Coaching For Learning Not Performing

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“The children are now working as if I did not exist”
Maria Montessori
  • Is what you say from the sideline actually helping your players learn?
  • Not perform, but learn?

Observing many youth football matches over the past few months has left me pondering the role of the coach on a match day & whether coach behaviours are reflective of a culture which values a ‘learning space’ for our young players or one that is reflective of a culture that still values performance and results over all else.

Another factor at play here are societal expectations on how a coach should behave. Traditionally, a coach is seen as the driver of the experience. The guy with the whistle, clipboard and coaches cap, imparting their undoubted superior knowledge on their athletes. A more passive figure on the sideline, communicating very little and simply observing may be perceived by parents or spectators as lacking interest and ‘not teaching much.’

Experience is the greatest teacher of the young. If we don’t allow our young learners to make their own decisions and be able to fail (even if we could have prevented it), then what chance do we have of creating independent learners capable of adapting to the vast array of possibilities the complexity of sports will throw at them.

Whenever I go to open my mouth during a match I now ask myself the question;

“Is what I am about to say going to add any value to the players learning?”

9 times out of 10, I keep my undoubted pearls of wisdom to myself!


    Next time you’re with your learners, try being silent and observe. If you’re the talking type and the temptation arises, count to 10 (silently perhaps!), remind yourself you’re creating independent learners and reassess if you really need to say anything at all. Please share your experience? What did you observe?

10 Comments on “Coaching For Learning Not Performing”

  1. Very thought provoking. Societal expectations around the role of a ‘coach’ certainly make observation rather than constant intervention a difficult shift to make for many coaches.

    1. Yes thanks Brad 🙂 Doesn’t help in football when we see the ‘expert’ coaches standing and shouting. But we still seem to be using that ‘performance’ coaching with our kids like they’re professionals. Perhaps there’s not enough awareness of the difference?

  2. Yes! Absolutely agree. And it’s amazing what happens when the athletes realize they have the freedom to fail and learn on their own.

    1. Yes Loren, thanks, no better environment than one that the athlete feels free and safe. Free to fail, trial and error, new solutions, self-expression, creativity… Now we’re learning 🙂

  3. When shutting your mouth, it’s amazing how your other senses are heightened - Observing the kids play becomes easier, noticing other adult behaviour (not always pleasant) and connecting more with the subs, hearing some great stories from their holidays lol

    1. Who would’ve thought being silent would bring so much more awareness! Keep the Observations coming guys 🙂

  4. We also use the term ” PlayStation coach” , where albeit the information maybe convenient for the coaches required outcome but hinders the freedom for the players decision making. Basically , the coach is controlling the players like a game of FIFA !

    1. Thanks Reid, indeed and unfortunate! It’s interesting that coaches seem to think there’s a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ decision, or ‘should’ve’, ‘could’ve’ and ‘I would’ve’. Especially in learning, isn’t it more important to encourage the decision rather than judging it?

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