Copy of 46 Sparks to Enliven Plans of Beginner & Veteran Coaches

Coming coach development sessions for March so far:

March 4, Alex Hills JAFC with, Simon Black and Nathan Clarke of Simon Black Academy

March 18. Brothers Rugby Union Club, Albion, for Gunny and supported by researchers and all monies raised going to Sierra Leone Rugby.

46 Sparks to Enliven Plans of Beginner & Veteran Coaches - by Craig Gunn (Coach Gunny)

Through a couple of decades, I’ve coached many sports, created varied content, and taught a multitude of learners. I’ve also used the following tools and tricks.  This is not an exhaustive list by any means!  Hopefully you find these 46 (for my 46 years on earth) worthy of consideration...

  1. Get to know your students. “Kids learn teachers NOT subjects,” said my favourite leading principal, Fr. Peter Daly (OMI).  Thus, make connection a priority. Learn their backgrounds and where they are coming from. MASLOW must always come before Bloom. Then after all of this, worry about the subject matter…

  2. Next, we need to know what they know, or, what the can DO!

  3. BUT well before this, plan your session’s operational behavioural pedagogy. How on earth will you get their attention for example? (Consult old school PE teaching gurus like Pangrazi, Launder, Siedentop for help)

  4. What routines would Judith Rink (1993) suggest you want to practice with them?

  5. Plan absolutely everything if you are a new coach. BECAUSE you can lose them in an instant! The one thing that any teacher knows is that you solely are in control of your actions!!!

  6. Plan for transitions: ‘Active Learning Time’ studies since the 70s show how much time gets wasted… Coach Educator Chris Cushion’s recent studies have shown that ‘elite’ coaches are some of the worst in this regard!

  7. Plan for grouping all athlete into teams of colours.

  8. Plan to never, EVER, simply point at kids and expect them to remember what team they are in. The exact same is true for adults in fact!!!

  9. Listen to this very carefully: kids thrive in structure!!! When you are a beginner, don’t listen to ‘elite’ coaches working with ‘elite’ players saying things like they don’t use cones… They have never worked at the Grassroots, and more than likely if they did, and used this ‘no boundaries’ practice, they’d be pulling their hair out when the kids went wild.

10. Consider the number of participants and have far more equipment than necessary (if your budget allows for it).

11. I use four colours of cones and sashes or bibs of the same colours.  

12. How about the white cones?  They are your goals!!!

13. Use a four grid system of 10m by 10m like I was taught at university (PE teaching ‘101’). This easily engages a full class.  If I work with 90 coaches or players, I repeat the same process three times.

14. Label all of your own gear with permanent markers.  Coaches/PE teachers are ‘thieves’ but great natured ones. I drove to the Australian Institute of SPORT (1400km in my ute) with all of my own gear just in case… I am being ‘deadset’ serious!!!

15. PE teachers know that the hall/gym can be ‘squirrelled away’ from you in an instant.  Be prepared with Plans ‘B-Z’ at all times.

16. If your budget allows for it, you need a ball between two at least. I’m so tired of seeing community coaches, AND, visiting ‘experts’ lining up kids in columns with a bag of balls unused and lonely off to the side. In Australian football (AFL) for example, Indeed, it’s a great day if you see ‘elite’ groups with a single ball between eight when they do their ‘custom’ of lanework!

17. However, if the budget doesn’t allow for it, use balls, any balls... I have used everything from milk crates to stuffed toys as implement! ‘Old’ PE books gathering dust in libraries talk of things like ice-cream lids for markers. Use them or anything, because four and five year olds in particular NEED all the spatial help they can get (BIG kids too)!

18. If you can afford them, use agility poles to stake out your ‘turf’ before any other coaches arrive.  Because you are so organised and use less space than them, they will appreciate the help!

19. Put your bag of varied balls in the middle of your area and encourage kids to grab one and play, whilst you are setting up.

20. Always get to the training paddock well before start time. If I’m working professionally, I start setting up 45 minutes before. At the start of an amateur season, it’s at least 30 minutes.

21. Don’t EVER listen to anyone saying that kids shouldn’t kick around until warmed up etc… OR, that it looks untidy having them playing before the ‘official’ start. These people are clueless or narcissists. I have NEVER seen a kid ‘do’ a hamstring in cold weather or wet weather kicking before training. I suspect this wive’s tale was invented by the same parenting group in the 70s who told us all not to swim for 30 minutes after we ate lunch… Because of potential cramping!!!

22. Smile and say hello to every single adult you see near the field, as they could be parents or carers of ‘Little Josephine’. You need this potential contact up your sleeve if there is ever an issue. However, of course try to get out of the habit of waving and smiling at random mums at the shops. I haven’t mastered this yet…

23. Consider the difference in abilities of a group. Large balls or balloons are easy to catch. Round balls are easy to kick.

24. Think like a primary school teacher: the first many, many sessions should be focused on a safe environment for all, where kids and you relate well in intentional practice.

25. Play a game to begin your very first session (and every session).

26. Allow kids to kick, throw a javelin etc (within reason) first up with NO instruction!!! Then after, start the simplification process.

27. Watch for unique solutions that kids come up with in the above process.  For example, ‘Little Josephine’ putting the ball on the ground first before her kick.  Then, “Hey everyone! Let’s try…”

28. Once you’ve marked ‘the turf’ and organised all, start playing with kids. Sadly, many have been conditioned by school and other coaches and the like NOT to ‘play’.

29. Make sure that this early unofficial play has boundaries. That’s where the designated area above comes in.

30. Start at Greenwich Mean Time ‘on the dot’. If you bend here, adults will relax their travel time and it’s infectiously disruptive.

31. There is beauty in ‘chaos’. Plan for maximal movement that incorporates much functional movement and game skills. Then, finish your session 5-10 minutes ahead of time to talk to parents etc with no complaints due to the frenzied activity. 

32. Teach the kids how to help you set up. Practice this and ‘time them’ here and in pack-up with a watch. They love it!!!

33. Kids with attentional deficit issues need to keep moving but love structure too. They can be your best gear stewards and also the most creative game inventors too!

34. Plan for NO ‘lines, laps, or, lectures’!

35. Record yourself often on film. There is no better PD than this if you are prepared to watch with an open, curious heart

36. Get youth players to use smartphones and peer teach.

37. Hand-draw all activities . You'll be surprised how much clarity is gained from scratching the papyrus.

Sorry kids… Nothing beats a plan written on paper by hand!

Sorry kids… Nothing beats a plan written on paper by hand!

38. Join a coaching group like ‘Grassroots Coaching and Consulting’ (Facebook group not the page of the same name) for research based, crosscode/multi-contextual support, and, inspiration.

39. Commit something to memory about every single one of your athletes for life.  Then, bring it up every year you coach them, and then, every time you see them well into their athletic retirement…  I am currently coaching four or five learners I taught or coached over a decade ago!

40. Constantly research for creativity and then journal all insights (my personality means that my ideas are everywhere but you may prefer strict organisation) . I use my calendar year diaries for this purpose: if I have quiet days that are sparse of notations, I brain dump often!!! BUT, always make sure you review often and design a contents/index list for the front.

41. If you ignore the advice within this selection of ‘46’ and forget to plan - turn off the radio on the the drive to training and pray HARD. It’s surprising how much a decade of the Rosary comes to the rescue when desperate.

42. Make your learning intentions explicit for all activities, sessions, and phases within the season.

43. At least once a day, during a half hour walk or drive, turn off the radio or take headphones out.  Have a notebook handy (or nowdays use a phone ‘app’) to record innovative ideas that come from nowhere.  My best coaching/teaching problem solving would come running through bushland! When I could run of course AND two achilles’ surgeries prior...   

44. Focus on all of the ‘w’ type questions: ‘What is a game problem encountered? What does it look like? Why is it happening? What does it need to look like to make you happy? How can you design a task to assist players in this regard!!!

This is the planning I did when coaching a coaching peer of mine (whose team went on to win the State flag)… Notice the pen and paper with the ‘w’ processes?

This is the planning I did when coaching a coaching peer of mine (whose team went on to win the State flag)… Notice the pen and paper with the ‘w’ processes?

45. The great Dr. Ken Edwards (PE ‘guru’) taught us (and I have passed on in kind) to have three learning intentions: a major, a minor and an incidental one that will easily allow you to cover and map curriculum sequence.

46. Even if you can’t create a solution to a problem faced in a session, return to the previous session to reimagine and improve something through the ‘Change-It’ philosophy (Australian Sports Commission). This is because the learning is fresh in your players.  Many coaches are too hasty in trying the new gadgetry or novelties...

47. (Don’t say I NEVER give you anything) Keep your session plan on a clipboard (phone/Ipad) and ensure that it’s well explained ‘on paper’. Refer to it via an odd glance throughout open activity.  At NO POINT refer to it in front of athletes like you’re reading a manuscript. If you do, they’ll think you’re a muppet!!!

For Reflective Practice!

What is new or inventive from above? Try one and see how it suits.

Which of these classics have worked in past? What can you add to this list of 1000s?

Gunny’s Golden Rule for any Coaches I’ve Led and Learned With:

If we appear organised, parents and THEN players believe in us above most other coaches!

Yours in learning,




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