As coaches we have an opportunity to create a learning environment where our players think for themselves and find solutions to the tasks we give them. It is a great opportunity but it is also our responsibility to create this environment.
“Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago”
How do we learn?
For players to remember anything, an emotion must be attached to the incoming stimuli. If this information is deemed irrelevant by the brain it is disregarded and lost, its not regarded worthy to the player. Depending on the emotion attached to the stimuli the brain can filter this information, if deemed important, and send to it to different memory centres where this information can be recalled when needed.
The autocratic coach bellowing instructions at the top of his voice or the abstract coach who is caught in the jargon trap (spends more time talking than observing) run the risk of scaring their players into learning. When the player views this learning as having to compete with other players or family members by pushing them into situations where they feel hopeless the player will only learn what they need to survive in that moment or they may learn nothing at all.
Even if the player does remember what they are told, the next situation similar to what they have “learnt’, they will have only learned to act in one way. When fear is the prime method of learning the memories are sent to the primal brain. This memory reacts when at threat is perceived, there is no rational thinking it just reacts. Anytime the player faces a similar situation to the memory they have created in the primal brain, they will just react in the same way. Their behaviour will be parallel to the what they have learned in order to survive this scenario.
If we are to create a learning environment for our players then we must allow them to be part of the process rather than fear it. We want our players to be creative and express their talents to the best of their abilities , and to do this we must refrain from coaching fear into the players and use emotions that players can relate too. When people experience laughter, compassion, gratitude, pride, dignity, joy, love, social connection, achievement, contribution, insight and personal breakthroughs, the memories are not only stored in long-term memory (which is associative rather than reactive) more connections are created in the brain, which gives the brain greater flexibility to access many neural pathways at once, which leads to a more creative learning environment where players can express their talents without fear.
I believe that creating a learning environment is fundamental to coaching success and we must allow players to take ownership of their not only their learning but their training and lifestyle too.
“As a leader you have to create a culture where everyone feels confident to learn and flourish”
Tips for Creating a Learning Environment
Tip #1: Coach with stories.
Prof. Damien Hughes writes about his Stories as one of his steps in his book “Five Steps to a Winning Mindset”
With stories we can trigger the positive emotions of our players by using the power of stories. A story provides two things: stimulation (how to act) and inspiration (motivation to act).
This short video by Prof. Hughes explains how storytelling can be powerful for coaches. Click here.
The facts may be lost, but the stories and the message will live on. Get the why across in your story and the how will look after itself.
Tip #2: Develop the person.
People don’t forget those who have helped them, and our brains will remember events that have left them feeling cared for or involved in a process. As coaches we can serve our players and give them every opportunity to develop not only as a player but as a person too.
Tip #3: Use guided discovery. Engage people in dialogue. Ask questions. Coach at every opportunity. Coaching is something we do with people, not to them.
People don’t resist change; they resist being changed. If they sense that someone is trying to force them into learning something, they naturally put up a barrier that says “hang on, what’s this all about? Why is this person threatening me?”
If the players senses judgment along with the lesson (the teacher or leader must think I’m stupid, inadequate, or slow), then they will act defensively or completely dismiss the message that is trying to be forced upon them.
This is where as coaches using questions is powerful. Allow players to think for themselves by asking them questions. The associated pleasure that goes along with guided discovery sets off a wave of brain activity, which is positive for all involved. We are involving players in the process.
Tip #4: Praise effort as well as results.
Praising players for their hard work and effort rather than their ability or innate talent inspires them to take risks, learn from mistakes, and move on from setbacks, encouraging the growth mindset.
Tip#5: Set Clear Expectations.
Establish expectations for and with your players early on. By including your players in the process of setting expectations, it ensures that they are aware of what is expected of both you as the coach and them. Clearly define the course of action for when expectations are not met. Be consistent with the expectations and immediately address any instances in which they are not being upheld. Involve the players in this process and collectively agree on your values and standards for both the individuals and team.