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The L Word: Learning

As an adult are you open to learning? Do you fear it or embrace it? Nicole Youman, Community Coaching Manager for Hockey NZ reflects on her own learning journey and provides great advice for up and coming coaches. 

*This article was originally published by Hockey New Zealand for their coaching community. 

Learning is a word that we use a lot.  

As a young person, you are immersed in structured learning environments through schools, apprenticeships, universities, and many other mechanisms.  

Typically, as a young person you are given the time and space to explore, be creative, test and try, are not judged on failure and even encouraged to fail to enable learning. As an adult I felt the opportunity to learn changed.  

This is what I have learnt from my personal experience so far in exploring the process of learning.  

You are the leader of your learning 

I remember receiving advice in the initial days of my first full-time role as a coach. My manager told me “Remember, you are now responsible for leading your own learning”. I smiled and did not think too much of it at the time.  

Looking back now, I realise the importance and power of this advice. There were no longer teachers, lecturers or parents assisting me with my learning, I was now in the driver’s seat and given the freedom and responsibility to explore.  

Coming from structured learning environments, it is easy to look at courses, accreditations, and rely on others to determine what you should learn next. I would encourage coaches to sit down and take the time to work through what it is they are wanting to learn, what are they curious about, and see how they can find ways to dive into this area. Do not be afraid to think outside of the box, you may find opportunities outside of sport, or from another sporting code, a peer, an online resource, or many other avenues.  

Learning is messy, and on-going, so take a hold of the steering wheel and embrace the journey.  

Get out of your comfort zone and stop fearing failure

For me, I found the fear of failure, particularly in front of peers, overwhelming. I did not want to be the person in the room who did not know the answer and to get something wrong. Although I enjoyed problem-solving and would consider myself a solution-oriented person, I did have a fear of failure that impeded my learning.  

The all too common phrase encouraging individuals to get out of their comfort zone, could not be truer for my journey. The key element though is the need to transition through the fear zone before you reach a very rewarding and exciting space where learning can happen.  

When you approach things in life as an opportunity to learn, it becomes a lot more fun. You do not need to have the answers, you spend more time listening and being able to ask questions. You can hear different perspectives, soak up new information, and then take all of this away to see how it impacts your context. And most importantly you walk away from the experience having broadened your knowledge instead of spending the time regurgitating what you already know to others.  

Learning is fun if you are open and ready to immerse yourself in it.  

Give yourself time to learn, grow experiences and reflect  

Learning is not a linear process. We all learn in different ways and at different rates. It is not a race, but a lifelong journey.  

When I started coaching, I went from campaign to campaign, a club team to an association team to the next association team. I was fortunate to be in environments where innovation was encouraged, and I enjoyed being creative. The only catch was, I never hit the pause button long enough to really maximise the opportunity to capture what I was learning along the way.  

I typically took on head coach roles, and only coached the sport of hockey. I did not attend any learning opportunities across different sporting codes, outside of sport, and stop to catch up and just chew the fat with others in the coaching environment. I was growing my own experience, but it was very one dimensional and was without the critical ingredient of reflection.  

Reflection is a powerful tool; it is key in turning experience into knowledge. It can be done internally or by working with others. It allows you to ask questions about what went well, what did not, brings in the ability to observe yourself and get feedback from others. It requires time and needs to become part of a coach’s toolbox. I tend to look at the expectations we put on players to reflect on their performance, and question if as coaches we apply the same process to our own performance.  

I would encourage all coaches to look at how they can grow and diversify their experiences, make reflection part of their coaching process and give themselves time to learn.  

As coaches we are constantly supporting the learning of others. We work hard to allow our players to access new knowledge and have the time to practice, test and try. We promote the importance of taking risks and making mistakes to be able to grow experiences and create learning opportunities. So let’s make sure we walk the talk and apply our belief of learning to ourselves as individuals, and as coaches.  

To kick start your learning journey, here are a few resources that may be of interest: 

Sport NZ Newsletters 

This includes the opportunity to sign up to one or more newsletters covering the Sports Sector, Coaching and Balance is Better. Click here for more.

The Athlete Development Show with Dr Craig Harrison  

You can visit his Athlete Development Project website or listen to Craig’s podcast

Book Club 

Chat to your peers or get researching to find books or other resources. Here are some of my favourites from coaching leaders in NZ; Netball NZ National Training Manager at Netball New Zealand Tammy Mehrtens  and Sport NZ National Sport Development Consultant Andy Rogers

Want more articles about learning? Read more below:

The process, by Dan Wright
Leadership in the age of complexity, by William A. Harper
It’s never too late to learn, by Adrian Bradbury
Skill: Adapting to the environment, by James Vaughn
That’s not how I learn, by Reed Maltbie

Image Credits: Photo by Jeffrey F Lin on Unsplash

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