Being a great player does not automatically qualify you to become a great coach

There is a dominant consciousness within my sport, that being a great player automatically means you're going to be a great coach.  This is often twinned with the more general perception that coaching is easy.  If you can swing a racket this qualifies you to teach how to swing a racket. I believe we need to stand up for our profession, and this is one of the key motivators behind my role as an LTA Coach Education Tutor in which I co-tutor the Level 4 Senior Performance Coach Award.  The opportunity to help shape our workforce in this country is one I value greatly as I believe our profession should be seen as an occupation that requires prolonged training, experience and a formal qualification to even begin to be called an expert coach.

What follows are some excerpts from an excellent piece in The Times today by Matthew Syed on Ryan Giggs thinking he is too good to start at the bottom of the managerial ladder.  

'The problem is not limited to football, of course.  There is a pervasive delusion that if you performed at a high level, you can teach or manage at that level, too....The putative link from possessing a skill to being able to teach it is too engrained.  Let us call this the 'great player, great coach' fallacy.

'The truth, however, is that world class players face specific barriers when it comes to coaching.  Take Giggs, whose ability to pass and dribble is second nature.  Thousands of hours of practice mean that he does not need to think, he can simply do.  This is what psychologists call 'expert-induced amnesia'.  It is why Roger Federer struggles to explain how he can hit such beautiful forehands and why chess grandmasters struggle to explain their match-winning situations.

To teach, then, requires the expert to step beyond his own competence.  It requires him to put himself in the shoes of his student, breaking down the skill into learnable parts.  This takes empathy, imagination, insight and other qualities we might bracket under the term 'teaching craft'.  This is not to say that being a top player is wholly negative.  There are many unique insights that experts possess.  It is merely to say that these are insufficient, on their own, to become a great coach.

Syed expands:

'When John Hattie, a leading researcher, analysed educational performance around the world, he discovered that class size is not as significant as parents tend to think.  Neither is streaming by ability or school uniform.  Indeed, he found that only one factor made a major difference: teacher quality.  

...Academics found something else, too.  Great teachers have a number of attributes, such as deep subject knowledge and emotional intelligence, but one is more important than any other: they are voracious students.  They do not fall for what Elizabeth Green, author of 'Building a better teacher', calls the 'myth of the natural-born teacher.'  Instead, they are always looking to extend their knowledge of pedagogy, improve their skills, and develop fresh insights.

This tallies with my experience of great sports coaches, too.  I have often bumped into Eddie Jones, but never at rugby matches.  The first time I met him was at Southhampton's youth academy, one of the most prestigious in the game.  He was there to learn more about developing young players and periodisation (getting players to peak at the right time).  The next time I met him was at a conference hosted by the SAS.  He was gleaning fresh knowledge about performing under pressure.  "You are never too old to learn,' he said.

The 'great player, great coach' fallacy is not unique to football. Top scholars are expected to lecture to university students with virtually no training (they often fail miserably) while star financial traders are often automatically promoted into executive roles with disastrous results.  These industries are slowly realising that managing and performing are distinct skills  It is why so many world-coaches, such as Ferguson, Jose Mourinho, Herbert Chapman and Arsene Wenger, were not world-class players.'