If You Want to Be A Better Coach, Learn A New Sport

This was originally posted April 12, 2010 in my RKC blog here If You Want to Be a Better Coach

This past weekend I had the incredible opportunity of trying out for the Pacific Coast Grizzlies Rugby Team. The Grizzlies are a select side team meaning, that they are comprised of the best players from the area and include several member’s of the women’s national team. While I am nowhere near this level of play yet, I entered this tryout simply looking to learn as much as possible. What came as a surprise for me is that it turned out to be just as valuable for coaching volleyball as it was for playing rugby.
In volleyball, at times I’ll perform hitting drills with my left hand to try and get a feel for the coordination and learning difficulties that my kids are facing. While this feels physically awkward, mentally I still know what needs to happen, and what the movement patterns should be like. Rugby on the other hand, is both physically and mentally awkward for me.
While I have the strength and speed to hold my own in the sport, it’s still a very steep learning curve. Rugby is unlike any other sport I’ve previously played. In the short scrimmage we held at the end of trials, I spent a lot of the time running back and forth in circles, trying to figure out where I was supposed to be. This gave me a lot of insight into what my players go through and some of the problems they have translating drills in practice into game situations.
In volleyball, I’ve been playing the sport long enough with enough focused intention, to where I’ve reached a “flow state.” My body instinctively performs certain movements and actions, allowing my brain to focus on the bigger picture. For any of you that are in a military or a paramilitary organization, imagine the body as handling all the tactics, how to get things done, leaving the brain free to focus on the strategy, determining what needs to be done.
When the higher ups get involved in the nitty gritty ground level stuff, that’s when operations usually start to get interesting fairly quickly. This is what’s happening for me in rugby right now, and for my players in game situations. So now, when I give them a focused, skill specific drill, I’ll have to figure out a way to immediately follow it up with a faster paced, game type situation employing that skill. This should help them make the connection between practice and games.
Watching the more skilled players gave me a chance to see what this “flow state” looks like in rugby. This gave me an idea of the type of skill level to shoot for and model in my own practice. It also reinforced the importance of me hopping onto the court and playing with the kids. Most of the time while coaching, I like to stand back to see the big picture and coach the kids as best as I can. I have to remember leading by example can be just as, and in some cases even more effective than traditional coaching.
Posted in Fun with Fitness, General