To Teach or Not to Teach

Asset coach, Richard Boylan, explores differences between teaching and coaching by drawing on his own experiences on the athletics field.

For me, my school years were not the greatest time of my life, or the easiest. I was never going to be the next Albert Einstein or Vera Rubin, and I don’t think my parents ever worried about making space on top of the TV for my graduation photo!

The one thing I was good at during my school years was sport, specifically athletics and I was fortunate enough to represent my school on a number of occasions, although I didn’t see it this way at the time! The downside to being on the athletics team meant that I had to give up some of my lunch breaks throughout the week for additional training. It was during these lunch time training sessions that I became aware of the difference between teaching and coaching.

Treating people as people

I remember being addressed as ‘Richard’ for the first time, rather than the preferred habit that PE teachers had of calling you by your Surname! There was focus on me as a person and what I was good at, where my strength’s lay and what assets I had. I was tall with long legs so they taught me how to run faster by increasing my stride length. I was fast over the hurdles, but they taught me to be faster by showing me how to utilize my trailing leg better. I was quick over 400m, but they helped me be better by having me break the sprint down into stages, rather than just run flat out from start to finish.

It was the first time that I was talked to rather than talked at. This wasn’t a session where they were teaching 20-30 people at a time, it was designed and set up for me, to help me build on my strengths and develop them further.

No judgement

On one occasion I remember swearing in frustration whilst attempting to beat the school long jump record, I messed up my approach and ended up running straight through the sand. Any other time this would have resulted in a telling off like no other and more than likely detention, but on this occasion they cracked a joke and then let it go, why? Because they recognized the effort that was being put in and the circumstances, they also knew me and how out of character it was. They didn’t judge me.

Investing time to build assets

Another time I remember struggling to get the technique right whilst using the shot put, I couldn’t get my arms and hips to work together to generate better speed and power. After watching me for around 20 minutes, the PE teacher strolled out into the middle of the field, further than I had thrown it so far, spread his arms above his head and shouted at me to put the shot over his head……it went over his head on the first throw!

As I look back on those times I reflect on the time and effort they put into helping a shy and self-conscious kid develop and build on his abilities……they gave up their lunch breaks to do it. When they said run I ran, when they said jump I jumped (literally!), but they knew me, knew what I was capable of and saw that I could be more, even when I didn’t. They would have had conversations that I was unaware of, spent time developing training schedules designed around me, pushing me to be better.

Helping to build confidence that lasts a lifetime

30+ years on and I still remember those training sessions, how they spoke to me and treated me. As an Asset Coach for Mayday Trust I draw heavily on those days, how they thought out of the box when encouraging me, but most importantly how being coached rather than taught made me feel like I was invincible!