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Coaching can be a very lonely job. Even when coaches work in high school or college settings alongside dozens of other coaches in the same athletics department, rarely is time set aside for regular or formal sharing of ideas. This is even more evident during the season when coaches can easily become so immersed in their own work that they barely interact with coaches outside of their immediate staff.
To keep improving as a coach look for ways to regularly connect with other coaches so you can exchange and test coaching ideas. Learning groups are a common strategy for ongoing professional development in fields such as education and business. Research suggests that learning groups, sometimes also referred to as communities of practice, are also highly valued by successful coaches as a method for becoming a better coach.
A community of practice is defined as a group of people who share a passion for a topic and who expand their knowledge on it by exchanging lessons learned and ideas on a regular basis. There are five keys to developing and sustaining an effective community of practice for coaches:1. Dedicated Time Set Aside to Improve Coaching
Regular time set aside for learning group exchanges, ideally 45-60 minutes every 2-3 weeks.
2. Group Consists of Coaches with Similar Concerns
Learning teams comprised of 3-7 coaches who coach in the same setting – doesn’t have to be the same sport, but should be coaches who experience common issues with similar types of athletes.
3. Protocol Guides but does not Prescribe
Rules of engagement for operating the exchanges to ensure meetings stay focused on knowledge sharing and coach learning. For example, a standard agenda could include 15-20 minutes for sharing ideas from a group assigned reading (such as a coaching biography or a coaching article that is agreed upon or assigned prior to meeting), followed by 20-30 minutes for discussing current coaching issues.
4. Peer Facilitates Learning Group Engagements
Each learning group will require a leader, one of the participating coaches who coordinates the exchanges and encourages and inspires other coaches to actively participate in the learning group. This role can be rotated periodically to distribute the workload and build leadership capacity across coaches.
5. Work Continues Until There is Evidence of Improvement
The group should ensure that time is set aside in every meeting to follow-up on previously discussed or unresolved coaching issues or topics. Simply discussing issues or topics is not enough – coaches must push each other to find practical applications based on their exchanges.
An example of the coach learning group in action is the ‘Coach Loop Groups’ created by the Alliance of Women’s Coaches. Loop Groups are described as informal ways for coaches – in this case women coaches – to stay ‘in the loop’, build their coaching network, and deepen their coaching knowledge. They share that Loop Groups can take multiple forms:
• On-campus meetings with other coaches, staff and administrators in your athletics department
• In town meetings or get-together’s with coaches and administrators at nearby schools
• Teleconferences for coaches with specific interests
Regardless of which approach you take to creating and operating your coach learning group, the experience will be enhanced by regular communication in between formal meetings. A simple way to accomplish this is to exchange ideas with an app such as GroupMe (https://groupme.com/). This tool allows coaches to connect and share ideas with the entire group quickly using their smartphones, and has been used effectively with some coach Loop Groups.
Finally, because it will be normal for group membership to change over time, the group may find it useful to create a repository for coaching insights or particularly valuable ‘lessons learned’. This could take many forms, ranging from a blog to short video summaries.
One such example is the free coaching channel created as part of my ongoing work with high school coaches (https://vimeo.com/fresnohscoachingchannel). We occasionally ask one of the coaches to summarize an insight or strategy in a 2-3 minute video that we post to the coaching channel. This is particularly valuable for early career coaches who can quickly learn from experienced coaches about ‘what works’ in this particular setting.
Although clinics and workshops are an integral part of your ongoing development as a coach, the best coaches build learning into their everyday work. An effective way to support this everyday learning is to create or join a coach learning group.
Alliance of Women’s Coaches. (2014). Webinars and loop groups. Retrieved from http://allianceofwomencoaches.org/programs-events/loop-webinar/
Bertram, R., & Gilbert, W. (2011). Learning communities as continuing professional development for sport coaches. Journal of Coaching Education, 4, 40-61.
Gilbert, W., Gallimore, R., & Trudel, P. (2009). A learning community approach to coach development in youth sport. Journal of Coaching Education 2(2), 1-21.
Krzyzewski, M., & Spatola, J. K. (2009). The gold standard: Building a world-class team (p. 58). New York: Business Plus.
Wegner, E., McDermott, R., & Snyder, W. M. (2002). Cultivating communities of practice: A guide to managing knowledge. Boston: Harvard Business School.