VAFA umpire in action.

Elephant may not forget but coaches can

Pre season is a wonderful time of the year.  It is February.  It is warm.  A committed bunch of umpires who have been working on foundation fitness since early November turn up raring to have a crack at the new season.  They are met by an equally prepared coaching staff who are diligently finishing off plans for the season that are the result of many long and fruitful discussions held during the off season period.  By the time the season proper rolls around, the strategies and plans so carefully devised in January are coming to the fore. 

And while this fantasy cloud is still at the top of the umpiring far away tree, it would be remiss not to mention that the recruitment program, having been devised by committee during the previous season, has also started to show fruit and has more than amply replaced the limited number of umpires who – through tiring bodies strained by long and successful careers – have decided to hang up the boots (though depending on how “into” this vision you are, they have agreed to either goal umpire or have suddenly revealed a long held passion for coaching). 

That is how I like to picture the commencement of the season now that it is July, particularly as this part of the world endures its coldest and wettest winter in over ten years.  It is possible that this picture is slightly altered by the amount of time that has passed. I do remember it being warm however.

But this example does serve to illustrate two key points for us to consider as coaches.  Firstly, a year is a long time in football.  While we are currently approaching finals, and suddenly it seems to have gone quickly, the start of pre season stills seems a long time ago.  The same time last year is but a distant memory.  And if you need a second opinion on how long the season is, feel free to ask your wife or partner for their opinion, and if you don’t have one, you can ask mine.  Long apparently, even too long.

Secondly, football coaching is an annual process.  Next year we will be going through the same processes again, and in most instances seeing the same bunch of people.  This has important implications for the coaching profession.  As we have discussed recently in the Professional Development program, our objective as coaches is to create and control the environment in which our athletes can perform to their best abilities, and to ensure our approach to coaching further supports this outcome.

Now here is the bit where I tie all this together!  Over the course of the season I have many ideas that I would like to implement, things I have tried (that may or may not have worked), and things that no matter how hard I try cannot be avoided.  These ideas come from a variety of sources - “eureka” type moments, discussions had with the coaching panel, chats with umpires and workshops with peers through the PD program. Others come from something that we tried on the night that seemed to work, but next year it could be even better if we did X.

The problem is however that often when we get to the same time next year, that idea is gone.  Unless it has been so firmly embedded into how we go about doing things that to not do it would be to divert from what we know, often we simply forget what we did, no matter how good it was.  Then we revert to what we do know, which is what we have always done, and just do it again.  The same mind numbing training program, the same mistakes we kicked ourselves for last year and the same pressing problem that we think we did differently last year but no one can remember how.

This has a couple of implications for the environment and approach. The most obvious that the seasons do take on the feeling of being a “groundhog day” experience.  Every year is basically the same.  That gets us through and despite best intentions at the start, we end up doing a job that delivers the key outputs, but does it in the same clumsy way we have done it in the past.  This is boring for us, and also boring for the group.

More importantly however, we miss the opportunity to develop and grow.  We miss the opportunity to continually develop our processes, to learn from the previous experience, build on it and make it better next time.  It is only through a process of continual improvement that we build on our skills, get better at what we do and hopefully make the environment we are creating conducive to the athletes we hope will thrive within it.

I have found the answer to this it to keep a journal of what I am doing, why I am doing it and what happened.  I also add what I think might work next time we do it.  The idea originally came from the 2009 Coaches Conference.  While the presenter was a bit light on for details, they explained enough to a least make me have a crack.  While I will admit that without family and work my efforts might have been more diligent at times, the bottom line was the twenty minutes or so I spent after training each night provided a guide for doing it better next time.  The entries are fairly basic. No more than a summary of the night in a paragraph or two, with some descriptions and a few suggested improvements.  However it was still enough to dust off, re read and be useful next season.  A note to self type thing.

As an example, our pre-season, and I suspect a lot of others, revolve around multiples of 400 metre runs.  One issue with that was that the groups would start together and eventually spread out to resemble something approaching a single line of people running at various speeds around an oval.  This was a problem last season also, and at that time, with an emphasis on teamwork, we had set up a second line 100 metres into the recovery.  It didn’t matter how umpires got to that line, but by the time they crossed it, the full group had to have come together before finishing the recovery and starting the next set.  I had forgotten about that by next season, but when reading the journal I had kept, I was able to implement the idea again and build on it.

I still find it a challenge to actually write in the thing every day, I can highly recommend the concept if nothing else.  If it wasn’t for that journal, umpires would still be doing preseason the old way.  One small step for umpiring…one short and confused note about a year later…one giant leap for repetitive circle running in the summer.

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