Watch them LEARN

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WATCH: Noun - ‘Custodia’, guard, keeping, protecting. Verb - ‘To observe attentively over a period of time.’

The next time you get self-conscious about your Coaching by observing or someone wants to say ‘You’re not doing anything!’ when you’re not saying anything and everyone else is yelling and screaming, you can remind them how incredibly important it is to WATCH. If this is your experience stand firm! We need to first and foremost guard and protect our Learners rights to PLAY!

If you’re not sure what to say, I just quote the Godfather of GPL, Mark O’Sullivan, it usually stops them in their tracks…

“If you’re going to step into the Learning Process, you’d better add value”

In a Twitter post, we sought to challenge the notion of coach feedback and its impact on learner’s motivation.


Let’s review this traditional Motivator role;


Many a Hollywood movie has given us goosebumps from hearing the coach with the inspirational last speech, motivating the players to give the performance of their lives. The music, the passion, the adrenalin, it all culminates in lifting the players to produce more than they could by themselves.

Do we really think that is what a coach’s role is? To be the driver of the experience or the provider? Do learners even need our verbal affirmation if we can create an environment that is already safe, engaging and empowering?

Yes, this is easier said then done. It’s take time to create a safe trusting relationship - that needs a positive approach. We affirm to add to learners confidence - to encourage empowerment. But just as we take care in building a positive relationship, we become more aware of what we say, and if we really need to say it.


Growth/Fixed Mindset? It is really about learning - Mark O’Sullivan  (Referencing The Problem with Praise - Richard Bailey)

We can always draw on (or reject) the ‘praise’ of a Motivator if needed, but it comes from the place of The Observer.


Yes, there are times when our Learners have an ‘off’ day and need an encouraging word to ‘get motivated’. But it comes from the Observing place and sensing what each learner needs at the right time.

Imagine if the coach wasn’t there and the players didn’t skip a beat. They were engrossed in the game and they played their hearts out. Rather than being the first one the players look to, the coach was the last.

The greatest sign of success for a teacher…is to be able to say, ‘The children are now working as if I did not exist.’ - Maria Montessori

Does that mean they don’t need us? Of course not! The Observer still has the most complex of roles  -

TO Watch Them LEARN

The learning from a complex game such as football, comes from deeply attuning to the game information as it presents. Ball. Keep the Ball. Goal. Get the ball in the goal. Teammates. Support them. Where are they?Opponents. Where are they? Stop them. Protect the goal. Ball. Get the ball back. Goal. Score a goal. Miss. Try again. Try another way.

There’s so much to perceive, decisions to make, so many solutions on offer. We don’t only need to watch the game, we need to watch them. Observe what they are perceiving, watch their actions in response to that perception, watch their interactions. Watch them LEARN.

As we watch, we learn about how they learn and get to know their needs to create the challenging, fun-loving environment that they deserve.

It’s not like we we’re mutes, but we become more aware that we need less verbals and more observing, analysing and navigating. Just as our learners are doing in their experience.

So during the experience we are all consumed with the game shouting its information and dynamics. It’s afterward that we can regroup, reflect and share together. Again, carefully facilitated so we are helping them articulate the experience, not us.

So, are we best to be Motivators or Observers? Neither, both. It depends! We are whatever our learners need us to be. But how can we know unless we observe first, speak later, or maybe not speak at all.


Time to observe yourself Observing! Yes, you can ask a friend or video yourself, but get used to becoming aware of your own words and actions. 

  1. Where are you on the Motivator <> Observer continuum? Where would you like to be?
  2. Are you able to sense what to provide the learner when they need it? E.g Do they need some encouragement or do they need to work through the challenge on their own?
  3. Would your learners (and you) be ok if you walked away? (Try it and find out!)
  4. Are you watching how you’d like to see the game played or watching them learn and explore them game themselves? 
  5. Whilst Observing, gather parents and other on-lookers around and share what each other are observing in their child’s PLAY, and ask them questions and give them tasks. This may help them understand and appreciate why you are not saying anything to the Players. E.g Play Multi-Ball and ask the parents to count how many times their child touches the ball, then compare with playing a game with just one ball. “Can you see why we play Multi-ball?”



2 Comments on “Watch them LEARN”

  1. For Q3 My U10 Football group were in the middle of a Multi-Game of Soccer Dodgeball. There’s a lot of rules and very hard to watch every action with multiple balls flying everywhere! Usually there’s a lot of conflict between the players of score tally and players not being honest in getting out. It’s difficult to manage! So when nature called I ran off and told them to Self-Organise. It was a very nervous few minutes but upon returning, someone told me the score, ‘Great, keep going then!’ I said and I very happily took my seat in the corner and didn’t say another word.

  2. Pingback: The PE Playbook - December 2016 Edition - drowningintheshallow

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