Sports Coaching and an Agile Philosophy

Bruce Robbins
Jun 19, 2017 · 3 min read

“If you don’t know why you failed, how can you improve? If you don’t know why you succeeded, it must be an accident.” Lord Coe

I was thinking of the principles of sports and agile philosophy and I came across some key points from Marc Lammers. Counterpointing them with some agile principles is not a bad place to start.

All this came about because I have been thinking about coaching in a different context. For some time now I have been looking at sports coaching and what principles it contains that apply to other activities. The reasons for doing this more recently however if different. It is practical, not academic or theoretical. It stems from the fact that I have been attending a number of rugby coaching sessions. My being educated by sports specialists is a result of being convinced to join the coaches for my son’s rugby team.

In the past, I have taken sports coaching principles, such as continual incremental improvement, from sports to apply to agile management processes. It is natural to think of following the reverse process. What from my professional experience can I take back into my involvement in recreation sport. In the past, I have coached boxing, given riding instruction and trained software practitioners. Currently, I am exposed to England Rugby Union coaching educators. They are from the elite end of the sport and work with national and international, as well as community, participants. The similarity between the general principles, methods and philosophies pleases me somewhat, I will expand on this in the future but for now, consider the following juxtapositions.

The first statements (in bold) are from a coaching seminar given by Marc Lammers, the coach of the Dutch women’s national field hockey team, the second statement (italic) are extracted from my previous writings on agile practices.

Principle 1:

Use the power of effective communication.

The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a team is an open two way conversation, to do this ask open questions.

Principle 2:

Only a different way of doing produces different results

Welcome change, individuals and interactions are more important than processes.

Principle 3:

Innovation is a powerful means to produce better results, not a goal by itself.

At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behaviour accordingly.

Principle 4:

Continuously challenge your way of working

  • What have we done well
  • What do done badly
  • What should we stop doing
  • What should we start doing

Principle 5:

Focus on people’s strengths, not weaknesses

Encourage continual incremental; improvement of what an individual and the team does well.

Principle 6:

Give the team controllable challenges

Give the team the environment and the support they need and trust them to achieve the goal.

Principle 7:

Look around in your ‘own world’ and you only see limitations. Look at other ones and you see possibilities.

An ‘Outside In’ view; for example learning from how the user uses things in their context rather than trying to think up a solution to a solution from your own experience/knowledge (‘Inside Out’)

Principle 8:

If a goal is perceived as important then motivation is high.

The best architectures, plans, and results emerge from self-organising teams they will see value in the goal and be motivated to achieve it.

Bruce Robbins

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