Why Good PB Coaches Are Like Ducks

By Mark Renneson

Have you ever thought about how deceiving ducks are? Imagine you are standing on the edge of a pond, watching a family of ducks swimming back and forth as they look for food — perhaps bread crumbs thrown from an admirer. You will notice how graceful the ducks are; how effortlessly they appear to glide across the surface of the water. It really is quite beautiful.

Now imagine you are watching the same ducks but you are doing so from below the surface. You will have a very different perspective of what’s going on, won’t you? You will see incessant paddling from the ducks, their feet in constant motion. You will discover that it takes incredible effort from the duck in order for it to appear effortless.

The same principle is true with excellent coaching. To an outside observer, the coach will appear relaxed, calm and composed. She will have command of the group and seem to see everything that is going on. It will appear like she is doing very little yet somehow is doing her job very well. You may call her ‘gifted’ or ‘a natural’ for the ease with which she (appears) to do her job. The reality, however, is that it takes considerable effort to make things look so easy. Here are some of the many things that will be going on in her head:

What good coaches are really doing.

What good coaches are really doing.

  • Are my players doing the activity properly?

  • Is everyone on task — if not, why not?

  • Are there any safety hazards?

  • What time is it? How is my pacing?

  • Is this activity too easy for them? Is it too hard? How can I modify it for optimal challenge?

  • Are there any mis-matched levels I need to adjust for? Do I change their partners or change their tasks in order to compensate? I do I leave it?

  • What do I do with the odd numbers — should I play in to make it even? Should I have one person sit out (if so, how will I rotate them in)? Should I form a group of three (if so, how do I have to modify the activity)?

  • Am I giving an equal amount of feedback and attention to everyone?

  • This person is doing something kind of weird. Is it important enough for me to interrupt and make an intervention — but that means stopping his partner’s practice session — or is it minor enough to let it go for now?

  • Three people ahve just walked in to watch this lesson. They haven’t paid. Should I talk to them (but take my attention away from the group) or let it be?

  • How successful is the group as a whole? Should we move on?

  • What time is it?

What good coaches look like they are doing.

What good coaches look like they are doing.

In my experience, these questions (and more) are constantly circulating inside the minds of coaches. In addition, the instructor must also be coaching her players, giving them feedback and encouragement. Like perpetual duck-paddling, coaches are always watching, thinking, observing and questioning.

Of course, as an outside observer you wouldn’t know that. What you would see is a calm, relaxed yet focused teacher who is fully engaged with her group but not in an overwhelming way. And just like any skill, the ability to run through this litany of questions while simultaneously being engaged and in control, is something that develops over time and with practice.

When I first began my coaching career I was not very good at both fulfilling my responsibilities and being calm. It always felt overwhelming and I’m sure it looked that way to. But that’s ok. Two decades later and with tens of thousands of hours of teaching under my belt, things have become a little easier. The incessant paddling remains the same, but the ability to do it without stress has improved.

I encourage new and developing coaches to remember that when you look at a coach you really admire — one who makes coaching look so easy — and think that you could never be like that, remember that they’re kicking their legs just as fast as you are — they’re just a bit better at disguising it.

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