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Constraints-Led Coaching

When coaches make their decisions in training, such as the practice tasks they design, or the method of communication with their athletes, they do so with the belief that what they are doing will enhance the performance of their athletes. Why would a coach do something in training that wouldn’t help or would hinder athletes in competition? Whether a coach is a full-time professional, or a parent who just wants to provide their child with a great experience, the focus must be on providing athletes with enjoyable learning experiences – I’m not sure anyone would disagree with that. The specific intentions throughout a season (development vs. performance focus), or throughout age-groups (U8 vs adult level) may vary, but the overarching “why” of coaches is the same; to provide the best developmental environment for their athletes.

Currently, we are in the information age, which could also be classed as the misinformation age. Everyone will have an opinion, and some will try and sell you their opinion to make money and they will spin a narrative to try and sell their product. This is not specifically about skill acquisition, but rather a general point. The challenge for regular consumers is to know how to distinguish what is true and what isn’t. This takes some critical understanding and thinking. In my opinion, this starts with a theoretical framework to guide the coaches and their decision making.

"Without theoretical guidance, accompanied with appropriate tools, practitioners could be left at the mercy of often outdated practices, speculative information sources and their own intuition" (Williams & Hodges, 2005).

However, for coaches, this can take a large investment of time and energy. For skill development practitioners, our job is to assist coaches on their journey. Ridiculing, berating or shaming coaches because of the choices that they make regarding the tasks that they implement (which is often done in good faith), is an awful way to bring about change in coaching. An important word I have been using in my work with coaches is SUPPORT. I aim to support coaches through their journey, and aiming to build their own capacity to make decisions, and confidence in their own abilities. The aims of a coach developer interacting with a coach are very similar to the aims of a coach working with an athlete (see