Sebastian Giraldo – The Often Overlooked Role of the Trainer as Teacher, Part I.

The following is part of a 3 part series from Sebastian Giraldo regarding the importance of Teaching when you train or coach.  I love this piece by Sebastian and it is special to soccerthought.com.  As Sebastian explains, coaches and trainers associated with youth soccer need to look at themselves more as a teacher than as a coach.  Here is his article:  

It was one of those typical nights for me after a long day filled with company administrative work and training that I stumbled across my next blog idea. I was deeply immersed in the black hole process of trying to select a show from the never ending choices provided by Netflix. I eventually came across the 2011 award winning documentary Buck about Buck Brannaman, the horseman who went on to inspire and consult on the Hollywood film The Horse Whisperer. I will say that my adventurous attitude in regards to Netflix has resulted in finding some cinematic gems and this was no exception (please be aware that sometimes on Netflix you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your cinematic prince).

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I was immediately captivated by the teaching abilities of Buck and his relationship with horses (ironically, he speaks very little to the horses and for sure never whispers). It was like nothing I had ever witnessed before and an obvious example of a man that has dedicated his life to perfecting his craft. Since I am relentlessly searching for research and ideas that are applicable to soccer training, I could not ignore the parallels that exist between Buck and the future of soccer training in the U.S. There are a lot of interesting topics being explored in soccer development, some more exciting than the next. Often times, the less sexy topics get ignored. In this trend to revolutionize soccer development, we often overlook or undervalue one of the key components of soccer development. The trainer/coach. The trainer might be the most essential component of player development and yet our soccer programs teach very little about how to make us better, more effective teachers. This is currently changing but we need to understand that we can rapidly improve the effectiveness of trainers by teaching and informing them on methods to improve teaching. At GEF, our trainer development program is primarily focused on teaching our trainers to become better teachers. At the core of this program is the abundance of information we have accumulated from education research.

Buck is not the originator of his teaching philosophy, but is commonly credited with bringing the idea of natural horsemanship into the mainstream and vastly improving handling techniques. The field of natural horsemanship is predicated on the idea that training should occur through the horse’s nature and instinct. Essentially using an understanding of how horses think and communicate to train the horses to accept humans and work confidently and responsively to them. This should sound eerily familiar to trainers as this is similar to the teaching philosophy being applied by U.S. soccer. The better we understand how children behave and think during their different development stages, the more appropriately and effectively we can train them. Of course, this requires a deep understanding of psycho-social, physical, and cognitive development. All fields where there is more specific sport research popping up daily. This blog is dedicated to highlighting the importance of the trainer as a teacher. Specifically, I will examine how education research can help us improve as trainers right now.

 Buck and How He Relates to Soccer Training

Throughout the film, Buck displays several characteristics and attitudes that perfectly align with those of a successful, effective teacher. I will display here a shortened version of my notes that I jotted down while watching the film so as not to nuisance those who do not love horses (note: everyone should love horses J).

My personal notes on Buck:

  • had extremely abusive childhood and credits this as part of the reason he has deep reserve of empathy; lives by “you can be the change” philosophy
  • started working with horses at 12 and quickly identified that several techniques used were ineffective
  • believes that biggest problem is that people do not understand horses
  • most horse trainers do not control their own emotions
  • Buck believes “an average person could be extraordinary at this”

There are noteworthy parallels between horse and soccer training that are applicable to our conversation about trainers as teachers. Here are a couple of observations that will set up our discussion about teacher research and soccer training:

 1. You can be the change. Just because you were taught one way does not mean that you must teach that way. Change for the better, be flexible, and learn from experiences. Buck’s experiences helped him understand that horses have different needs and thus teaching must be flexible and varied.

2. We must accept that a lot of techniques we use in soccer training do not work (or are not as effective as desired). Don’t be scared to try new things. You might fail, you might not.

3. We do not properly understand our players. Players should be treated as individuals and targeted differently to maximize their learning.

4. We often lose control of our emotions (I am guilty of this). When we lose control of our emotions we lose control of the learning environment.

5. An average person can become an extraordinary soccer trainer. Lots of people disagree with me on this point but I tend to agree with Buck here. While I do consider the idea that extraordinary educators might have some innate ability for teaching, I truly believe that with desire, appropriate education on content and pedagogy, that a large group of people can become extraordinary soccer trainers.

(A link if you are curious about what Buck does http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aK9Ix5mfDkw)

Part II Next Week!  Thanks Sebastian.