What I've Learned As A New Coach

Towards the end of 2017, I made an active decision to become a coach.

At the time, I was haphazardly running sessions at Deakin, with passion, but no formal experience. Since then, I have been:

  • A counsellor at Seattle Ultimate Camps

  • Head Coach of the Victorian U22 Women’s Team

  • Assistant Coach of the Australian U24 Women’s Team

  • A part of the Ellipsis leadership


Why?

Playing AUG’s in 2017 with Deakin was a big turning point. I could not believe how incredible that group was.


We were a team of 12, 10 of whom started in March that year. Every game, my teammates improved at an exponential rate. They were athletic, humble, hardworking, and they wanted to win. My sole purpose for that tournament was to keep these women around, to show them what this sport had to offer.


It was like nothing I’d ever experienced.


I left that week wanting to do more, to equip myself with the skills that would enable me to keep women in the sport, and then develop them to reach their goals.




Stemming from that experience, here are some things I’ve learned and have been working on to become a better coach:


NB: Prepare yourself for a bit of name dropping, gotta give credit where credit is due!


Planning and Progression

It’s important to have a plan. This is in the context of both a nine month campaign or a two hour training session. As the person calling the shots, players rely on you to know what you’re doing (and they can tell when you’re winging it).


Planning also helps you frame what needs to be covered in order to reach your team goals.


Consider your ideal outcome and how to create pathways for your team to get there. If you want to have a team where the O line never gets broken, but you start with a bunch of players that can’t consistently break the mark, then you need to figure out how you’re going to upskill that team, or come up with a strategy to work around it.


Within this, you learn how to tailor the plan to your team in order to facilitate meaningful progress. For every drill:

  • If players are performing the skills perfectly, know how to extend the drill so that they can challenge themselves - increase distance between cones, change the release point of the throw, perform the skill at a faster rate

  • If players are struggling to perform the skills, know how to break down each skill and focus on the core elements

  • Even if the whole team is practicing the same skill, make an effort to individualise it in these ways for increased gains.

Variety and Reframing

Sometimes all you need is an external source to realise you’ve been taught the same thing, the same way, for years without questioning it.


When Alyssa Weatherford came to Australia at the end of 2017, she opened my mind to different ways things could be taught. We performed skills that we had done a thousand times before, but she emphasised a different element or demonstrated them in unfamiliar ways. She taught defensive positioning techniques and drills I had never seen or imagined, where all I had known was some variation of win the box 1000 times. Every single concept she taught us felt exciting and new.


Steve Wright also does this very well. He’s not afraid to try something different because he is confident with the root concept he’s teaching. He considers the actual skill and repurposes it in a way that is fresh, more explicit and sometimes even simpler.


One of my favourite things he did with Ellipsis last year was creating new terminology for getting the disc off the sideline - something we are all taught, but that loses meaning over time. He used ‘flip’ to attack back towards the middle of the field, ‘flow’ to the attack the same direction. This reframing inadvertently changed the culture of using a lateral dump as a reset or bailout option, into using it to move the disc into a stronger position.


Challenge the status quo of learning skills - take bits and pieces from others and create your own flavour.



Empowerment

Coaches play a key role in setting the culture of a team. A coach represents a team’s values and can shape it’s internal fabric. Recognising and understanding that responsibility is important.


While coaching a group of middle school girls in Seattle, I was mentored by Taylor Kanemori, who had been a DiscNW summer camp coach for the past 8 years. Within a week, I saw her very purposely enable these 13 year olds to see themselves as athletes. She led them to realise that even from a young age women are taught to strive for perfection. That when “we needlessly apologise, we end up making ourselves small”. She reframed mistakes into learning opportunities and opened the floor for them to reflect on their experiences playing sport as young women, maybe for the first time ever.


Get to know your players, listen to their experiences and give them a voice. It creates more buy-in and ownership of the team.


Enthusiasm and Caring

I strongly believe that the more you put in as a coach, the more you get out of your players.


I’ll never forget the first day my elementary school of camp, when coach, Ryan Segal, genuinely and unironically told us that he wanted summer camp to “feel like Disneyland”. He was passionate about creating magic for these eight years olds; creating a place where kids beg their parents to come back again and again.


For those who know me, I fucking love Disneyland, so you’ll forgive me for saying that I was skeptical at first. But I got on board, and during the week I saw how well the kids responded to the energy he brought. And this was matched by counsellors across the board. Kids were coming back multiple times during the summer and returning to camp year after year.


This metaphor is obviously a bit of a stretch for adults and it’s very hard to emulate that vibe repeatedly. But to me, it encapsulates the crux of coaching.


All the best coaches and leaders care. A lot.

It’s pretty hard to get anywhere without this. A caring coach doesn’t tell you how much work they’ve put in; they show you. They want you to feel like playing in their team was worthwhile, that it was enjoyable, fulfilling and that you learned something.


When a coach unapologetically cares, that’s when you see the biggest improvements. And because you trust them, you invest more in the team and you never want to let them down.


To a coach, being involved in shaping a player is one of the most rewarding feelings you can get. The fulfilment I get from coaching is unparalleled. Helping someone achieve something they strive for is hard fucking work - you experience the high and lows at a magnified rate - but when it pays off its so damn worth it.


Today, almost all of the 2017 AUGS team are still playing in some capacity, at uni, club or worlds level. Being a small piece of their frisbee puzzle is pretty incredible.