A Learning Journey Made Simple

‘I have always wondered if it is possible to go up a steeper learning curve with non directive coaching skills – now I believe it is……’

My coaching journey spans almost twenty years and a large part of that journey has involved learning to integrate counselling skills and non-directive coaching skills with my well-practiced command and control style. Understanding more about effective questioning was a key milestone, but it certainly wasn’t as easy as I first thought. Because of this, I am always interested in how coaches use questions and particularly in any difficulties that they may encounter. So whenever I get the chance I will ask them about their experience.

When coaches describe the way that they are using questions it sometimes seems like there is a gap between their knowledge of non-directive coaching and their actual skill level. There have even been some high level coaches from different sports who have confidently told me that they were ‘already doing all that.’ But then when they gave me examples, or I saw them coach, my experience told me that they hadn’t actually got the skill level that they thought they had.

Some of the coaches who have attended our one-day workshops have told me that they tried asking questions for a bit after the course, but then gave up on it. Three common reasons for not persevering were;

  • ‘When I was practising asking questions I got stuck, so I went back to what I know’
  • ‘I thought I had to ask the right question, so I stopped’
  • ‘I found it difficult to keep it going and ask a follow-on question.’

When I first began to practise the skills of non-directive coaching whilst training to be an Inner Game Tutor for the BTCA,  I also struggled with how and what question to ask. In particular, I found it quite difficult to know what question to ask next.

My stock question which I found myself using for a good year or so was, ‘What do you notice?’ This is actually one of the best questions to begin with when helping someone to increase their awareness. It is also very useful to return to if you ever get stuck with the process of being non-directive. But at that time on my journey I had very little to back this question up with and I found myself only half listening to my players, distracted by thinking about what question to ask next.

My break through came when I fully realised the importance of having a simple series of questions in the back of my mind that seemed to work like magic and helped me to develop my skills much more quickly. This simple series of questions aimed at helping increase focus and awareness, began with either, ‘What,’ ‘Where,’ ‘When’ or ‘How much.’ For example, in response to a player who told me that they noticed their left shoulder coming forwards on the serve, I was then able to ask, ‘On the next serve, could you tell me When do you notice this?’ It was an exhilarating challenge to discover the ways in which these questions could be used to help the coaching process.

Similarly, my next milestone came when I learnt how to help a player set a performer-centred goal which is SMART. (SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Agreed and Achievable, Realistic and Time phased). Below is an example of how I used questions to set a performer-centred goal which is SMART;

What would you like to work on today?

I’d like to work on my serve and my backhand topspin crosscourt

What one would you like to work on first your serve or your backhand topspin crosscourt?

My backhand…

What specifically would you like to work on with your backhand? (Specific)

I’d like to get a bit more depth on my shots

How deep do you want to hit them?

Oh so they are over the service line.

How many out of 10 would you say you can hit over the service line at the moment?

Oh about 3.

What would you like to achieve in the next 15 minutes? (Measurable and Time phased)

I’d like to make about 6 or 7. (Realistic)

Ok, and how would you like these feeds?

I’d like you to hit one down the middle to my forehand and then one to my backhand.

What type of feed would you like?

Could you hit both topspin and landing quite deep?

Ok, so just to re-cap, over the next 15 minutes that we have, you goal is to achieve 6/7 out of 10 backhand topspin crosscourt shots with the first feed going down the centre and the second to your backhand side. (Agreed and Achievable)

Just having in the back of my mind a series of questions to ask to increase a player’s awareness and helping a player to set a performer-centred goal which is SMART has increased my confidence for using this approach. Being more comfortable with the skill set and hence able to stay with the approach for longer has increased my own awareness of how valuable this approach is to children, in terms of developing their confidence and self-belief.

Andy Knibbs. MSc C. Psych

Owner – Coaching Kids 4 Self Belief.

Founder Member – Inner Works Coaching.