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The Coaching Process

Video footage taken from - PLAY RUGBY USA - Text from USA RUGBY -

I have been thinking a lot about the basics of coaching recently. I am fortunate enough to have many coaching hats that requires me to coach in different ways and also think about my delivery to each program and how to manage expectations, learning & and increase in performance. Listed are just a few example of my current coaching roles.

  • Coach Education workshops & clinics

  • HS Elite 7s Programs

  • Women’s Elite 7s Programs

  • Men’s Elite 15s Programs

  • Grassroots programs

Where each role requires a different type of hat for each different program what doesn’t change is the foundation of the principle of coaching & the coaching process.

The video above explains what USA Rugby call the ‘coaching process’. (Many other ‘coaching process’ models around the world follow this model below. A 'Plan > Do > Review' approach. However this is more looking at the bigger picture where this specific version of the coaching process from USA Rugby is looking at the granular side around the delivery of coaching.

The coaching process is effectively 4 steps to executing a coaching session, activity, game or drill. You can see the different steps taken from USA Rugby at this link here:


Coaches should provide details to the players about what the goal of the activity is, the sport-specific context, and what the desired outcome is for the training session.


Especially when new skills or techniques are being introduced, showing how to perform a skill helps players to understand the desired actions. It is important to prepare the demonstration beforehand so that it is as clear and effective as possible.


As players attempt to imitate the demonstrated actions, coaches should watch the players' performance and compare what they see to the shared goals and key points determined in the instructional phase.


At the close of the session, coaches should use open-ended questions to determine if the goals were achieved and players’ perceptions of the session match the coach’s observations. This phase is critical to the development of both the players and the coach.

NOW - how is this relevant to coaching practice?

Where the art of coaching comes in is how much of each stage should we spend time on. Traditional coaching would spend much of its time on Phase 1 – Instruction. The game its self teaches the player more about the game than a coach talking or instructing ever will do but to many times we as coaches fall into what I call the TCT (Traditional Coaching Trap). This is when the coach consciously or unconsciously talks to players like they understand exactly what they are saying. They will bark orders out and often not give players the time to question, talk or think for themselves. Think of a traditional American football coach, watch this link.

“This is no democracy, this is a dictatorship, I am the law”

Some reasons we fall into the TCT, in my opinion are listed below:

  • This is how we were coached

  • Limited creativity / imagination

  • Lack of game understanding

  • Don’t want to show vulnerability of players asking questions we don’t know the answers to

  • A small amount of coaching knowledge & education

  • Low emotional intelligent levels

  • An inability to read body language

  • Society’s traditional view on leadership is a top down approach

If you fall into the TCT your coaching sessions will look like this when regarding the coaching process:

How the do we counter falling into this trap? Well if you have ever read anything from Lynn Kidman she is a big believer in the player centered approach to coaching (or as she calls it, athlete centered). This approach has the coach spending most of their time in the coaching process observing the player or athlete in action. This has been the approach adopted by coaches in a number of sports for a few years now and if doing you are putting this approach into practice I believe it should look something like this.

However, the ART of the coaching process and knowing what to do, how to deliver, how to address, how to speak to players etc, has all got to do with many factors, some are listed below. If you can think of any more, please feel free to add.

What we need to understand the art of the Coaching Process

  • Audience

  • Skill sets

  • Time

  • Training context

  • Session outcomes & objectives

  • Learning styles

  • Training environment & terrain

  • Relationship with athlete

Using scaffolding or the zone of proximal development according to Vygotsky you then can adjust the coaching process further from the player centered approach and make it even more extreme, so players are learning even more.

You can even limit the amount of feedback in the traditional sense of the word (Coach telling player how to improve). You can design games, activities etc and allow the game to become the feedback tool or method. Where this seems like a good idea and I believe it’s a very valuable tool what you may find is that players come and seek verbal and explicit feedback even if we know as coaches the game its self is the best feedback tool. This implicit learning can become a challenge in this sense and players like to feel valued or to go home with some concrete evidence of learning or improvement.

"YES -today at practice I learnt how to do XYZ"

In short – there is no TRUE answer and necessary requirement regarding the coaching process and which stage you should spend more time on more than others, but next time you coach think to yourself.

1. How much are you talking?

2. How much are they playing?

3. How much are they ‘really’ learning?

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