how many coaches can honestly say they are willing to make a few mistakes in order to improve their own practice?

“As coaches we have to learn and part of learning is that we have to step out of our comfort zone and go through the different stages of learning. If we do a session for the first time the chance is it’s not going to be perfect,” explains Graeme Carrick, FA Coach Mentor.

For Carrick, who has worked in a variety of coaching and mentoring roles at The FA over the last nine years, each session is simply an opportunity for coaches to reflect and get better – whether that is during the session or afterwards.

“As coaches we’re learning as well as the players. We would expect players to self-correct and reflect on decisions and say next time I would do this or that differently. It’s the same as coaches when you find there is a problem in the session.”

Intentionally trying to make sense of experiences during and after a coaching session is crucial to inform future thinking and practice. And that doesn’t just include the parts of the session that ‘went wrong’ but the positive aspects as well, explains Carrick.

“It is important that after the session you ask: How did it go? What was good about it? What would you do again? What would you not do again? And for all of the questions ask: why? It’s about trying to make sense of it all.

“If you can do this over a block of work, you’ll start to see development in yourself over the longer term. You’ll see a shift in yourself as well as in the kids,” he adds.

A clear learning objective and focus for the session is crucial if effective reflection is going to take place, explains Carrick.

“It’s important to have clarity in terms of what you’re going to look for in the session and clarity in terms of the things you want to see and bring out. That will give you things to reflect against during the session and you will be able to look at the things the kids are doing.”

With a clear idea of the aim of the session, coaches can start to focus on observation skills and the ‘art of noticing’.

“Within any group there’s going to be lots of stuff going on – so it’s important to answer: what are you looking for and what are you looking at? Sometimes when you try to see everything, you see nothing,” explains Carrick.

“When we first start out with coaching we’re really concerned with organisation, sessions, and how it looks and a feeling of control. As you become more experienced you realise you are more comfortable with that and so that doesn’t take up your attention as much – you’re quite happy with that so you can move on. Now you’re free to look more closely at the players and how they are getting on individually,” he adds.

Carrick believes that starting a coaching practice with a game can prevent coaches getting caught up in issues of practice organisation and instead focus on setting appropriate challenges and observing the players.

“If you start with a game it’s a great way of getting the kids active but it’s also a great of way seeing how they’re getting on with the task and challenges. You can focus your observations more around that than the organisation and how the session is running.

“The challenge might be as simple as: you want the kids to take up better supporting positions. So you’re looking at what the kids are doing off the ball.

“Then you’re reflecting on: how well did they do and did they get a chance to practice it. If so, why? If not, why? And most importantly: what are you going to do for next time? That might be your reflective process. The same observation and reflective process is also equally important on matchdays” adds Carrick.

This article courtesy of Graeme Carrick via the Boot Room, follow Graeme HERE @Graemecarrick