Paddy Upton

When ‘old school’ works

The previous blog on old school vs new school coaching suggested that dictatorial, my-way-or-the-highway leadership/ management/ coaching is fast becoming obsolete. And that the new more inclusive and empowering method of leadership is delivering better results and happier performers, making it impossible to ignore.

Defending the old school, it does have a place in sport (and business), but significantly less place than it currently occupies. Using telling as the dominant approach works best, a) at the beginning stages of a new team, b) when a new task or skill is being introduced, c) when there is lasting confusion, and d) in other specific situations that I can’t think of as I sit on this flight from Pune to Delhi.

When a new team gets together for the first time, the leader needs to provide direction, explain rules, procedures and expected standards, etc. Telling is the best way. Telling can last for weeks when the new team comprises inexperienced members, such as junior age-group sports teams, interns joining a hospital, articled clerks joining a law practice etc. Where members of a new team are experienced, such as in an IPL team of professional cricketers, or a new project team of business professionals, telling is rendered ineffective within days or even hours.

Telling works when a new skill or task is being taught, such how to reverse sweep, bowl a new type of slower ball, hit a draw off the tee-box or use a new computer programme. It works best when an ‘expert’ who knows better tells an ‘inexperienced’ person how to correctly execute the new skill or task. Maintaining the position of ‘expert who knows better”, old school coaching makes the mistake of continuing to point out what is right or wrong, long after the person has begun to master the skill.

New school coaching will look to transfer responsibility of self-assessment to the player early the learning process. When the person executes the skill successfully for the first few times, new school may ask, ‘what did you feel, what did you do that made that work, how was it different to the earlier attempts that did not work’? The player is encouraged to find explanations and answers from within. The coach continues to ask questions to get the player to deepen their understanding, experience, feeling and explanation of the skill. Under pressure, these learners are less likely to be found wanting than someone who continually is told what to do.

Telling works when there is continued confusion in a group. In recent strategy meetings with the Pune Warriors IPL team, our group of coaches and senior player had differing ideas on which player to select. After some time, there was still no resolution. This is when the captain or coach uses their authority to tell the answer. Hopefully the decision is fairly representative of the members’ inputs.

Telling also works in situations I can’t think of at the moment. Please add to this thinking? Leave a reply below.

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