Getting the Most Out of Your Coaching by Looking In

The intrinsic link between self-reflection and self-awareness, the importance of coaching yourself, we dive in with Professor Jody Langdon, Georgia Southern University, and Tim McLaren, 7x Olympic Rowing Coach.
Mim Haigh
Sports Writer – Athlete Assessments

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Can a coach coach themself? It’s an interesting question to ponder. The role of a coach is to constantly work with their athletes and team to develop and improve. We know that coaches by their nature and role can be excellent at developing others. What about when developing themselves?

While there is enormous value in engaging others to assist through formal or informal coach development (and you might be interested in another article on that topic), intuitively it also makes sense for coaches to take advantage of their own coaching ability to help themselves. One of the most valuable tools a coach can use in this pursuit has no monetary cost, but instead relies on time and focus. This being self-reflection.

Jody Langdon, Professor of Exercise Science & Coaching at Georgia Southern University, is regularly sought out for her expertise in coach development and student or athlete motivation. 

Speaking on the topic she says,

“The lessons learned from self-reflection go far beyond what you can learn in a book, or from what someone else tells you.”

“Unlike other forms of coach development, reflective practice involves the evaluation of personal coaching behavior within specific situations. I include it to ensure that the learning process never ends and that there is a constant flow of new information and evaluation.”

While self-reflection can take many different forms, a quality process always relies on the individual taking a clear and honest look at their coaching practice and having an open mind to new possibilities.

What is reflective practice for coaches?

Simply, self-reflection for coaches is a process where we observe, analyze, and capture thoughts we have about our own behavior and efficacy as a coach. Those thoughts might be recorded formally and regularly in a training journal, jotted down as a note to self, or shared with a colleague.

Some self-reflective practices include:

  1. Asking yourself a series of questions about a particular area of your coaching.
  2. Giving yourself a rating out of 10 for specific elements of your coaching.
  3. Asking for feedback.
  4. Voice recording or videoing yourself coaching and reviewing it.
  5. Keeping a journal – creating entries for training sessions and competition (again be specific, the more details you can include the better).
  6. Taking assessments like CoachDISC Profile.
  7. Using a formal feedback process such as the Observer Feedback capability of the CoachDISC Profile or Athlete Assessments’ Coach 360 Performance Review.

A fundamental misconception about self-reflection is that the process is all about identifying what we don’t do well and improving short comings. In fact, quite the opposite is often true. Professor Langdon emphasizes that the process is just as much about celebrating the things coaches do well within their role!

When is a good time for self-reflective practice?

Regularly called on to facilitate the development of self-awareness and effective relationships, Athlete Assessments’ CEO, Liz Masen says,

“Self-reflection benefits everyone – it is one of those universal activities that has an invaluable return for effort. If this is a new practice for you, I personally recommend using self-reflection in the moments after a significant emotional response. For example, if you have an intense feeling of anguish, anger, or frustration, make time at an appropriate moment to reflect on what created that response. Often it is when our most important values are being compromised. Approach it as a gift to learn from and consider how you handled it – what did you admire in yourself in that moment and what would you do differently in hindsight? It is the same as, and just as important, when you have an intense moment of happiness. When you find yourself air-punching about how awesome something is, take time to reflect.”

Though self-reflection is often overlooked, especially by coaches who are in the early stages of their career, seven-time Olympic rowing coach, Tim McLaren believes it should be a critical element of a coach’s role saying,

“Self-reflection is an ongoing process, but we tend to engage in it much more after milestone events, major competitions, or end of season. But, in truth, feedback and awareness overlap and intertwine with everything we do.”

He explained that keeping journals and training diaries can help translate observations and feedback into more useful, practical strategies which can help you improve over time. Tim talked specifically about opportunities to improve the way you schedule or sequence skill drills and promote agility, coordination, fun, and fitness. 

He explained that keeping journals and training diaries can help translate observations and feedback into more useful, practical strategies which can help you improve over time. Tim talked specifically about opportunities to improve the way you schedule or sequence skill drills and promote agility, coordination, fun, and fitness. 

Professor Langdon shares her observation that even though coaches value what they learn about themselves through the self-reflection process, many coaches are not in the habit of regularly recording themselves and watching their coaching behaviors, adding “One of the biggest challenges coaches face in self-reflection is getting out of their own habits!”

Professor Langdon explains that if a coach is not used to the process or doesn’t understand what the process is, it can be an extreme learning curve. Saying that typically, those new to reflective practice, will write or discuss their coaching practice superficially. But in order to be effective, coaches really need to work at a deeper level, noting that this is also the stage where the coach may need to engage a professional so that they can maximize their development from the start.

But to be successful, professional development relationships must be based on trust, and as an educator and coach developer, Professor Langdon finds that sharing experiences and letting coaches know that she has been in their shoes is integral to the process, adding, “Having appropriate assessment tools facilitates the reflection process – sometimes, being able to quantify what coaches see makes improvement easier.”

Everybody has a natural or preferred way of doing things, and the assessment tool Professor Langdon uses to capture this is Athlete Assessments’ CoachDISC Profile. While providing an individual result, the report also allows you to compare your behavior with other people in the population through building a broader understanding of all the DISC behaviors, alongside your own. Understanding a basic scaffold of the way each profile naturally approaches tasks, communicates, and builds relationships, prepares us for a deeper analysis of our own style, giving a measurement of behaviors, and a way to talk about how we do, what we do.

When asked to expand on the purpose of profiling tools, Liz Masen said,

“Often the use of the CoachDISC Profile is a deliberate and formal step in developing self-awareness for a coach. We never ‘arrive’ at the destination of ultimate self-awareness, and it is just as valuable for a new coach as it is for a highly-experienced coach. I encourage coaches to consider their CoachDISC Profile Report like a movie they love and have watched multiple times. When we see our favorite movie a second or later time, we notice things we didn’t the first time watching it. It is the same with their CoachDISC Profile that they will notice different things in the report based on their current experiences, what they’ve been working on, and what is immediately relevant for them.”

Athlete Assessments’ CoachDISC Profile provides a fundamental awareness of each coach’s own preferred behavioral style, knowledge of their strengths and limitations, plus an insight into their potential areas for improvement. Each individual’s profile also details the pace they prefer to tackle tasks, the way they build relationships, communicate, deal with challenges, and information about environments they naturally thrive in. Importantly, it also delivers an insight into what the individual is likely to do under stress, giving them time to develop strategies to adapt their behavior or counter these tendencies when necessary. Learn more about Athlete Assessments’ DISC Profiles here.

What’s the connection between self-reflection and self-awareness?

While closely related, they are not the same, self-reflection is a process and self-awareness is the result. Self-awareness is often defined as the ability to know, see, and understand the way we behave.

Our behavior as a whole – what we do, is driven by a combination of our needs, desires, and habits. This very innate programming is what makes each of us unique. Moment to moment, we are each assimilating information, whether that be in the classroom, on the court, listening to a friend, or watching TV, and we’re also reacting and interacting. We each communicate and build relationships in a particular way. 

WHY IS SELF-AWARENESS IMPORTANT?

In coaching, the true value of knowledge is always in its application.

Tim McLaren defines self-awareness as having a better understanding of your ‘coaching presence’, and what you bring to every practice. He explained the way a coach needs to capture their audience through body language and excitement using language tone, volume, and pace. Analyzing practice from an engagement perspective, Tim talked about creating a level of ‘fun’ appropriate to the occasion and audience, and explaining short term tasks and goals clearly, giving feedback, and coaching on the run.

The day-to-day tasks of coaching require an intimate understanding of your own natural preferences so that you can adapt and adjust your own behavior to suit the circumstances and environment you find yourself in. No doubt your team or squad will be made up of athletes with a full spectrum of behaviors and personalities, some of whom you might like or connect with easily, while with others a connection might not come so easily. Being able to adjust your behavior at will and in the moment, just temporarily, creates an enormous advantage and ensures your coaching can be effective no matter the group of athletes in front of you. Athlete Assessments’ Bo Hanson explains more about adapting your coaching style in this 2-minute video.

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Where to from here?

Whatever role your name sits next to, your people rely on you to bring the most up-to-date and effective tools and information on the market, so we encourage you to take a look at online free resources and if we can help you with any more information or clarify any concepts, just reach out and contact us.

Recommended Articles

In line with the release of our new look DISC reports, we wanted to provide a refresher on the history of DISC and basics of each profile. Bo talks about where it began, why it’s important, and the value in knowing your own profile and preferred behaviors and even identifying that of others.

Let me ask you the most important of coaching questions, “What style of coach are you?” As coaches we occupy a special, even privileged place in our athletes’ lives. On the surface, we are just a part of their athletic journey, but really, we often spend as much, if not more time with our athletes, than their family and close friends.

Recently published research out of Queensland University of Technology proves that it’s possible, plausible, believable and appropriate, to adapt your behavior to suit the situation. Importantly, the research shows that the momentary adaptations have no negative impact or consequences for the individual.

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