What Role Do Habits Play in Coach Development?

Coaching and teaching can be boiled down into a group of actions that a person displays when they see different things. These actions eventually get transferred into long term memory and they start to form habits as a person starts to coach longer. Coaches are taking these individual actions and they start to chunk them together into a kind of program for lack of a better analogy. These programs are executed and added to as a person coaches more. For example a coach can start to chunk together how they talk to athletes, or how they use different drills.

Habits are essential for good coaching. Without habits we would have to think about each action that we take during a coaching session or practice. Thinking through each situation would create too much pressure on ones mind which is why habits are important. Habits though are a doubled edged sword for coaches. As habits are formed they allow coaches to focus on other areas of the coaching environment. Or they allow coaches to use their memory in different ways. The other side of habits is that they can put you into auto-pilot in many different instances.

We see coaches and teachers have a similar curve when it comes to habituation of their ‘Coaching Actions’ I don’t think that these graphics are 100% correct. But I think they give us a model to work from when thinking of how we can start to interrupt these habits.

We see in the graphic above. That as a coach start to coach more they quickly start to build up their own habits for how they want to go about coaching. I’ve seen this first hand with both myself as a coach and as a teacher. I’ve also seen this take place in other teachers that I’ve worked with on a daily basis. We quickly create habits for ourselves without even thinking of it. We form so many that most of our day we are in auto-pilot after some time until something kicks us out of if.

But why are we forming so many habits? We start to form these Coaching Habits to help us with the amount of information that we have to keep track of. In the graphic below I’ve made what I think is a decent model of how Coaches and Teachers process the amount of things that they need to keep track of. Free working memory is very limited when a coach start to coach, but as they form habits we see that Free Working Memory starts to free up.

What we see is that as a coach start to coach more. They are ‘Keeping Track’ of less things in their environment. I don’t think that these coaches are keeping track of less, but that they are freeing their working memory creating habits to keep track of the things that are less important.

So we can something that kind of looks like this in my opinion:

In orange we see Habit Formation, and the Brown we see ‘Free Working Memory’. So we see that as habits are forming, our minds are allowed to work into different areas.

Is habituation a bad thing though? The short answer is that it isn’t bad at all. Without many habits our daily life would be a terrible struggle. Never mind our decisions when it comes to coaching. The issue with Habituation when it comes to coaching is that it creates a plateau. Our minds want to essentially automate everything. The trouble with that is that our habits though they create efficiency don’t allow us to improve that the rate that we should. Skills plateau as a coach gains more habits. The real issue is that once a coach starts to form these habits that changing them is a much harder things to accomplish.

What we need to worry about is really how do we limit our habituation once we reach a certain point? This is where we need a coach or someone to hold us accountable in many different ways. I think a few of the best strategies that I can suggest is as always a microphone, and a camera, another coach writing up observations, and allowing for coaching development times that allows for coaches to practice, watch review, and get feedback on their own practice.

Just how coaches keep players out of bad habits, the same is true for coaches. Coaches need to seek others to help keep them out of bad habits.

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