I haven’t posted for a while so I thought I would write a quick post about a topic I have been teaching at university this week, autonomy supportive coaching, and relate this to judo.
What is Autonomy supportive coaching?
Autonomy supportive coaching has been described by many authors including Gillet et al., 2010; Alvarez et al. 2009; Conroy & Coatsworth 2007; Amorose & Anderson-Butcher, 2007. A lighter yet informative read can be found here written by Australian Sports Commission. I would describe it as “a coaching pedagogy that is underpinned by a desire to develop athletes as self-thinking, personally motivated and innovative individuals” (Something like that anyway!)
Why is this important?
I think it is important for athletes to be autonomous for several reasons, at the end of the day when they go out to compete they’re by themselves. Their task is to win medals and if they can operate autonomously then our support is enhancing an individual who is far more advanced and therefore you can dedicate time to higher level support. Consider it this way, as coaches we have all worked with athletes who constantly need support with really basic things on competition day – nutrition, warm up, they lose their kit (especially belts), they’re always the one who has a kit that doesn’t fit etc etc Then you look across the hall and there is this uber organised athlete, he/she knows where everything is in their bag, they have appropriate food and fluids for immediately after the weigh in, they’re taped up and ready to warm up early, they have kit to stay warm after the warm up, they check the draw themselves, they know what colour kit to where, it always passes judogi control, the back patch is always sewn on properly – you get my drift! The point is you can be checking they have their belt etc or you can be focussing on higher level support.
What can judo coaches do to make their athletes more autonomous?
I think it is important within coaching sessions to empower athletes and allow them to make mistakes and reflect upon what they’re doing. It is also important to not intervene too much and when they need support in learning or planning to turn the help into a discussion rather than a straight forward answer. This takes patients and often means they do not progress as quickly as others initially but eventually they develop a much deeper understanding. Here are some examples of the strategies I use to try and develop more autonomous athletes:
- After competition we watch the videos, this is either done with me and the athlete so we can discuss the contest or (more often than not) the whole group. We sit as a group, watch each persons fights, the players and coaches make notes and then the player in the video is asked to make any comments, then the other athletes are asked for their opinions and then the coaches. This is very time consuming but very effective. One important point to note though is that this can be quite daunting for new players in the group so I normally do theirs one on one.
- Have you ever been to a judo session, its coach led, he does whatever technique he wants that week, then maybe some randori and you think “I really want to practice x” We do a lot of this, I just pair the players off and let them work on whatever they want, I just walk round observing, asking questions and making suggestions. This is a kind of experimental learning and is much better for developing a deeper understanding.
- When giving feedback `i also try to use questions….. this is not easy to begin with. So a simple example might be that you notice someone is not pulling high enough with their hike-te grip and thus not breaking balance correctly. Rather than dive in and tell them it is wrong just ask them how it feels, they’ll probably say not strong enough or something like that and then you ask “what could you do differently?” if they don’t know ask the partner… try to always get them to find solutions rather than give them too them. It will make them much more reflective and critical in their understanding.
I think judo is a sport full of tradition and this is a good thing but equally we shouldn’t be scared to progress and develop. I often see very regimented classes, coach demonstrates, athletes copy, coach corrects etc etc and this kind of coach centred approach to developing athletes can be vastly improved.