This is the next in a series of posts that come from some ideas I wrote about in my first two booklets A Head Coach’s Guide for Working with Assistants and The Assistant Coach’s Guide to Coaching. While those booklets were born out of some specific head coach/assistant coach issues I was facing with some members of a coaching staff for whom I was an athletic director, many of the ideas in them form the basis for good coaching principles in general. This post discusses the concept of being precise as we teach.
In the booklet A Head Coach’s Guide for Working with Assistants, I explain to head coaches that they need to consider how they will get their systems implemented into their programs through their assistant coaches. While we may know how we want things taught, we have to make sure that our assistant coaches know how to do this, too. Just giving assistants a drill book and sending them out to fend for themselves isn’t going to get it done. Head coaches need to make sure that assistant coaches understand how drills work and how to teach them properly.
For kids to attain a certain skill level or understand a certain concept, they must not only practice it; they must practice it correctly. The old saying is “Practice makes perfect.” A better way to put it would be, “Perfect practice makes perfect.” If you are practicing something the wrong way, you are just going to reinforce an improper way of performing a skill. You may have some type of positive result, but you are not going to attain the level of “perfection” that you are seeking.
Coaches must be demanding of their players that they perform the drills and skills the precise way, or they are setting the kids up for failure down the road. If I say to a kid that he needs to be at a particular spot to execute a certain move, I better make darn sure that he is at that spot each time that he is working on it. If he isn’t, I need to stop him and correct him to make sure that he understands the importance of doing it the right way. If I don’t correct him, it is my fault if he fails at that skill.
Early on in a season, I believe it is imperative that all the little things get corrected and taken care of right away. Then later on, you can give them a little more time where they try to work through things without correction because they have practiced it the right way so much up to that point, that now all you need to do is stop them occasionally and remind them how that skill needs to be done. At that point in the season, they will usually nod their heads, acknowledge what you are saying and go on. I don’t subscribe to the theory of “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” You need to sweat the small stuff, the big stuff, and everything in between. It is a key to your success.
Being precise is a necessity. Kids need specific direction in order to perform the way you want them to perform. By the same token, assistant coaches need the same kind of specific direction. Head coaches need to show them exactly how they want something taught, and then make sure that the assistants are teaching it that way. Head coaches need to help assistants understand the terminology and the steps of teaching the skill. Then they need to correct the assistants when they make a mistake. However, they should never correct the assistants in front of the kids. They must find a way to augment what the assistants have said, or they should have the assistants come back the next day and re-teach the skill the proper way. That way the assistants are not put into an embarrassing spot of having to explain why they taught something the wrong way.
In any situation where there is teaching to be done, it is always best to err on the side of being too precise than to not be precise enough. While I fully understand the importance of trying to be brief as much as possible, you cannot sacrifice quality instruction in order to be brief. Yes, coaches need to talk less and have players play more. I totally agree. But when it is fitting and necessary, they need to make sure they get as precise as possible. This means making sure that every word has meaning and power, so that you can pack the most power into your message in the least amount of words. This takes a lot of work for a coach to master this concept, but it is work that will be well worth it in the long run.
For more information like you find in this post, check out my blog posts on coaches being teachers and my booklets A Head Coach’s Guide for Working with Assistants and The Assistant Coach’s Guide to Coaching. Just click on any of these to be taken to that page on my website.
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