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  • Writer's pictureHugh Lawrence

Coaching basics (1)

I was asked recently if I could summarise the basics of coaching. My first responses were, how long have you got to hear the summary and also who is asking the question? For example, if a general practitioner were to ask a surgeon colleague about the basics of neurosurgery, it’s possible the answer might be different to the one you give your taxi driver - unless the taxi driver is a doctor waiting for qualifications to be verified (yes that happens).

This post summarises two sets of ideas that guide my daily practise, whether I’m teaching the beginner or the elite athlete.

Teaching effectiveness: there’s a lot to this topic – but five things to remember:

1 athletes learn by doing, not from coaches talking – talk less and let them do more

2. athletes learn at different rates – so don’t expect everyone to progress in parallel

3. explain what and why as concisely as possible [see (1)]

4. keep the first instructions simple: some athletes will get it straight away

5. athletes want to get it right – so correct errors.

Planning: to paraphrase the great American scientist (amongst his many other talents) Benjamin Franklin, “if we fail to prepare, we prepare to fail”. Planning doesn’t guarantee success, but with no plan: how will you know you got there?

Every training session:

  • has a set of goals

  • is progressive (starts simply and gets more complex) – even with advanced athletes

  • builds in intensity

  • reflects the way we want to compete

  • involves the athlete – who gets to answer questions before I give my opinion.

To this last point. It’s easy to critique, and coaches do it a lot i.e. what’s wrong or what could be improved. When things go well, however, we are often quite non-specific –‘that’s a great performance’ or ‘good job’. But I’m confident athletes are keen to know what was good or went well. If we focus on process goals to guide performance – then we should reference them in feedback.

(photo source:

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