I was down in Florida earlier this week talking to coaches in U.S. Soccer’s Academy Director’s course… a high-level training for men and women who run–and design instruction at–top tier clubs.
We talked a lot about asking questions of players- how important it is to build their attention and focus and cause them to think about the game as they play. Pretty much every top coach asks players a lot of questions… as they should.
But there is a mundane and serious problem with asking players questions: often times only 2 or 3 players answer them. The same 2 or 3 players. And even the best question in the world won’t help your team if it’s the same two or three players calling out answers over and over… with everyone else learning to be silent and perhaps to check out during the questions.
Why does this happen? Sometimes a few highly verbal athletes call out answers because they are a little impulsive. They like to talk as soon as they think. They’re not aware that in calling out answers they are causing others not to answer and that their own answers might be a lot better if they slowed down to think.
Other times players call out to help their coaches. They’re trying to spare us the awkward embarrassment of our asking questions that no one will answer.
But really the reason why a few players call out answers comes down to coaches: We’re not clear on what the expectation is. Very few coaches think to tell players- “Please don’t call out; that keeps me from giving everyone the time and opportunity to answer.” Very few coaches think to tell players- “Be ready all the time. I might ask you to answer even if you don’t raise your hand…” and thus cause them to answer our questions in their minds because they might be asked to answer aloud.
Generally, we don’t tell players much of anything about what we want or expect in terms of how they participate in the mental side of training and so they do what they do. And what they do is sub-optimal from a learning point of view.
But we can fix that and the first step is doing what coach James Beeston is doing in this video with players from Black Watch Premier. He’s explaining his expectations for what I call Means of Participation.
He tells players how he wants them to answer so they know what to do and so he can build the ideal learning environment. He’s clear and to the point and is sure to give them a why: “Because the game requires you to be switched on at all times… the game asks questions of you and you have to be ready.”
I think his roll out is exemplary and so was his questioning in the course of this session. I’m a bit short of time so I haven;t had the chance to cut some of his Cold Calls and other questioning moves to the video yet but i will try to update this post soon with some examples from later in the session. In the meantime I think this is gold: efficient, clear, positive and rigorous. Hope it’s useful to you all!