What is ‘The Coaching Lab’?
In 2014, aged 18, fresh out of school I was offered a job as a Cover Supervisor at Aylesbury Grammar School by Headmaster Stephen Lehec, he said something that has stayed with me ever since; “Make the most of every opportunity”. Making the most of opportunities has led me to currently living a coaches dream in Perth Australia working for Jamie Dwyer, Hockey Western Australia and running my business, The Coaching Lab, from Perth’s best coffee shops.
Gain experience overseas
Early on in my coaching journey all those who I admired or was working with had experienced hockey outside of their native country, Kwan Browne, Nick Clark, Craig Boyne, Jason Lee… Now actually living that lifestyle I would say it is an essential experience to have and I can see the difference between those who have and haven’t. It asks you to reflect on your coaching approach, better understand how you deal with challenge and pushes you to reflect on action.
Though without your first coaching opportunity you’ll never get on the road and mine came from Mike Joyce after my first and last Futures Cup in 2013, if I hadn’t said yes to that first opportunity there is a possibility I wouldn’t be in the roles I am in today. I would love to see every National Governing Body have a coach and player pathway that works in tandem, there is ultimately only very few people who will go on to play for their country at senior level yet there are many hockey loving individuals who are on the pathway at some level.
What would I say to the Jack Rolfe just starting out coaching now? Be more reflective of your practice, don’t be scared to ask for feedback, smile more and just because you’re talking it doesn’t mean you’re coaching, what you don’t say is often more powerful! I see a lot of coaches trying to tick boxes and attempting to someone they aren’t but the best coaches I have observed stay true to themselves and coach with a personality to inspire and connect.
Break with tradition…
If you were to break the rules of tradition in youth sport (which I challenge every club and school to do!) what would you change? I naturally have my biases and these revolve around the game. I would love to see a games programme introduced, a programme that has players playing different forms of the game throughout the season, that might be playing 9s one week to playing 7s another or even indoor, all with added constraints to promote a certain set of actions and behaviours. Similarly, I’d love to see some variations in the scoring systems at youth level to challenge players and coaches to think tactically. You could still have a cup competition sit alongside this but to me the type of game played is the smallest thing that’ll make the biggest difference in an individuals development.
Those who know me will have heard my many rants on the format of the game at the foundation level, we shouldn’t be seeing goalkeepers until at least the age of 9. Those aged 8 and below should be playing various forms of the game from 1v1, 2v2 and 3v3. We have all witnessed the poor kid stuck at the back who doesn’t get a touch of the ball because they’re playing on a half a field with 6v6.
COME ON, PLEASE! What is the rush to get to the full game? You can’t buy back time.
I struggled in England with the fixation and traditions that revolve around youth hockey, particularly with age and ability. We should be a lot more flexible in how we approach these areas but I too often feel it is more about a coaches ego, what’s easier for the organisation and tradition says we have always done it this way so we shall continue to do so. There are some things we should consider, one being an individuals ‘playing age’. Take Johnny a 14-year-old boy who has played for 7 years versus Sammy who is also 14 but has only played for 1 year. They may be the same age on paper yet underneath where the real gold of player development is found we see they are actually very different. In a football academy environment, you would see players move across (up and down) age groups frequently, why? Because the player sits at the centre and coaches are themselves “What is best for the player?”. Maybe more of us should ask that question…
You have probably guessed that I am a strong believer that the game sits at the centre of everything we do as coaches, it is the ultimate feedback tool and let’s be honest here, the role of a coach is to prepare players to play the game. I like the phrase “Coach the player to the game and not the game to the player”, telling us that as coaches we should adapt and shape the game by the people we have in front of us and the direction they’re heading in. We know that coaches have challenges around planning time constraints, coaching mixed abilities and connecting training with the game which brings us nicely onto The Coaching Lab. Founded in late 2018 to bring the game to life and support coaches, clubs and organisations to develop environments that challenge players to find solutions to problems and grow players ability to make world-class in-game decisions. The release of our MatchPlay Cards compasses all these, they are on a mission to stop the most asked question to coaches ‘When are we going to play a game?”
MatchPlay Cards support coaches #ChangeTheGame, helping coaches coach through games, add in-game challenges and set player missions. What is the question EVERY coach gets asked each session? “Can we play a game now?” MatchPlay Cards shift this focus to build sessions around the game, connecting players with their decisions and allowing coaches to check and challenge learning. Add them to training with in-game challenges, build your sessions around them or set game scenarios and tactical challenges.
Since their launch in 2019 MatchPlay Cards have been shipped to 31 countries, supporting coaches in some of the worlds best environments across many sporting context including Arsenal FC, USA Field Hockey and Australian Rugby.
Here’s to a great 2021 and beyond.