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How do I plan?

If you haven’t been following me for a while then you won’t know that I am undertaking a Masters in Performance Coaching at the University of Stirling. One of my assignments is to critically analyse my planning process, and share it through a blog. What follows is an account of how I currently plan a session, the rationale behind my planning and comparison to current literature details others practice.

The following is an overview of how I plan if I have never met the person(s) I am going to be working with.

My initial planning is based around the likely environmental conditions. If someone wants to develop his or her ability in white-water over a two-day period in July then the logistical options of that are much more limited than during the winter months. This initially narrows the options to one of a handful of locations (dependant on specific aims for the session). It is imperative to me that I believe that there is a chance I can meet the desired outcome with the venue options that I have (in the summer in Wales we are limited to the Dee and Tryweryn, as long as the latter has a dam release on!). The desired outcome is set by the client, and is quite often a little vague (i.e. ‘I want to develop my boof stroke’).

I often try to elicit more information in order to help me build a picture of where the learner thinks that they are on the journey to mastering the skill that is being developed. This may involve an email exchange, or a phone conversation / facetime call depending on their desire. This aids my planning of the day and gets me to start thinking about possible sites and exercises to play with at the selected venue.

On the day, after a brief discussion I normally will jump on the water and had a paddle round and set some open tasks (for example – how many eddys can you make in this short section of white-water?). This allows me to match the information I have been able to gather from discussion and what I am seeing in terms of a real world performance against the end goal that we have discussed (this is often referred to as the ‘want’). It is then a collective job between the learner and myself to agree a route to achieve the want (often referred to as the ‘need’). This often results in planning of sessions occurring in on the fly, as I am able to react to the speed of learning, and adjust the level of challenge to match the real time performance.

Is this really the best way to plan?

Being British makes the next section of this blog harder to write. It would appear that I am blowing my own trumpet, something we are very bad at as a nation. Rest assured, as I was starting this blog, I was more than prepared to share, warts and all, where I was failing in my duty as a coach with regards to planning, but…..

By the definition given by Cooper and Allen (2018) I can be considered an expert coach. This is important as all the literature distinguishes between what is effective for an expert to do in comparison for what a less experienced practitioner should do (Hall and Smith, 2006). As I work in a dynamic environment I believe that I need to be free to adapt to both the environment and individuals I am working with. It has been shown that those who are more meticulous in their planning make fewer decisions during instruction (lesson delivery) (Marx & Peterson, 1981).

In further support of my current approach, it has been shown that effective coach behaviour is based in providing a bespoke service taking into account the specifics of the situation presented (Abrahams & Collins, 2011). As the situation I coach in is inherently risky I need to understand the interactions between the people, the challenges and tasks we attempt and the environment we are in (Collins and Collins, 2016a). This means that in order to effectively deliver a coaching session that meets the needs of the learner as we travel towards their wants is best met through a process of Professional Judgement and Decision Making (Collins, Carson and Collins, 2016). This seemingly on the fly method of session planning that I use allows me to use both my declarative and procedural knowledge (Collins and Collins, to give the most from the coaching sessions I deliver, for those who I am delivering them for.

My planning process mirrors the behaviours of other high-level adventure sports coaches, as identified by Collins and Collins (2016b). A resource (logistics, dam releases etc) review and a pedagogic (focus on the individuals needs and wants) guide the early decision making process towards a decision making audit, drawing together the resources and the pedagogic needs, prior to a more formal plan being agreed. This plan is described as skeletal by Collins and Collins (2016b), allowing the learner and environment to flesh them out as the session progresses.

The one note of caution with this approach to planning is to avoid falling into the heuristic trap! This is where as a coach we make a suboptimal decision, based on personal previous experience (Collins and Collins, 2016b). This can take the form of repeating an exercise that has found success before without adapting it to ensure it is the best fit for the specific situation and person at that moment in time!

It appears that my planning methodology is as effective as it can be given the constraints of the dynamic environments I work within and the varied nature of people I work with. I was fully prepared for an epiphany while researching this blog and so here it is: Sometimes, you’re already doing the right thing!

Abraham, A. & Collins, D. (2011) ‘Taking the next step: Ways forward for coaching science’. Quest,

Vol. 63, pp.366–384.

Collins, L., Carson, H. & Collins, D. (2016) ‘Metacognition and professional judgement and decision making: Importance, application and evaluation’. International Sport Coaching Journal, Vol. 3, No.3, pp.355-361

Collins, L. & Collins, D. (2016a) ‘Professional judgement and decision-making in adventure sports coaching: The role of interaction’. Journal of Sports Sciences, Vol. 34, pp.1231–1239.

Collins, L., & Collins, D. (2016b) ‘Professional judgement and decision making in the planning process of high level adventure sports coaching practice’. Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning, Vol. 16, No.3, pp.256-268.

Cooper, D. & Allen, J. (2018) ‘The coaching process of the expert coach: a coach led approach’. Sports Coaching Review, Vol. 7, No.2, pp.142-170.

Hall, T. & Smith, M. (2006) ‘Teacher planning, instruction and reflection: What we know about teacher cognitive processes’. Quest, Vol.58, No.4, pp.424-442.

Marx, R. & Peterson, P. (1981) ‘The nature of teacher decision making’ in B. Joyce, C. Brown, & L. Peck (eds.) Flexibility in teaching: An excursion into the nature of teaching and training, Longman, New York, pp. 236-255.

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