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Working with Cognitive Coaches

Sports coaching is like everything else in life, always changing and evolving. To progress like everyone else, sport coaches are continually searching for ways to improve, to optimize their athlete’s performance. I really think this is the same for the coach developer! Today’s athlete’s is a fine-tuned machine benefitting from modern training, expert nutrition and state of the art rehabilitation services. Current technology allows coaches to monitor many aspects of the training plan - heart rate monitors with built in GPS technology can literally track an athlete’s every move, speed and effort level, during training or games. I guess you could ask how much room for improvement is there left? That leads to question around the job of the coach and the role of the coach developer?

I think my answer is that the coach developer becomes even more important. The coach developer has to understand the difficulties coaches face – especially now with such technological advances. So where do coaches and coach developers turn next… I have been very lucky recently to be working in Germany, actually Munich, for 6 months. I have been carrying out some work with 2 of the top football clubs here, in the Bundesliga and it has been a wonderful learning experience, especially as I do not speak German.

Working with the football academies has allowed me to examine a recent development – the cognitive coach. Elite players are in demand from top clubs and coaches have realized that regardless of physical and technical ability, most athletes lack the speed of thought, decision-making and problem solving ability that are required to excel in football. This lack of cognitive skills can be a hindrance, for example, many coaches want players to think two or three moves ahead, assessing the field of play, being aware of positional moves, processing information quickly and constantly being active and engaged in the game.

Basically this is game intelligence or cognitive awareness and I have been working with some sports coaches to try and develop their ability to coach these cognitive aspects. It is something that can be taught but the majority of coaches, and here I can really only speak from my experiences in the UK, do not spend a lot of time doing, if any at all. It has been a challenge working with the coaches to develop these cognitive skills workshops – it has involved a lot of questions, listening, observing and then asking more questions. There has been a lot of checking and challenging but it has been a really valuable learning experience – certainly for me and I hope the coaches and the players feel the same.

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