Coaching Observations

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This week, students in our Coaching Principles course were tasked with observing a practice session and writing a response about what they viewed. Here are a couple of their responses.

By: Andrew Kreichelt

Practice Observation: High School Cross Country

Being a former athlete and a current coach, it is hard to sit back and watch a practice without wanting to jump in and actively participate. Taking the time to sit and watch a practice really opens your eyes up to the things you miss while coaching or participating as an athlete. For this assignment, I decided to watch a high school summer cross country practice.

While athletes were arriving, the pre-practice atmosphere was very relaxed. The athletes naturally separated into multiple groups which I am assuming were either friend based or class based. They were all chatting and joking around while they stretched. The head coach was on the side talking with his assistant coaches and joking around with them. The head coach eventually finished his conversation with the other coaches and they all started making their way around to the different athletes. Conversations ranged from checking up and seeing how the athlete felt to cracking jokes and laughing. It was a very relaxed atmosphere and everyone was enjoying themselves.

When it came time for practice to start, the head coach gathered everyone’s attention and went over different announcements he had and to work hard this summer so that team and personal goals can be met. The coach reminded everyone about the hot weather and staying hydrated and then touched on a few different things before he explained the day’s workout. He set different pace groups for the athletes and then got the workout started.

The assistant coaches were spread around the course yelling out times and keeping the athletes on pace. The head coach meanwhile roamed the course, never staying in one spot too long. While roaming, he was constantly yelling encouragement and pushing his athletes to work hard. He made his way to the finish area by the end and greeted every athlete as they finished their workout.

As the athletes rested after their workout, the head coach talked again about what he saw today, ways to improve and what to look forward too. He took time to listen to different athlete concerns and then dismissed the athletes for the day. After a little chat with the other coaches, he too left and the practice was officially over.

Team Culture

The team as a whole was very relaxed during the whole practice. Before practice began, all the athletes were group up talking and joking around with each other. There were some groups that formed possibly based on class level or friendships. No one though was made to look like an outcast. I did notice though that the athletes that younger were a lot more quiet and reserved while the older athletes were more talkative. Also, the star athletes seemed to carry themselves differently and act a little bit above some of their teammates.

The coach acted a lot like his team; he was very relaxed and talkative. He appeared very friendly and inviting but also commanded respect from his athletes. When he talked, his athletes quieted down and listened. One thing I liked about him was how he seemed to make everything fun. The workout he gave his athletes seemed very difficult yet he somehow made it enjoyable. He had his athletes laughing and enjoying themselves before practice, killed them during the workout and then had them smiling afterwards. He found a way to keep practice from being a chore, and made it something to look forward too. The team came to work but had fun while doing it.

Team Motivation

Overall, all the athletes seemed to be really motivated and having fun. The coach did his homework and had learned enough about each athlete to pair them up with runners who were at the same level as them. He created an environment in which each athlete had someone next to them to push them through workouts. When you have someone to run with and push you, you run harder and it showed during the workout. When an athlete succeeds and sees how their work is paying off, it is a lot easier to get motivated. The coach has succeeded in creating an environment for his athletes to flourish.

Relationship Management

If there was one thing this coach did well, it was communicating with his athletes. He spent the whole practice walking around critiquing, yelling, and pushing his athletes. Then when the workout was over, he was making his rounds and talking with different athletes about how they did. He critique during the workout and then explained himself afterwards. He did a great job of helping the athletes understand what they were doing wrong and where they need to improve and how to do it.

The one thing that I did not see much of was conflict resolution. Although the coach was very easygoing, he commanded a certain amount of respect from his team. When he talked, they listened and there was not much arguing about what he said. I imagine by the way he led practice and his team handled themselves that he searches for a mutual agreement. He likes to put the athletes first so I see him working towards a mutual agreement when conflicts arise.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I feel that this coach and team were like a well-oiled machine. The coach had created an environment that was challenging yet rewarding and the athletes had bought into his system. The coach did a great job teaching his athletes and keeping them motivated. The athletes knew what was expected of them and worked hard at practice. The only negative I saw at all was how the coach tended to spend more time with his best athletes. Overall, his practice was well run and efficient.

By: Adam Brown

For this assignment, I chose to observe my friends Gaelic team practice at Flodin Park in Canton. In case you don’t know, Gaelic is Ireland’s national sport, and is played on a soccer or football field. Elements of basketball, volleyball, soccer, and rugby are incorporated, and it can be a physical game. The team who scores the most points, by scoring against a goalie in a soccer net, or by kicking the ball through the field goal, wins.

The team participates in a men’s league, with all participants over the age of 21. The coach, Sean, used to play on the team for many years, is retired, and for the most part is very familiar with the 16-20 other players on the team. He understands that this is somewhat of a “beer league”, but he still wants to try and make it competitive, as the winner of the Midwest conference gets an all-expenses paid trip to the national finals in Seattle. He understands that players work full time jobs, have families, and are getting older and aren’t the athletes they used to be, or think they are. As the movies from this module demonstrated, communication between players and the coach means everything. I got the sense that this group communicated very well. The coach didn’t talk down to anybody, and only used positive reinforcement when someone made a mistake or did something well. Because of the nature of the team (middle aged, Irish males) there was a lot of swearing and good natured jokes going around, but nothing was taken or meant to be serious. All the players and coaches were on the same page, and understood each other.

The coach was trying constantly to improve the form/style of the players, as well as the general strategy he wanted them to execute. These were grown men he was coaching, andembarrassing them or trying to make them feel bad about a mistake they made would not go over smoothly. The players were pretty good friends for the most part. They would hang out and go to the bar on days they didn’t have practice or a game, and were pretty involved with each others’ lives. The fact that they were all friends showed on the field as well. Gaelic can be a very physical sport, but in practice everyone seemed to be obeying an “unwritten rule” to not injure or hurt your teammate. There was a few incidents I remember thinking somebody was going to get tackled very hard, but at the last second the tackler pulled up and went easy on the other so as not to hurt him. This kind of respect, in my opinion, was the result of the coach making it perfectly clear what was to be expected in practice, as well as the things that should be avoided. 

The coach definitely helped the athletes have fun, although fun was not the primary purpose of the practice. The purpose was to get a quality practice in, so the team can be ready for their first game in a few weeks. As another video from this module mentioned, good team chemistry leads to efficient practices, which leads to winning games and practices. The team chemistry was orchestrated though direct and honest communication with what they were doing right and wrong, while a competitive setting was kept in place by the thought of getting an all-expenses paid vocation to Seattle. Some players were held to higher standards than others. There were a few players who were new to the team, and weren’t familiar with Gaelic in the first place. They often made mistakes, and the coach (and fellow teammates) never got mad at them, but pushed them to do better and gave them pointers/tips on what they were doing wrong. The players who have been on the team for several years were expected to teach the younger players as well, and when they made mistakes, the coach made sure they knew they messed up and that it shouldn’t happen again.

Another video from the module talked about the 4 types of verbal communication; informing, requesting, influencing, and entertaining. I feel this coach did all of those. He talked and joked with the players, when appropriate, and at the level they could relate to. Because of his years of experience, he could inform the players of things they should expect to come from the weeks ahead. He was friends with the players when outside of the league, so he knew the best way to ask/request of certain things from specific players. He also understood that sometimes it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it, which falls in to the influence category. Being a member of the team for so long, he knew the best communication methods to use. Which also touches on his non-verbal communication. His style was arms behind the back, to portray a non-threatening demeanor. He also like to talk to players one on one, so he didn’t have to shout or raise his voice. He would put a hand on their shoulder, and talk calmly to them like a father would do to his son.

For the time I was there, there were no conflicts that needed to be resolved. I think this is due to the positive atmosphere the coach had put in place. Overall, I thought this a great learning experience. I discovered the specific reasons on what made a coach respected by his players, as well as being successful. I think I was lucky to have observed this group of players, and especially this specific coach. I feel he truly represented what all great coaches do, and I can say that if I played for him, I would be truly proud of it.

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