Sam Grant is a 10-year veteran of the coaching team at Staines Boat Club (also referred to as “Staines B.C.”), and is currently the head coach of the rowing club (Staines Boat Club). Staines itself is a very old club that exists in the United Kingdom; it was founded in 1851 with the intent of providing people with a place to partake in rowing (Staines Boat Club). Over time, the club grew in size, and today it is a club that is suitable for many different age groups, including children (Staines Boat Club). Despite the large age gap between many of the individuals in the club, the club remains highly successful (Staines Boat Club). The club has attained a number of very high recommendations from the community in recent years, especially for its high level of performance (Staines Boat Club). The high level of performance is one of the reasons that this club was chosen for investigation; the performance level indicates that there is some very high quality coaching that occurs at this particular club.
Systematic observation is important because it allows researchers to remove more observation bias from the process of understanding a situation (Psychology.ucdavis.edu). When utilizing systematic observation, the observer can utilize decision rules to ensure that bias is reduced and understanding of the situation is maximized; for instance, decision rules might be the rules regarding observation at rowing practice: the observer can watch the practice, but not engage with the rowers for fear of interrupting practice and failing to get a good understanding of the context of the situation (Psychology.ucdavis.edu). The purpose of implementing and enumerating these rules is also to ensure that if anyone else wants to duplicate the experiment, they will be able to do so without a problem; having clear rules sets boundaries and ensures that the conditions can be re-created or nearly re-created multiple times (Psychology.ucdavis.edu). The decision rules for this experience were simple: the researchers observed the coaching without comment, and were not allowed to engage with any of the athletes until the practice was complete. The purpose of this was to ensure that none of the athletes were distracted from their normal practice, and that they were able to follow their coach’s instructions as they normally would. After completion of the practice, the researchers could speak to the athletes about their perceptions of their coach, coach Sam Grant, and his coaching tactics.
Developing supplemental activities is one of the most important things that coaches do for elite athletes in practice (Côté). While practice is generally important, developing supplemental activities is one of the core roles of the coach; when the coach develops these activities in conjunction with analysis of the individual athlete’s or team’s weaknesses, these developmental activities are stronger (Côté et al.). Côté writes, “Unlike the findings for athletic profiles, where several trends across coaching contexts were evident, only one trend was found in how these diverse groups of coaches invested their time in coach developmental activities. In relation to other coaching activities very little time was devoted to formal coach education on an annual basis. The results reinforce the need to consider the coaching context when examining coach development and when designing coach development initiatives” (Côté). It seems that for practice, drilling and development are important; they also provide mental stimulation for athletes that other types of practice do not (Montgomery et al.).
Upon arriving at the practice, it was apparent who was in charge. Sam Grant was conducting drills, and he did not acknowledge the researchers any further than to briefly introduce the researchers by name and inform his team that the researchers would be observing practice. Prior to attending practice, the researchers did some investigation into Sam Grant as a coach; one of the most useful tools for observing Grant as a coach was his Twitter account, because from this account, the researchers were able to see the ways that he interacted with his team over cyberspace (Twitter.com). Grant commonly posts photos of his team and athletes at various events, and is vocal about how proud he is of their achievements (Twitter.com).
Upon arrival at the practice, it was easy to see that the athletes were hard at work from the very beginning of the practice. Coach Grant seemed to have rituals that the athletes must go through in regards to their equipment; each athlete has a job, and all the jobs need to be done before the athletes can even get in the water. Once they were in the water, they have to do a quick warm-up, led by Coach Grant. Coach Grant ensured that everyone’s technical skills are being executed properly, and then told the team that they will be doing drills for the first part of practice.
The purpose of some of the drills seemed to be technical skill improvement, while others were meant to force exertion out of the athletes. During some of the drills, they were hardly sweating, but with others, they were experiencing serious cardiovascular activity. Coach Grant repeatedly reminded the team that they were going to enter a regatta soon, and that their technical skill level must be high to beat the other teams—but that their conditioning has to be excellent as well, or they will find that it will be very difficult to win. Despite the stern tone he takes with the athletes, they listened unwaveringly to him, trusting that he would not lead them astray.
Practices also must be split into different categories, because not all practices are the same (Côté). Some practices are fundamental for developing new skills, while other practices focus on developing supplemental skills like cardiovascular endurance; the different types of practices need to be understood to truly understand the impact of coaching on athletic performance. Coaches are responsible for designing a plan for practice that improves the coach-athlete relationship as well as the athlete’s potential competitive performance (Côté et al.).
The ideal coaching process would mimic the circumstances in competition exactly, and would be able to put athletes in increasingly difficult situations to force them to hone their skills (Montgomery et al.). One of the best ways to do this is to force athletes to utilize drills that force them into the competitive mindset as well as the physiological space that they commonly exist in when competing (Montgomery et al.). There are a number of ways to do this, and to force athletes into this headspace; the details depend on the sport, but Montgomery et al. suggest that drills are an excellent way to evoke this response in the athlete.
Depending on the sport, coaches might use tools like taper weeks or days leading up to competition (Côté et al.). Understanding the nature of the sport and the needs of the athlete is fundamentally important for the coach, and the coach that cannot understand his or her athlete’s needs is going to be an ineffectual coach at best (Montgomery et al.; Côté).
Coaching style has a lot to do with athletic performance in both practice and competition (Côté; Côté et al.). When athletes are comfortable with their coach and trust their coach to do what is best for them, they listen well and perform well; good coaching is fundamentally important for overall athlete performance. According to Jones and Wallace, the best coaches are not necessarily the best athletes; there is a large chasm between those who can do and those who can teach—sometimes those who can do are certainly incapable of teaching, while others who were only mediocre in competition are able to turn out fantastic athletes (Jones and Wallace). Gilbert et al. suggest that coaching is not a wholly logical or rational activity, and that as a result, coaches need to be tuned in to their teams or athletes, so to speak; the best coaches are the ones that exhibit signs of flexibility (Gilbert et al.; Jones and Wallace).
At the regatta, the coaching style that Grant demonstrated was very different than his coaching style at practice. The businesslike manner that he had during the practices was gone, and he seemed gentler with his athletes somehow, as though he was trying to build up their confidence before they competed. Because so many of his athletes are young, he seemed interested in focusing on the positive things that the athletes were doing, rather than telling them what not to do. He gave them advice regarding the timing of their strokes, and reminded them of their drilling sessions, but he also pointed out later that the success or failure in the regatta was entirely up to the athletes, and that once they were on the water, it was entirely their responsibility to do what they had practiced.
The coaching style presented by Coach Grant is quite interesting—he is a firm coach, and he clearly expects a lot from his athletes. He does not seem willing to allow athletes to slack off from their training or their practice at all. However, he is well liked by his athletes, and his athletes are incredibly successful in their races and regattas; the respect that his athletes have for him is linked to his ability to help them win over time. Rowing is an interesting sport because it requires a great deal of coordination and cooperation, but there are still elements of the sport that are very isolated and very independent; Coach Grant has to address both those sides of the sport when he is coaching his athletes. He does an excellent job engaging athletes on both a personal achievement level and on the level of a team. Watching the cohesion of the team as they practice, it is easy to see why Coach Grant expects them to work as a team both on and off the water—it encourages good teammate behaviors in the people on the team itself. Systematic observation of the coaching methods utilized by Coach Grant demonstrate that he is a strict but well-loved coach, one that engages well with his athletes and draws the best out of them without ever raising his voice.
Côté, Jean. "The development of coaching knowledge." International Journal of Sports Science and Coaching 1.3 (2006): 217-222.
Côté, Jean, John H. Salmela, and Storm J. Russell. "The knowledge of high-performance gymnastic coaches: Competition and training considerations." TSP9.1 (2010).
Gilbert, Wade, Jean Côté, and Cliff Mallett. "Developmental paths and activities of successful sport coaches." International journal of sports science and coaching 1.1 (2006): 69-76.
Montgomery, Paul G., David B. Pyne, and Clare L. Minahan. "The physical and physiological demands of basketball training and competition." Int J Sports Physiol Perform 5.1 (2010): 75-86.
Jones, Robyn L., and Mike Wallace. "Another bad day at the training ground: Coping with ambiguity in the coaching context." Sport, Education and society10.1 (2005): 119-134.
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