One of the biggest factors that affects our teaching style is what our own personal coaching philosophy is. Every coach should have a philosophy short or long, detailed or brief. A philosophy is something that outlines how you coach, what you want to achieve, how you are going to achieve your goals etc. If we don’t have a philosophy how do we develop one? Some questions you could consider could be:

  • Do we base how we plan and deliver sessions around getting results in games?
  • Are we looking to develop a love of the great game in our players?
  • Do we believe our purpose is to educate the players? Technically, tactically, psychologically?
  • Is our philosophy based around how we want players and teams to play? Tactical concepts? 

One of the greatest coaches of all time, Alex Ferguson, has talked about his own philosophy as a coach when leading Manchester United. He highlighted 8 points within the Harvard Business Journal

1. Start with the foundation

2. Dare to rebuild your team

3. Set high standard — and hold everyone to them

4. Never, ever cede control

5. Match the message to the moment

6. Prepare to win

7. Rely on the power of observation

8. Never stop adapting

As coaches at any level we can take some of these and question whether we do those in our sessions. Do we set high standards? Do we as educators keep learning and adapting?

Once we have a philosophy this can help direct and guide us in to how we are delivering our messages to our players. We can use this to help plan how we aim to push our players to reach their individual and team goals. And it can help with our management of our groups.

When discussing teaching styles there are different ideas of how teaching styles are broken down, including the idea of Formal Authority | Demonstrator | Facilitator | Delegator (Grasha & Grasha 1996) or the more traditional styles of Autocratic | Democratic | laissez Faire. Some styles are extremely coach led whilst others hand over a lot of power to the player. Some will expect replication of a skill as has been shown, others will allow players to develop their own variation on things. Some styles can accept mistakes some cannot.

So how do we currently coach? To decide and evaluate our current coaching styles we need to carry out some self-evaluation of our lessons and how we look to get our message across to the players.

  • Do we lecture
  • Do we engage
  • Do we encourage creativity
  • Do we treat each player the same way (multiple intelligences)
  • Do we expect the same from each players

Growing up I remember the teachers who lectured and who spoke non-stop. I remember the coaches who shouted and screamed at players who couldn’t perform a skill, which another player could. I remember sessions that were dull, boring and had been delivered a million times! We also remember the teachers who encouraged us, who engaged us in our learning, who made sessions fun. Ask yourself which lessons and sessions did you get more from?

Theorists in education believe that for children to learn they need to develop a deep understanding of the topic. The belief is that two things form this:

  • Learners being active in constructing their own knowledge
  • Social interactions, which are important in this knowledge construction process

(Brunning, Schraw & Norby 2011)

Social Cultural Theory

One specific theory, which supports this idea, is Social Cultural Theory. This theory suggests that children learn through problem solving. But that this problem solving is done in a somewhat controlled environment that is guided by the teacher. The theory suggests that children’s thinking doesn’t develop if the environment fails to create appropriate tasks, set demands on the learning or stimulates the learning through goals. And it finally describes The zone of proximal development. The Zone of Proximal Development is the area between where the learner can learn individually through problem solving and the actual level the child can learn through guidance and collaboration

Mosstons Spectrum 

Mosstons Spectrum of learning is a framework for explaining teaching styles and how it influences a students learning.

Command (A)

Practice (B)

Reciprocal (C)

Self-Check (D)

Inclusion (E)






Guided Discovery (F)

Convergent Discovery (G)

Divergent Discovery (H)

Learner-Designed Individual Program (I)

Learner-Initiated (J)

Self-Teaching (K)


The spectrum is broken in to two sections – The Reproduction spectrum – players are reproducing what they are being shown, and the Production spectrum – players are developing their own learning. The bottom half of the spectrum is where students are discovering for themselves. As educators if we are to believe the constructivist theorists, and ideas such as social cultural theory, then we should be encouraging learning through the production side of the spectrum

Guided discovery learning is where we are asking the students the questions, but we know the answer. We are guiding them to find an answer that we know.

Divergent learning is similar in asking the students the questions, but we don’t always have the answer. We are handing over even more control to the players. But this divergent style of teaching is where students really learn how to perform skills under pressure and in new and novel ways

So if it’s so simple why don’t all coaches use a divergent style of teaching?

  • Coaches may be reluctant to let go of control
  • Coaches by be Reluctant to let go of decision making
  • Efficiency – is it the best use of time?
  • Due to handing over some control, those who are not aware could perceive there are discipline issues
  • Often, depending on the expectations from a club or individual team, there could be some professional risk


As coaches we need to have a clear idea of our philosophy. We need to be clear as to why we coach, what we want each player to get out of the sessions and how we plan on achieving our objectives.

To help guide or teaching style in different situations, we are also need to be clear what expectations others have for us. Is our role with a specific team to be state champion? Are we developing college level players? Is it learning and enjoyment in our players we are developing? These expectations may conflict with our own philosophies and as a result we need to be firm with our reasons for coaching. We have to be honest with ourselves.

Once we have a clear philosophy, the understanding of how we are going to deliver the information is much easier. The research is very strong, that suggest students learn by being engaged and apart of their learning, if we dictate and take a command style approach are we developing sessions, which are going to offer the greatest opportunity for learning?

We need to be constructing sessions and plans which allow, where possible a divergent style of learning to take place. As we lead sessions we have to be willing to allow students and players to think creatively, possibly make mistakes but to be confident enough to attempt things.

Coaching is not easy. We work with different groups, kids, abilities each and every day and sometimes sessions don’t go, as we wanted, outcomes might be different to that the we had hoped. As coaches we need to constantly evaluate the reasons why. And possible alter how we put across the information. We expect our students to be flexible, and challenge themselves – we need to ensure we do this ourselves.

Nick Spillane