Observe the Activity

Once the activity is underway, the coach observes to see if the players understand what they are meant to do and how well they are executing the skills. Coaches should not be too quick to stop the activity, even if mistakes are being made. Where possible, speak to individual athletes without stopping the activity.

Commonly, some athletes will understand the activity or be able to perform the skills better than others. Encourage them to assist in team mates to make the activity work.

This can be something that a team captain can be given some responsibility to do. Too often, coaches stop an entire activity to correct some part of the structure of the activity (e.g. a player moved to an incorrect position).

Whenever possible, make the correction while the activity is happening, particularly by having the athletes communicate with each other about where someone is meant to pass or move.

If the activity needs to be stopped for correction, the coach’s focus must be on telling the players what to do, rather than describing what they were doing incorrectly. This should refer back to the identified teaching points introduced at the start and then the coach should get the activity going again as quickly as possible.

Often a coach may observe something during an activity that was not a specific teaching point, but that they believe needs correction. In this circumstance, it is often better to make a note of it and address it in another activity, rather than stop the activity.

Provide Feedback - “Coaching on the Run”

During the activity, the coach should be quick to praise athletes, particularly where they have used the correct process even if the end objective
was not achieved (e.g. good technique was used in shooting although the shot was missed).

When providing constructive feedback, the coach should refer to their teaching points, which is why the use of cue words is important: it enables the coach to quickly give the feedback.

For example, a coach may use “high elbow” or “elbow above the eye” as a teaching point when shooting – to emphasise the correct form for the shooting arm. These words can be relayed to a player, without stopping the drill, to remind them of the correct technique (e.g. “Jane, well done.
Nice high elbow.”).

When “coaching on the run” coaches should call to a player by using their name first, to ensure that they have the person’s attention.

The coach should not act like a radio commentator, broadcasting minute-by- minute instructions to the players, as the more the coach speaks the more it will become like “background noise”. Instead, the coach should give short praise or correction during the activity.

This approach is described as “coaching on the run”, because the coach does not stop the activity in order to provide feedback. The coach can also provide more detailed feedback to an individual player at times when the player is not involved in the activity. For example, waiting until the player has completed a fast-break before correcting them.

Helping players to discover their own answers

Coaches should also use questions to guide the player to discover what they did wrong (and what they need to do), rather than the coach always telling them what was wrong.

For example, let ́s take a lay-up learning activity for children playing mini- basketball. The coach wants them to step with their right foot when receiving the ball. A child does a lay-up and does not do this. Instead of pointing this out, the coach asks them:

  • “Which foot did you step with?”
  • “Which foot should you have used?”
  • “Are you sure?”

These questions require the player to find the answer themselves, thus leading them to pay more attention the next time. Maybe the first time the coach asks the question, the player will not know the answer because they were not paying enough attention, but their concentration will increase from then on in, as will their teammates’, once they understand that the coach may ask them questions too.

The questions system can be complemented by reminding the player what they have to do immediately before they begin – using the key words or teaching points. (“Right foot on the catch.”)

Both strategies, questions and reminders, are especially useful when dealing with unconsolidated skills requiring more intense conscious attention, or at specific moments when the coach perceives attention deficits.

The questions should follow the player ́s behaviour as soon as possible (immediately after the player acts), and pre-emptive reminders (with or without a question) should immediately precede the actions that follow them.