A guest contribution from the BCA archive from Alex Boyd in March 2005 looking at the way we coach
COACHING THE BLIND SPOTS
For seven years I had been coaching a variety of local teams in Gloucestershire – youth teams, schools and university. I felt I was developing well as a coach but was always looking to improve through listening, reading and reflection. The idea of ‘blind spots’ occurred to me when I was learning to drive and my instructor pointed out the importance of checking your ‘blind spots’ to make sure it was safe to move the car.
Thinking over my lesson, I realised that there are also ‘blind spots’ in coaching.bli
“People only see what they are prepared to see” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
There are a variety of ‘blind spots’ for all of us and we must try to develop consciousness of these, with particular implications for coaching. In this article I aim to look at some common blind spots and make suggestions for preparing for these in our coaching, thus improving the performance of individuals and teams.
So how do we prepare for blind spots?
POM POM POM
My driving instructor would use the mnemonic ‘P-O-M’, standing for; Prepare, Observe, Manoeuvre.
Coaches must remember to:
Prepare as a Team
Observe as a Team
Manoeuvre as a Team
To not have a view of the whole team perspective is the equivalent of a blind spot in driving.
Repetition or Aristotle’s ‘Rule of Three’
Another common ‘blind spot’ is when coaches think that a player will automatically pick up a new strategy or play without repetition. It is important to teach a player three times how to do a certain basketball task and ask them to demonstrate it to you at least three times. Less than that may mean that it is not completely taken on board and utilised in a match.
Visual Aural Kinaesthetic Learning (VAK)
Any coach must make allowances in their coaching for different preferred learning styles. Some players in their learning may favour visual representations to help their knowledge and understanding. Others listen really well and others find it difficult to learn without putting the moves into practice physically. Any coach who misses out on different preferred learning styles in communicating with players is in danger of coaching on a blind spot.
Following on from VAK, it would be a blind spot for a coach not to recognise ‘information overload’. A BBC documentary on cats mentioned that often a cat appears to be staring into space, when in reality they are letting one sense catch up with the other. Their senses are so alert that they hear and see too much at once at times. This can apply to humans too.
For example, the brain can read a page of a book very quickly but we will only remember one of two key points on one reading. Top coaches also often say ‘ if you pick up one or two key points from a clinic, it will be worth it’. I agree with this. If you give too much information at once and overload your players this will be a blind spot and no new knowledge or skill will be gained by your players.
One way to work against this is to encourage more the use of video to review games and then get more information than your senses will allow on first viewing or during the game itself. The video, reviewing the game at leisure and on several viewings, is a way of getting nearer to the truth than our senses (with blind spots) will allow.
Sometimes during a game, with the adrenaline rushing, important chunks of the game have passed me by. Like the cat, sometimes my senses are catching up with each other and sometimes this takes too long and will catch up with me later when I am awake at night recovering from defeat! This is hard to bear when your players have given their best. Let’s work on reducing our blind spots and sleep better after games
The Importance of Why
It is so important that players understand why they are practising certain drills. If players understand why they are doing something, their motivation to change their practice in order to improve their skills and team play will be much enhanced. The coach should encourage players to question the varying drills and to ask what it is going to be useful for. If the coach can’t answer, there’s no point in doing it. Not to give reasons is a coaching blind spot.
At Bucknalls Skills 2003, those who attended got to meet legendary coach Dean Smith. Dean left a positive impression on all those who met him by the way he followed his North Carolina Philosophy, in deeds and actions, which showed genuine interest in others, continuing to be humble despite his enormous success.
Similarly, some years ago, while working in retail in Cheltenham, another assistant in the shop was Beverley Knight, the soul singer. She too knew humility, mentioning that she ‘did a bit of singing’. It is very important always to remember how much you still have to learn. Although in times of great success and celebration it can be difficult to retain humility, it is vital to continue to respect how others see things and to recognise that there can be humility blind spot at times.
Appreciation of Energy
Phil Jackson, at the end of his practices, always thanked players for their ‘energy’. He not only understood how important it is to raise self-esteem to keep performances at peak effort, but he recognised the efforts put in, no matter how successful on that occasion. To thank for energy, positive or negative, is all-encompassing, from a coaching perspective. Not to thank and appreciate effort and energy is a coaching blind spot.
Pointing – At Whom?
Some coaches point at players. The players could just as well point back at the coach. The true marksman aims primarily at himself. Everything in basketball between coach and players is two way and whatever is impressed on the group will be expressed through physical or mental habit. Not to recognise this could be a blind spot.
Push off, left foot to go right.
Push off, right foot to go left.
Down, to go up.
You remember these basic footwork principles. Basketball is a game with many apparent contradictions. Not to recognise these could be a blind spot.
Secrets? There are no secrets? – a passionate statement from a very well respected and experienced coach at the Southern coaches’ conference at Southampton this year. For the game to move forward, it is essential that this remains true. The great thing about basketball is that coaching secrets are not kept private or hidden from all but a few. Not to share your coaching ideas with others and particularly with your players, would be a blind spot, and lead to stagnation in the sport.
Coaches do need time on their own at times for reflection. Coach Tara Van Den Meer, in her book, said that she often had her best thoughts when she was out jogging on her own. I have also found this to be the case when jogging in the Forest of Dean. It is important to have this time for reflection if one is to avoid blind spots.
Back to Driving
Reflecting upon the start of this article and my driving lesson analogy, I reflect on the fact that strong players can beat an opponent without the use of a dribble on offense. On defense they can beat an opponent before the opponent has dribbled. In other words, they are ‘POMMED UPPED (Prepared, constantly observing and manoeuvring). While reading and reacting they are also poised and patient, creating the old basketball cliché of ‘poise + patience = payoff’.
The more you reach in one direction for information or only look in the mirror when driving the more you neglect other blind spots – this can be dangerous! It is hugely important in driving and coaching to maintain focus and be true to your vision, paying attention to detail in every direction. It is almost like the paradox in basketball of checking midpoint and peripheral vision on court.
As to myself, at this point in time, I realise that passing my driving test doesn’t mean that I know everything about driving – there is still a world and lifetime of learning ahead. The same is true of my coaching.
In this article I have pointed out some possible blind spots, but I know I will have missed many more, possibly because these are my own blind spots – a lifetime of learning, playing and coaching will help me to become aware of other ‘blind spots’ and continue to develop my self and players.