How To Improve Your Coaching

Let’s valiantly tackle an abstract topic: how to improve your coaching. Most of us try to be the best blood bowl coach possible. I am that way too. I give all my best. But I observe that some of you are not really improving even though they are spending a hell of a lot of time coaching their team. Like zillions of coaching hours. Maybe more. So, I would like to share with you some insights into why that is and what we can all do about it.

Here is a good news. Legendary blood bowl coaches do something we can all emulate. They deliberately alternate between two kind of games: the learning games and the performance games. The learning games are when their goal is to improve. They then concentrate on what they have not mastered yet while making mistakes and learning from them. That is very different from their performance games, which are when they coach as best as they can, mastering their opponent while minimizing mistakes.

Alternating between performance games and learning games should be part of every coach’s routine. The performance games maximize our immediate performance, while the learning games maximize our growth and our future performances. The reason many of us do not improve much despite coaching impossibly long hours is that we spend almost all of our time playing performance games. This hinders our growth, and ironically, also our long-term performance.

Learning Games

So what does learning games look like? It is deliberate practice and it involves being clear about what coaching skill we are working to improve. It could be, for example, giving our full concentration practicing, repeating and adjusting a tactic outside our comfort zone. Ideally, you would also want to be mentored by a skilled coach, because great mentors know what learning games are and can also provide you some relevant feedback.

What I observed while teaching the game is that coaching performance commonly plateaus after the first couple of years. It happens because once we think we have become good enough, we stop playing learning games. We focus all our time on just performing. The best coaches practice at least once a week with the goal of learning and improving. They read to extend their knowledge, discuss with coaches, try out new tactics, solicit feedback, and analyze the games of legendary coaches.

The best coaches learn not only by coaching but also by reflecting on the game. 

Performance Games

Now, this is not to say that performance games have no value. They very much do. When playing a tournament, I do not poke around and focus on what I do not master. I am not telling myself that I will learn from my mistakes! I want to win these games!

Performance games are very precious as they show us where we are in your development and provide clues on what to focus during our next learning games. So the way to improvement is to alternate between learning games and performance games, purposefully building our coaching skills in learning games, and then applying those skills in performance games.

When legendary coaches attend a tournament, they are in their performance zone. But, every night when they return to their hotel room, they go right back into their learning zone. They reflect on the games they have just played. They identify opportunities for improvement and take mental notes of what to adjust, which they then work on before the tournament resumes. It is a spiral to ever-increasing capabilities.

Yes, But How?

So, how can we spend more time in our learning zone? First, we must deeply believe and understand that we can improve. Second, we must really want to improve. We must really, really care because the truth is it takes time and effort. Third, we must understand that deliberate practice is the key to improvement. And fourth, we must play unimportant games, because if mistakes are to be expected, then the consequences must not be significant.

One reason why a majority of coaches only play performance games is that most blood bowl environments are of consequences. No wonder many coaches are stressed out to the extent of not taking any of the risks necessary to learn. When all coaches are ranked, and every game counts towards that ranking, every game is a performance rather than a learning experience. Coaches then struggle to innovate and improve, and they fall behind.

What if, instead of spending our coaching time performing, performing, and performing, we spent more time experimenting, reflecting, and becoming? What if we always had something to improve on? What if we played more unimportant games? What if we got clear about when we seek to learn and when we seek to perform? And what if our efforts were impactful, our improvement never-ending and our best coaching even better?

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