Recently, I met up with a football coach to discuss how he could use a performer-centred coaching approach with his junior team. During the meeting we discussed our playing and coaching experiences and he told me about a problem that he had developed with heading the ball. After missing a few headers in a game a few months ago, he remembered his coach telling him afterwards that he wasn’t watching the ball and that he needed to pay it more attention. In subsequent games although he tried hard to watch the ball more this didn’t seem to work. He was now seeing the ball as a threat which was perpetuating a cycle of negative thoughts and emotions. As the ball was in the air, he noticed his body becoming tense which would cause him to make a late and clumsy jump to head it, only to see it glance off the side of his head. Seeing this result, he would then tell himself what a crap header it was, and what a rubbish header of the ball he was. This further reinforced the belief that he held about himself. In order to break this cycle the player will need to be encouraged to see the ball as a ball again, and not as a threat. One way of achieving this is to direct the players awareness by asking, ‘Can you tell me after each header, what part of your head made contact with the ball? The player is then encouraged to feed back after each header, ‘that one was top front and right’,….’that one was top and middle’….. that one was top and centre right’ and so on. As a coach our job at this stage is just to check that the player is monitoring where he makes contact with the ball, by nudging him if he forgets to give himself feedback. Similarly, we could help a player increase their awareness by remaining non-directive and asking the player, ‘What does he notice about how he is heading the ball?’ If he notices that his legs feel heavy and that he also feels off balance, a follow-up question might be, ‘What do you notice the most – your legs or your balance?’ To help him stay focussed on noticing ‘current reality’, we might then ask him, ‘On the next header, can you tell me when do you notice this heaviness in your legs – before jumping, when jumping or after jumping?’ This might be followed up with, ‘Where exactly do you notice this heaviness – your calfs, thighs, ankles or anywhere else?’ Finally, asking, ‘How much do you notice this heaviness on a scale of 1-10?’ will allow the player to feedback to himself what he notices, without any judgment. Awareness- raising questions typically begin with What, Where, When, and How much.
If we can help a player increase their awareness within a non-judgemental environment, there is likely to be an increase in the player’s learning, enjoyment and performance. Furthermore, asking a player for their input and following their attention is likely to lead to an increase in the their self-trust and self-belief. 😉