Sedbergh Summer Courses Cricket Coach and Sedbergh School Director of Hockey Martin Speight shares five keys to unlocking potential in young sportsmen and women.

Every coach will have their own thoughts on keys to unlock a player’s potential, but for me a starting point has to be “knowing your players”. Only by understanding what makes each player tick can a coach teach and motivate each player as an individual.

Not only does this help a coach to be an effective teacher but it also helps to create the bond of trust between a coach and player. This special relationship is vital if players are to develop to their full potential.

Once a coach knows his or her players, a second key is understanding the stage of development of the players and then coaching them in a challenging but achievable way.

If training is too easy, too difficult or too monotonous, players quickly become demoralised, demotivated and disinterested. It is therefore crucial that a coach’s training programme reflects each player’s stage of development. 

A third key, and in many ways linked to the first two keys, is remembering that sport is meant to be enjoyable both for the players and the coach. If a coach is not enjoying the session it is almost inevitable that the players won’t be enjoying it either.

As such coaches must plan their sessions taking into account the first two keys to ensure that everyone enjoys themselves, creating a positive and fun environment that allows players to develop.

Now it could be argued that given the amount of quality practice required to develop the technical skills there is inevitably a lot of repetition, which ultimately will lead to boredom.

Coaches therefore need to build up a database of drills and games that teach the same skill in a different way, and therefore a coach has to be a magpie, pinching any good ideas from other coaches they observe.

He or she then needs to put in place the competition pathways that allow players to make mistakes but learn independently. The fourth key therefore, as hard as it is, is not to intervene; a coach has to allow players to fail and teams to lose as these experiences are the means to motivating players to train harder and get better. Only by losing do players learn.

The fifth and final key, and arguably the starting point for every coach, is technical knowledge. Without knowledge players will sooner or later see through their coach and lose trust in his or her ability to teach them the skills.

The more knowledge possessed, the easier it is to explain a skill. The more simply a coach can express ideas, the easier it is for the player to learn. Ultimately that is what a coach does, teaches skills to people. But the environment created and the way that skills are coached are equally important if a coach is to be successful.

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