6 skills to take your Sports Coaching facilitation to the next level

Sports Coaches have a challenging job. They require so many different skillsets, coupled with a very specific mindset to become a great coach.

Most sports coach training is focused on how to instruct and/or teach skills or drills.  Unfortunately if you teach or instruct a skill it does not mean that your player has learnt that skill. Even if you repeat the instruction/demonstration five times or more.


The next level of Sports Coaching is becoming  a Facilitator Coach – a coach who can firstly teach/instruct a skill and then shift their focus to facilitating the learning of that skill for the individual’s and the group.

There is very little training for developing facilitating skills in sports coaches. Most coaches who are passionate about developing this skillset go to a Personal Coaching or Facilitator training to develop, however many more don’t. The good news is when you have this skillset added to your coaching toolkit it can make a significant difference, and the better news is that there is a relatively simple way to quickly accelerate your facilitator skills.


By using the Coaching Facilitator Benchmarks we (Mike Cooper and I ) have developed using the Neuro-Semantic Benchmarking model developed by Dr L.Michael Hall and Michelle Duaval.

What are benchmarks?

A benchmark is the measurement of a skill from 0 to 5, with each level having increasing levels of skill. Each level has behaviour based descriptors to help classify at which level the skill is being performed. In a 5 minute interaction all 4 skills can be measure and one skill may be at level 2 for one sentence, and then up to level 4 for another. This process is about identifying both the peak moments of coaching as well as the limiting patterns and feeding that back to the coach. “During that interaction I observed you using specific positive judgement at level 2 when you said, “Good shot!” and then later at a level 0 you said, “But you are still a loser!”, so on average you were giving feedback at level 1 for that 5 minute interaction.

Benchmark key:

5 Mastery
4 Elegance
3 Competence
2 Awkward/clumsy
1 Raw/First Signs of skill, more negative/interfering behaviours than positive
0 No evidence of skill


1)      Familiarise yourself with the 4 performances skills and 2 process skills on the benchmark sheet.
2)      Partner with another coach, your assistant, your co-coach or even a friend so that he/she also understands the benchmarks
3)      One coach takes the primary role, whilst the supporting coach marks on the sheet how his/her words and actions match against the benchmark for a period of time (5 mins, 10 mins, 30 mins, a session) then once the primary coach has finished interacting with his/her team or individual the feedback coach gives feedback and discusses what he/she observed. I would recommend trying to use the benchmarks every 5 mins to start  – realtime feedback is powerful!
4)      Swap primary and feedback coach roles and repeat step 3
5)      Continue on a regular basis until skill are internalized.

The Benchmarks

1) Creating learning moments (noticing and commenting, connecting with player, eliciting strategy, accurate advice, process learning questions)
Peak Moments and Identification of mistake/fault Patterns
Coach speaking less – shorter interactions

Process questions: – “How did that go? What was your plan/intention? Did it work? What could you do instead? Are you going to do that?”

5              Commenting, celebrating/affirming, gaining understanding, embedding learning process learning questions, next steps. At least 3 questions. Checks to see player has complete strategy
4              Commenting, celebrating/affirming, gaining understanding, embedding learning process. 2 or more questions. Asks about application.
3              Commenting, celebrating/affirming, gaining understanding of process. Asks at least one question to elicit learning.
2              Advising then asking player why. Or Why and then advising. Asking questions and then giving answer or ignoring answer
1              Instructing/telling/advising Comments that are judgement’s – “Did you see that! “Nice, good, bad etc.
0              No comments on any events.

Learning moments are key moments in a practice or match when a player: 

a) Performs at a skill above his/her normal level of skill/ability  (peak moment) and they don’t even know it  or
b) Repeats an error 2 or 3 times that shows that the error is a limiting fault pattern

This is the skill of the coach “seeing that moment” and bringing awareness to the athlete in a non-judgemental way (See Feedback style skill), so the player can learn what to repeat or find the answers inside on how to do it better


1)      Notice moment
2)      Engage player with a question to check his/her awareness “How did that go?”, “What was your plan/intention?”
3)      If the athlete has no awareness of what he/she was doing, then an awareness comment is needed to draw their attention to what is out of their awareness, “I noticed you have dropped the ball three times when your left hand was directly above your right hand.” Or if this was a positive moment, “Did you notice how balanced your left foot was and how still your head was when you finished that shot and how the ball shot off the bat?… That was a great looking shot, well done!” At this stage it can be useful to mimic the athletes body position of what they did in the key moment, and say something, “If I was to do what you just did, I would look like this – what you do see/think about when you see me doing the same thing?”
4)      Outcome questions, “Did it work?” If Yes, “ How did you do that? …Can you do that again – just like that?” or No, “What could you do instead? … Are you going to do that? – great I am looking forward to seeing it!”
5)      If  after giving the player time to reflect and think, the player has no idea how to do it differently, how to correct their mistake, offer a few choices for them to consider and choose from, “I would think about doing A, B, or C – which one do you think would be best for you, or maybe there is another option even better than those 3 that you are now aware of?”

2) Feedback style  (data, labelling, learning/instructing)

5              Sensory based language (what I saw and heard was X and Y) with check (does the player need instruction or learning). Asks questions. Specific in detail. Precise and succinct. Relevant to context.
4             Sensory based language with instruction and learning but no check. Details given.
3              Sensory based with judgment or vague, no detail or low detail.
2              Judgemental (good/bad) specific . Long winded.
1              None
0              Judgemental (bad) , generalisation, negative label

This is the skill of giving specific sensory based feedback and checking to see if the player needs support in technique or learning.


1)      Give specific feedback about behaviours observed being careful to avoid judgement as this slows down learning, “I saw your left hand was ahead of your right hand in the pass and your hands finished over your shoulder”
2)      Once player is focused on same the specifics of what you are referring to check to see if they require further technique or learning, ““Is that what you were going for/trying for?”
3)      If technique, describe, demonstrate and then ask player to repeat and give sensory feedback to correct player until they improved sufficiently whilst encouraging their progress, “Your left hand is more in line now, however your hands are still finished half way towards your shoulder – excellent progress, can you try again?”
4)      If learning required, “Ok so if that is not what you were trying for – what were you trying for? What do you think stopped you getting that? What do you need to do differently to get what you want? Can you do that? I am looking forward to seeing it!”

** This skill is also critical for the Benchmarking Coach when giving his feedback to the Primary Coach – “When I saw you start talking to the player, I noticed your jaw was clenched and your eyes narrowed, which looked to me like you had a ‘stern face’, and the first words you said in a loud quick voice was, “You pass like a girl, you idiot!”, in relation to the benchmark of feedback style that was at level Zero due to generalising and using a negative label”  How do you experience it?

3) Energised+Engaged (state, group rapport) Your VOICE is a tool – stretch it

5              Coach’s voice variable, face animated, constantly focusing on the group. Coach moves to engage.
4              Coaching  moves between players. Voice excited.
3              Coach is watching players. Regular comments. Makes eye contact with many players. Voice is variable.
2              Coach is silent or talks with low energy. Low eye contact. Body language of arms crossed or standing off to one side.
1              Bored/Grumpy, distracted on phone, not watching kids, no energy or animation in voice or face
0              Coach is negative actively walks away from group, muttering under breathe.

A team will often reflect a combination of coaches best and worst attributes. The coach leads by example much more than he/she may be aware of. What you want from your team, you must do first (promptness, attention to detail, admit mistakes, passionate, etc) When you find a coach that has fun coaching, you will find a team having fun. The coach sets the tone – teams that are enjoying themselves learn quicker and grow closer together – this does not stop a coach disciplining his team when appropriate – It just sets the tone for the team culture.


1)      Figure out how you want to really feel to be your best as a coach when coaching – what will be your top performance states/moods – Energised? Excited? Focused? Happy? Engaged?
2)      Take 5 minutes before leaving the car, before seeing the team to get yourself into that headspace – how to do that is another article, but for now some quick tips. Music, memories that you can reply in your mind that gets you into that mood, teach your body how to – if I was excited how would I walk? What would my face do? How would I talk?
3)      Be engaged – don’t get on your phone, don’t distance yourself from your team, remain physically close to them as often as possible, speak to them such that everyone can hear you and you have your back to no-one. Use your voice to encourage, to excite, to make one person’s positive learning, the teams learning.

4) Framing
(creating and matching/holding frames) A frame is giving something or a context a meaning, and then reinforcing it. “He who sets the frame controls the game.”

5              Empowering meanings given to practice which are matched and role modelled by coach(Effort, stretching, mistakes, focus, learning.)
4              Simple and powerful meanings given. Relevant to session. Voice is powerful and motivating.
3              Coach speaks well of upcoming session. States at least two things he would like to see in session. Voice matches what is said.
2              Frames that are mismatched. Coach states hope for one thing and then contradicts himself, even if subtly. Long winded or inappropriate frames for the session.
1              No Frames. Or too long winded, four sentences where one will do
0             Negative Frames – (time, commitment, quality/ability of group)

This is about setting the context or rules of your practice, or even your team. This is a big part of culture. What meanings do we give key events/moments here – and am I (and my support staff) behaving 100% consistently with our meanings. For example if we say its all about learning, you cant get grumpy and angry if we lose.


1)      Decided what meanings do you want to give your practice (Enjoyable? Intense? Focused? Learning opportunity? Fun? Vibey? Interactive?
2)      Begin every session and reinforce during a session with your succinct meanings, “Today’s practice is going to be a lot of intensity, but also fun – I want us to be okay making new mistakes, if you find yourself making old mistakes, you can step out of the drill to re-focus and get yourself ready to take it up a level and that’s ok”  Then later, “Ah that’s a great new mistake that you made – well done!”  “Well done for stepping out for a min, and I can see how much better you are in the drill – well done!”
3)      Get on the same page with your support staff so that everyone reinforces the same thing.
4)      Make sure you and your team are  consistent with your framing, design your practise with it in mind, and mark key moments you want to reinforce as when your team is used to a coach behaving in a certain way and you behave differently in alignment with your framing, that can be very powerful for the team, “Guys did you notice how we lost the game, due to a new mistake – I am so proud, that is some awesome progress, couldn’t be happier!”

5) Utilisation/optimisation of time: Dead minutes register.


Dead minutes: Optimisation of time Explanation: Aim: 100% of players are engaged for 95% or more of time. Coach speaks for short chunks of time, gives clear instructions; he/she is succinct. Water breaks can be purposeful as can rest. Time (measured in minutes) spent wandering or gazing around or any other non-purposeful behaviour for anyone in training is called dead minutes


1)      When a player or group of players is not doing something purposeful for a minute or more, mark it down as  X number of players Y no of mins and a word to link when.  “3 players sitting and aimless chatting  for 4 minutes after unpadding from the nets in first net)  =  12 Dead minutes

6) FLOW of Training – Intensity-O-meter!






Draw this as a sine graph, Top of the blocks is high intensity , bottom is low intensity. 4 quarters – for each quarter of the practice. It can be useful to plan your session with this in mind, so your intensity matches your goals. Example below: Started at pretty high energy, but lost it once we broke up into two groups. Gained some energy when we played shadow, but last 15 mins lost more and more energy when we the coach was talking to the 3 players and everyone else was “left alone


Download the ready to print Benchmark sheet here