Deliver clear explanations, demonstrations, and instructions about techniques, tactics, and drills
WHY: A coach's ability to deliver coherent, direct, accessible information, both planned and improvisational, is essential to effective training sessions and athletic growth. Direct instruction is the primary way a coach makes their own thinking explicit, and orients athletes to activities, goals, and strategies.
HOW: Explaining and demonstrating are the basic ways a coach makes information accessible to athletes in training sessions and competitions. The information delivered might range from how to execute a drill to the rules of the sport to a technical movement. In each case, the coach clearly and explicitly describes - through a wide range of methods - what they want accomplished.
For simple instructions or activities, the coach might rely on a verbal explanation. For more complex, multi-faceted instructions like an offensive play or a nuanced technical adjustment the coach might demonstrate, use a written or drawn instruction, use video, or do a simulation.
A coach might also demonstrate or model the activity by "thinking aloud" in front of athletes. For example, to help athletes understand how they would make tactical decisions, a coach might walk through an offensive set narrating, "I look for this pass, and if they're not open, I pass back to the wing." For more kinesthetic skills or bio-mechanical concepts, a coach might use metaphors, analogies, or sensory description.
This rowing coach is using dry land to provide in-depth instruction on the composition of the puddles made by the rowers’ oars. She is using video demonstration and verbal explanation to make explicit her expectations regarding puddles; later in the practice she refers back to this instruction and asks her rowers to notice and comment on the composition of their puddles in real time.
In this clip, a middle school cross-country coach provides the context for a training session and then instructs runners where to go to start the workout. Some interesting notes about her instruction: she is talking to over 100 middle-schoolers at once and all of them appear to be paying attention. One mistake coaches often make with instruction is giving it while athletes are engaged in other tasks or not able to hear because of background noise (ie - bouncing basketballs). This coach uses a portable microphone to amplify her voice outside so she can easily be heard; she has also given this basic overview once before in small groups (so the information is not entirely new), and this quick full group circle is part of the practice routine. She does it once at the beginning of practice and once at the end - only for a minute.
Doug Lemov, an expert in teacher education, shares some of his strategies with coaches in a series of blogs. In this one, he describes the importance of creating a shared vocabulary. A key component of successful instruction is using phrases, cues, and explanations that are well-understood by the athletes. Building this shared understanding takes time and intentionality.