Approaches To Coaching
Updated: Jun 5, 2020
My first conception of the idea of coaching came through sport. And still, if you say the word ‘coach’ to me, I tend to think of someone wearing a tracksuit, laying out plastic cones in a field or making me jog lengths of a sports hall.
Growing up I received countless hours of cricket coaching. I’m from a town in Berkshire called Wokingham, and up to the age of 18 cricket training would take me all over the home counties – from Milton Keynes to Southampton. And I received coaching from many different coaches in that time – some I formed lasting partnerships with, some I hoped never to work with again.
Looking back, the coaches that were really successful had not just an ability to see my technical faults and set up drills to help me correct them, but were able to understand me as a person, what excited me, what blocked me and what worked for me. Good coaches work with the person not just the player. In this way they give that person confidence, give them a better understanding of their own processes, strengths and weaknesses – all of which allows that person to coach themselves.
The best coaches recognise that the only person who can improve the player they’re working with, is the player themselves.
The coach’s job isn’t to improve that player, the coach’s job is to remove the impediments, blocks and obstacles that are stopping that player improving themselves. Part of that is working with them to clarify what it is they actually want. “I want to get better”, “I want to be the best” aren’t helpful answers – what do you want to get better at? And you have no control over whether you become the best at something. In order to become the best, you have to be better than others and we can’t control how good other people are. We can only be our best and hope and trust that this is enough.
So, yes, the coach’s job involves setting drills and technical exercises – but the only way these work is if the player understands why they’re doing them. Not just the immediate technical purpose but what the goal is, what are they working towards. Then they can start to help themselves. Then they start to overcome their own obstacles. Embrace what they can’t control and dedicate themselves to improving what they can.
How does this relate to what I do now? Working with actors and writers in theatre and working with lecturers to improve their confidence and communication skills.
Fundamentally, it means that my focus is on helping you understand your own motivations and the limitations you have put on yourself. Then we can work together to break down these limitations and free you up to achieve what you want to achieve.
An example. Say I’m working with a lecturer who struggles to reach the back of the lecture room with their voice. I very quickly see what the technical problem is – they have severe neck and shoulder tension, this is blocking and inhibiting their breath and stopping the voice from being released with any power. Great. I can work on this. And I will! But why have they got neck and shoulder tension? Unless we deal with this, any technical work will only be a temporary fix.
Instead, if we adopt a two-pronged approach:
1) Work with the lecturer to identify the technical flaw (ie. neck and shoulder tension). Assign specific technical exercises to help release, ease and manage this tension. Combined with technical exercises to deepen the breath and increase vocal power.
2) Discuss with the person how they feel about lecturing or public speaking. What’s their preparation? What’s the purpose of the lecture? As an example, let’s say that person is delivering a lecture series that actually is slightly out of their comfort zone – the normal lecturer is on sabbatical and they’re filling in. It feels like a chore and they feel insecure in their knowledge. Ok, now we’re getting to the root of the problem! So, what can we do to make you feel more secure? What can we do to turn this lecture series into something you want to deliver?
This two-pronged approach is vital. Each needs the other and supports the other. Working on technique helps create relaxation and ease, which will help enjoyment delivering the lecture. Whilst, working on the motivations and preparation helps create confidence and comfort, which helps release the neck and shoulder tension.
Good coaches work with the whole person. Technique does not exist in a vacuum, it is part of a much bigger picture.