By Roger Wilkinson
Just as important as preparation, coaching style and session delivery is the coach’s ability to assess on different levels. Assessment is crucial to all parts of the coaching process and yet as a concept is rarely examined and discussed.
Assessment is a vital factor at the beginning of the coaching process. When coaches take over a team or group of players it is imperative that they accurately recognise the ability level and tactical understanding of the players, in order to set up a programme of work that is at the right level for that group. This assessment process will allow the coach to implement improvement and learning and minimise time wasting.
What criteria do we assess our players with?………You may be asking. Assessment should be relative to the game style and without a properly constructed game style no realistic assessment can take place. It is vital that the coach must have that playing philosophy, with all the detail of its components in place. Beginning the assessment process without having a game style in place is the equivalent of starting on a journey without knowing where your destination is!
The first priority in any session is to assess the skill level and tactical understanding of each player against the criteria of what is expected at that stage of development. This is vital in the initial session of any new coaching theme because the coach may have to instantly re-organise and change the session in order to enable the work to succeed and for real skill development and tactical understanding to take place.
Great and experienced coaches perform this assessment during sessions as second nature but make no mistake this has come from years of experience and self-examination. Depending on the ability and aptitude of the players the coach may have to stay with a phase of learning for 2 or 3 sessions until the work is ‘bedded in’. The coaches assessment and judgement during these sessions will determine when the players are ready to move on to the next phase or theme.
The ultimate assessment tool is the game itself. If the coach has practiced the way they want to play effectively in their coaching sessions the quality of the work will show in the competitive arena of the game and the players will play the way they have practiced. The better coaches will not be “ranting and raving” on the side-line but will occasionally make reminder points to the players based on their understanding of the work done in training. If the players are not able to demonstrate the work in the game then that is an indication that they are not ready to move on.
During the game a close examination of the “greats” like Venables, Michels and Mourinhio will often see them watching quietly, with a pen and paper, making reminder notes to use at half time, full time and for use in further sessions. They are really assessing the effectiveness of their own work.
Self-assessment by coaches should be ever present in everything they do regarding practice and game play to analyse the effectiveness of their work. During the session the coach should step back to see the whole picture and measure the individual player progress. Part of that measurement will be to also assess if the session delivery is at the right level and being taken in by the players.
The coach should also see each player as an individual project with unique requirements. What are their strengths? and what are their weaknesses? Are they quick learners? are they confident? are their critical skills sufficient for them to be tactically effective in the game? The coach should then use this assessment to prioritise the area he and the players need to work on and then coach it!
After each session the coach needs to honestly assess the effectiveness of the session.
Were the playing areas realistic?
Did the timing of each section within the practice maximise learning and success?
Were the key coaching points delivered in easy to learn sequence?
Did the players improve skilfully and tactically as individuals and as a team?
Do the players really understand what they are trying to do and can they operate independently of coach?
Is the group ready to move on or does the theme need to be worked on again?
The coach should also closely look at their own performance in order to get better and better.
Was I motivational?
Was my coaching position such that allowed me to observe every aspect of the session?
Did I cleverly give positive images with my language and demonstrations?
Did I connect with every player?
Did I coach in such a way that every player understood the work?
Was my post session de brief effective in cementing the theme of the session?
What changes would I make, if any, next time I deliver this theme?
Assessment is an important and vital component of coaching. By being aware of its value and the part it plays in the coaching and match day process, the coach can further develop assessment as part of their coaching methodology and further advance their journey towards coaching excellence.