How to Adapt as a Sports Coach

  • February 13th, 2019
  • Tom Bean

Sport demands one to be constantly adapting, reacting to ever-changing stimuli to gain an advantage over the opposition. In modern sport, with the introduction of new formats and a growing emphasis on styles of play, there's even more insistence on adapting as coaches too.

Cricket is a prime example of where different formats of the game force coaches to adapt to get the best out of their group of players. With the Big Bash League final this weekend, coaches and players alike have been fully focussed on their T20 games. Fast-forward a week and the Sheffield Shield, four-day fixtures resume in Australia plus the County Championship in the UK looms on the horizon.

The contrasts in the set of skills required for each format are stark, there've been numerous examples of players lighting up the T20 tournaments, but flopping in the longer versions, yet individuals must still try to adapt. From a coaches perspective, this is no different, they must prepare the team to become better suited to its new habitat. To do this, they need to modify their approach to sessions and realign the teams mentality and skills accordingly.

This is the case in other sports too - look at football and the difference between leagues. Pep Guardiola conquered Spain and Germany with little to no resistance. Coming into the English game however, his philosophies and playing style initially struggled, finishing his first season without winning a trophy - the first and only time in his managerial career to date.

The change in style forced him to adapt his approach. He recognised his players strengths and their limits and he improvised with new tactics - despite advocating a possession based, high-intensity pressing game, he understood that he had to abandon this style at times for the benefit of results.

He recognised the change of demands in the English league. He redefined his approach by adjusting the balance between possession tactics and a more direct approach where necessary through training styles and using different profiles of player to previous ones he'd coached. The rewards since have been ripe, seeing him winning the league the next season with a record points tally.

The Guardiola example serves as a blueprint for coaches in other sports on how to recognise when and how to adapt effectively when the changes in the sport demand it.

How does a coach go about facilitating these adaptations?

Understand Players

It's important to realise your players strengths and limitations and to appreciate individuals personality to gauge what role they most suit. To get the best from a group, a coach must firstly appreciate what their players are capable of - it is unfair to expect them to play in a certain way if their credentials are the antithesis of this style. A coach must adapt to a degree to accommodate these.

Recognise Demands

Different formats, new leagues, even a change in rules can force a coach to adapt their approach - one must initially recognise the demands to be able to adjust and overcome them. Once outlined, it's easier to focus on how to approach change, compartmentalising individual areas to work on specifically rather than completely overhauling an established coaching style.

Increase Ownership

The players are the best indicators of a coaches impact, therefore by giving players scope to comment provides immediate feedback as to where and how to adapt. Presenting observations will give a coach critical insight into how the tactics worked and loops back to understanding one's players - this will also give the coach an extra understanding in regards to their capacity.

Prepare to Improvise

As coaches, we all have an idea of how we like our teams and individuals to play and how best to coach them, but you must think outside the box to be able to adapt. To overcome the demands of sport, one must look to improvise with new ideas and be ready to accept failure.

The best coaches in the world are those who can adapt. They understand their teams capabilities, recognise the demands to overcome and are prepared to try new approaches without fearing failure.

Make sure you're adapting your style when necessary - do you have a cup game coming up, or a match against the top of the league? Do you have a midweek T20 game to prep for after a 50-over match at the weekend? Is your tennis player is going from playing an individual tournament to teaming up with a doubles partner?

When you delve deeper, there are a vast amount of situations that requires the coach to adapt at varying degrees. Therefore, make sure that next time you need to make changes, you are fully equipped to get the best results!