Planning Sessions, Avoiding Nightmares

Recently I was asked to plan some coaching sessions for the University of Lincoln Women’s Rugby team. As I had got into the habit of going to coach with a plan in my head and not anything physically written down and to my surprise I found it quite challenging.

However it did made me think about the benefits of having a clear and structured plan before a session. Why do we bother writing plans? What are the benefits?

Well Richards (1998) states that lesson planning helps the teacher or coach think about problems and difficulties that may arise during the session. Thus allowing the coach to think of tactics and strategies to help deal with issues. Therefore avoiding the chaos of an unorganised session that keeps all fledgling coaches and teachers up at night!

In this book Farrell (2001) looks at the work of Purgason (1991) who also supports the effectiveness of lesson planning by stating that a plan helps teachers and coaches have a log of previous sessions, thus allowing them to form progression and a whole scheme of work for the participants to progress through.

Aims and Learning Objectives

The first thing I thought about when planning the session was what was the aim of the session, what did I want to achieve?

We’ve all been there, turning up to a session with little planning or preparation and coming away from it thinking, “what the hell was that!”.

This comes from not having a clear aim, by having aims and objectives in a coaching session, it gives structure and a clear idea of what to look for while the session is taking place.

Learning objectives are vital in helping the coach achieve the aim of the session, whether that’s the ability to pass a rugby ball off both hands or the ability to be able to do quantum physics equations in a class room.

All aims are easier to achieve if broken down into steps using learning objectives.

This interesting blog post by Dr.Nic a statistics teacher looks at the importance and effectiveness of learning objectives and how they benefit the teacher and the learner.

What else did the plan include?

After the aims and learning objectives were set, the foundations of my coaching plan were set. Whilst always keeping the participants in mind I was then able to mould my coaching session to help them reaching the aim of the session through different drills and skill games.

I always like to plan a set of progressions to every drill or activity, this allows for differentiation strategy to be implemented.

Tomlinson (2000) studied differentiation strategies in the classroom and found that learners excelled when advanced and taught at there own speeds within the same environment, this also encouraged peer tutoring and again increased development throughout the lessons.

What plan shall I use?

I sat down and had a look at many different ways of writing my lesson plans however no matter how I wrote them they all consisted of the same things:

  • Selecting my aims and objectives
  • Selecting learning activities
  • Organizing learning activities (times and equipment)
  • Evaluation Methods

These all roughly follow the rational linear framework first brought about by Tyler (1949) and although the method is old, I still find this applies to lesson and session planning today, breaking the planning stage into four easy stages, whilst also allotting time and equipment specifications as to help improve my own poor time management skills!

How did the session go?

Well I went to the session with confidence, knowing that I had a clear plan written down and studied before I got there. It enabled me to get organised with equipment and helped the session flow.

In the end I didn’t stick to my plan 100% as I found the group as a whole needed more time focusing on particular drills and activities, but my clear plans and progressions allowed me to easily see what progressions to drop in order to still advance towards my aim while keeping the session within the time frame allowed.

The plan also helped me relax more and focus purely on coaching rather than timings and quickly thinking of the next activity in my head.

Overall I believe the session planning process as stated by Farrell (2001) helped me accomplish what I set out to achieve in the session by giving me a clear map guiding me through and avoiding the pit falls of a poorly planed session.


Reference List

Farrell,T.S.C (2001) Lesson Planning. Teaching English in a foreign environment.

Purgation, K.B (1991) Planning Lessons and Units. Teaching English as a second or foreign language (pp.419-431).

Richards, J.C (1998) What’s the use of lesson plans? In J.C Richards Beyond Training (pp.103-121).

Tomlinson, C.A (2000) Education Leadership. How to Differentiate Instruction.


My Coaching Philosophy

This is the excerpt for your very first post.

As this blog will be focusing on my coaching en-devours over the next year, I feel that it is only right to start by explaining my coaching philosophy. This has developed over the past four years of coaching various age groups and standards in both male and female sports. I’ve taken the step to include a paragraph or two justifying my philosophy using a little bit of research which I think makes some interesting reading!

In my coaching I deliver a style that incorporates lots of different theories and teaching methods to reach the end result in creating an athlete that not only has physical and technical skills but an ability to make correct decisions under pressure. Whats the point in having an athlete that has all the requisite skills but cant handle the pressures of match day!

My philosophy is to take a cognitive approach with a whole – part – whole instructional approach to complex skills in sport. Whilst ensuring that these skills are transferred to a game situation using a constructivist approach within competitive small sided games.

The Constructivist way of coaching and teaching is to build upon past experiences to come to adjust and improve the outcome.The more exposure to match simulation situations in training, the more likely an athlete is going to make the correct decision in a match. This theory was studied extensively by Vygotsky (1998) where it was shown in a study of active learners that those participants who had performed an action in a variety of situations and environments performed significantly better than the participants who only performed the assigned action in a controlled environment.

I aim to create democratic environment is in my sessions to give the athletes an input into what the team should work on whilst still taking control myself and fulfilling the teams and individuals needs in training.

The alternative to the democratic style of leading or coaching is the autocratic style, the positive aspect of this style is that the coach is completely in control of the training schedule and content and does not need to consult the athletes on this. However Amarose and Hollembeak (2007) conducted a study involving two hundred and eighty college athletes asking them to fill out a questionnaire regarding how they responded to certain leadership types and traits. The results showed that sixty-eight percent of the participants stated that they preferred democratic leadership to autocratic leadership when it came to a sports coach.

I consider feedback to be a major part of the learning process and use behaviourist techniques to give feedback whilst also conducting lots of short question and answer to confirm if knowledge is present.

Behaviourism is the last of the learning theories which is employed within the coaching to fulfil the coaching philosophy. Behaviourism theory suggests that the learner responds most effectively to positive and negative external reinforcement, consequently if a coach is looking for correct application of a skill in a training session or if a team completes a set task positive reinforcement should let them know that they have performed the movement correctly or completed the task in the manner required. Subsequently this also applies to poor application of a skill or the non-completion of a task set. Pavlov (2010) conducted the most famous study into behaviourism, the study showed that animals changed their behaviour in accordance to positive or negative reinforcement thus showing that the subjects had gone through the process of learning.

Whilst keeping on the topic of feedback and behaviourism this study clearly supports my emphasis on question and answer at the end of all of my sessions.

Elder et al. (2000) conducted a study into the effectiveness of question and answer sessions employed in classrooms. The study involved, seventy-eight participants with thirty-eight participants studying in a classroom that employed question and answer sessions as part of their lessons. Their test results in six monthly tests were compared to forty participants who studied in a classroom that did not include question and answer sessions as part of their lessons. The results showed that the group who included question and answer scored significantly higher than the group who did not have question and answer sessions as part of their lessons.

Finally while creating a competitive environment the feedback is given to put the emphasis on the process rather than the end result, encouraging athletes to adopt good practice and processes rather than a win at all costs mentality.

As a summary my coaching philosophy is to create an environment that allows athletes to develop physically, technically and mentally strong giving the athletes the ability to make decisions and improve their leadership qualities.

I hope you found my coaching philosophy an interesting read, I believe it is important that a coaching philosophy always develops so i will maybe post an updated philosophy a year from now so we can look at how I have changed and developed as a coach through my experiences which I will keep you updated on through this blog!!


Reference List

Amorose,A & Hollembeak,J, 2007, Perceived Coaching Behaviors and College Athletes’ Intrinsic Motivation: A Test of Self-Determination Theory.

 Elder. L, R.W. Paul. 2000, Critical Thinking: Basic Theory and Instructional Structures.

Lim. L, Olina. Z and Reiser. R.A, 2008, The effects of part-task and whole-task instructional approaches on acquisition and transfer of complex cognitive skill, Education Tech Research Dev, Vol 57,pp 61-77

Pavlov, PI 2010, ‘Conditioned reflexes: An investigation of the physiological activity of the cerebral cortex’, Annals Of Neurosciences, 17, 3, pp. 136-14

Vygotsky, L.S., 1998. The collected works of L.S. Vygotsky, Vol. 5, New York: Plenum