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Coaching & Development, Performance | Mar 25, 2020
Themes around coaching the coaches explored, discussed, and parsed in a virtual learning environment.

The first ever Virtual Leaders Meet: Coach Development event was a resounding success despite being forced behind closed doors.


By John Portch

When the coronavirus pandemic ruled out the physical event at St George’s Park the Leaders Performance Institute team worked tirelessly to bring the event online. More than 700 participants attended the four sessions – well in excess of the physical capacity we would have enjoyed at St George’s – to hear from four supremely talented and engaging speakers, who delivered a successful day of insight.

The theme of coaching the coaches has never been more prominent in high performance and, for those of you who made it online, here is a roundup of the day’s main takeaways; and for those of you unable to make it, we hope you’ll find a slice of insight here for your ongoing projects.

Coaching With The FA: Insight into the Coach Development Programmes Across England Football

Jamie Robinson, Head of Professional Game Coach Development, The Football Association

For the first session of this event, we heard from the Football Association’s Head of Professional Game Coach Development on the challenges and opportunities within their coach development programmes, how they think about coaching the coaches and how to continue to develop the coaches of the future.

The FA Education Mission Statement and Strategy:

“To create a world-leading education programme that inspires, supports and empowers a diverse football workforce to become excellent developers of creative players, teams and the game.”

  • The FA’s Professional Coach Development Team has developed an integrated coaching strategy and that means, in practice, a collaborative approach, involving the game’s stakeholders in England, where the aim is ‘to continue to develop the culture of development in English football’. That calls for a shared purpose and an understanding of each other’s roles and responsibilities so that coach development pathways can be more streamlined, efficient and effective. This involves a range of qualifications and CPD opportunities, but it also means a club-led approach, facilitated by the FA as a national governing body.
  • Any chance you get to chat to other coaches about something then the whole essence of that topic gets solidified in your brain, whether it feeds into your practices or other programmes. Course materials, experiences, resources, ideas are only good if they’re translated into real life. That comes alive with how an FA member of staff might be able to support you in your circumstances, with your group, on your training night, what you’re trying to get better at – there’s a real, genuine transfer of theory to practice.
  • The FA believes in reality-based learning, with 70% of learning done on the job. Coaches need to recognise what’s going well, what’s not going well, how work is going, how they’re being most effective and impactful. The next 20% comes from peer to peer interaction, when share your experience and reflections of your real work in situ or through support visits throughout the year. It’s a huge commitment and you need a lot of staff to be able to do that effectively. The final 10%, which is also crucial, is what a coach might learn in the classroom. You need people to be relaxed, comfortable in sharing their insights and their experiences in a supportive environment so that you can get into the nuances of what they do.

Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

Nurturing Googlers: People & Talent Development the Google Way

Lucero Tagle, People & Organisation Development Lead, Google

We then switched our focus from football to Google to explore how the organisation thinks about people development in the corporate space.

Google’s Coaching mission and strategy:

“Our mission is to accelerate development of leadership talent through great coaching and tailored experiences to meet current and future needs of our leaders and the business.”

“Our strategy is to build, develop and scale a portfolio of exceptional coaching resources for the benefit to Google and Google leaders.”

  • Learning is becoming more social, personal, experiential and learners are acting with greater autonomy but they still need more guidance and support to be successful. Equip your coaches to drive good performance outcomes, enable your people to succeed, and ease their learning and respect their needs.
  • However, it is not about having fewer classrooms, but more of the right learning at the right time, for the right reasons. Formal learning has an amplifier effect – by clarifying, supporting, and boosting other development activities. Learning programs should stretch a Googler into new spaces, enable learning from/with peers and offer insight that will help the Googler shape their environment.
  • At Google, challenging or meaningful experiences are the primary ingredient to developing a Googler to their fullest potential. It’s essential to identify experiences that will build and demonstrate capability in the development areas identified. It’s also helpful to get an insight from different angles into a Googler’s strengths, development areas and aspirations. This insight is useful in building self-awareness, prioritising development actions and providing input on progress along the development journey.
  • When iterating a development plan for your coaches, be sure to:
    • Get to know the person. Have a focused conversation. Understand their past, experiences, and aspirations. Reflect and have a point of view on destination roles / what they require.
    • Build a plan. Align on the destination role and the key development needs relative to the role. Write this down, make it time-bound and actionable.
    • Launch and iterate. Set checkpoints to review progress with the person. Evaluate what worked, what didn’t and what they’ve learned about themselves along the way. Provide ongoing feedback and keep key stakeholders involved and updated.
    • Support and scaffold. Prioritise for critical business needs, assignments, projects, formal learning. Get to know and mentor people whose destination role may be in your organisation. Monitor pivotal senior roles for mobility and assignments. The leadership team shares collective ownership to ensure progress.
  • When building a 12-month development plan, make sure your agreed actions are SMART [Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound]. Then, identify experiences that will build and demonstrate capability in the development areas identified; determine if increased insights into strengths, aspirations etc. would be useful for development; and leverage formal learning as appropriate for skill building as well as opportunities to learn from peers.

Carsten Koall/Getty Images

Tools for Success: Exploring the Art of Mastering Craft in Sport

Steve Borthwick, Skills Coach, England Rugby (incoming Head Coach, Leicester Tigers)

Next on the agenda was a session that focused on the art of mastering craft and skills-based coaching. Steve Borthwick, a former player himself, has served as a forwards coach and is the Skills Coach with the England men’s national rugby union team. He reflected with humility on developing his craft as a coach and that of his players, as well as creating experiential environments to support the development of talent, feedback and communication.

  • “The title of this session is mastering the craft but I’m a million miles away from that.” Borthwick learnt quickly that simply coach from his experience as a player would leave him redundant. He said: “My coaching developed into one of trying to always understand the game; and the best coaches are the best players. I want to learn from them, observe them, see how they go about things; posing challenges to them and then observing how they deal with those challenges. How can I make some suggestions that help? How can I get players to learn from other players and what other coaches are around that I can learn from? The more you coach, the more you learn, the more you realise what you don’t know.”
  • A practice session has limited value if you haven’t made clear the principle that you’re working on or the context in which you’re trying to do it. “With England, in practice, we work off a checklist of things that ensure the context is clear,” says Borthwick. “Am I making that clear to the players? Am I putting them in situations that are game-relevant and am I asking them to adapt to situations that develops their skill and enables them to coach each other? Be very clear about the endpoint that you’re working towards.”
  • A coach must be able to spot the gaps in their knowledge and skillsets and work to bridge those gaps. “I think there’s a big gap in my coaching background around teaching. When you’re a teacher trying to engage people who don’t want to be engaged, by comparison, I’ve got it easy, working with elite rugby players; I see that gap and I’m trying to educate myself.”
  • “How do you get a message to a player and get the best out of them? Everyone is different,” explains Borthwick. “There is a time and place for absolutely everything; the skill of the coach is knowing when you recognise the right approach at any point in time. You’ve got to be absolutely clear what standards are expected, what your key objective is within any one session, and then understanding how you get the best out of each of the players.”
  • Self-reflection is key. “How do you reflect at the end of each day or each session? Do you write it down? Do you have it on your computer? Do you have a journal or a diary?” asks Borthwick. “We all make mistakes but it’s how do we learn from them? You’ve got to continue to learn, understand the context of the day, that period in the season, that player and their life, and get the best out of them.”

David Rogers/Getty Images

The Rise of Generation Z: Developing Coaches & Teachers For the Future Learner

Jonnie Noakes, Director of Teaching & Learning, Eton College

One of the biggest challenges we come across is the ability for different generations to coexist within a high performance environment. This presents challenges for coaches, so to help us explore how the learner is evolving and how we can prepare our coaches for this, we turned to the world of education for inspiration on how Eton College specifically is looking to prepare their teachers for future students.

Who are Generation Z?

Noakes outlined the characteristics of Generation Z [those born between 1997-2010] and suggested, with reference to a series of studies, how these might be leveraged by coaches in sport. Generation Z are:

  • Disillusioned about traditional institutions, the establishment, politicians and the mass media.
  • Sceptical about business leaders, their motives and trustworthiness.
  • Pessimistic about the economy, social progress, and the environment.
  • Concerned about terrorism and personal safety.
  • Uneasy about their careers and future prospects.
  • At ease with fluidity and the idea that nothing is permanent.
  • Value experiences such as travel and helping the community more than starting a family or a business.

How do Gen Zs learn?

  • While Millennials use three screens on average, Gen Zs frequently use up to five. Most use a smartphone, TV, laptop, desktop and a tablet. On screen = 10 hours a day.
  • Constant stimulation and access to the world’s information at their fingertips has given them an eight-second attention span and has trained their brains to expect instant gratification.
  • Sitting in a hall or a classroom listening to a lecture is not for Gen Z.
  • Gen Z students want a chance to be part of the learning process, not a passive bystander.

So what can coaches do?

  • Allow Gen Zs to show their individuality – remember they are used to ‘hyper-customisation’.
  • Communicate with them face to face – they prefer this.
  • Give them feedback individually and in person.
  • Allow them to be independent and competitive.
  • Show them how to collaborate when it’s needed (they are less collaborative than Millennials and need to be taught how).
  • Experiential learning: Gen Zs learn by doing.
  • Blended learning: personalised learning which is individually driven.
  • Assessing and modifying: involve them in the planning and iteration stages.
  • Storytelling: they are interested in the individual stories of their peers.
  • Focus on the future: give them interactions with those in years ahead, clear goals, and focus on career development strategies.
  • Rewards: they are serious and respond to ‘work hard and see the rewards’.

Graeme Robertson/Getty Images


What does the modern coach need to know?

We tackle this question in our latest Performance Special Report. Download Coachmaker: What the Modern Coach Needs to Know, which features sports organisations as diverse as Ulster Rugby, the Geelong Cats, Minnesota Timberwolves and US Special Operations discussing personal development, creating performance environments, recruitment and using data in smarter ways.

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