Topics in this article
- Description of the dilemma
- Fundamental relationships: teaching, learning, coaching
- What your choices mean for the horse and the rider
We’re equestrian coaches ... but what do we do?
We’re growing used to the general international move to professionalise sports coaching, and for those of us who devote our lives to it, that doesn’t sound a bad idea. Most of us are also quite happy to be called a coach, in place of the older designation of ‘instructor’ (after all, life moves on....), but does this alter what we actually do?
And if so, how does it do that, and does it matter anyway?
The short answer is, yes it does alter things. And it matters a lot.
Not just to us, but to the riding community as a whole. But if these seem to be questions that don’t fit your helmet-size, I can reassure you that you are not alone. Alas, that in no way absolves you from contributing to finding some answers, so let’s press on!
Having taken on the collective responsibility of guiding and educating the equestrian community, you’re most thoroughly involved, as a teacher, mentor, role model, professional, or horse lover ... in short, as a coach. Together we are answerable in lots of ways to those who put themselves in our care. Individually we are responsible for meeting their tuitional needs in as effective a manner as possible. This pre-supposes we are across the latest and greatest educational and sports training practices. Therein lie the curly questions, and countless opportunities for collaboration, support, and sharing, in search of their answers.
Let’s start with this one.
Are we teaching or coaching ....?
There are some things that should not get lost in our international re-christening as “coaches”. The most important of these is the realisation that while we most certainly are “coaches”, teaching is the actual bedrock of everything we do.
- Without good teaching, there’s no quality learning
- Without quality learning, there’s no solid foundation upon which to build the rider’s skill set
- Without that solid foundation, there’s absolutely no coaching at all!
It’s that simple, really. Teaching provides the foundations upon which coaching is built. No-one can coach a skill that hasn’t been taught in the first place and which isn’t part of the rider’s existing skill set. Although at all levels, both teaching and coaching require high-level planning, communication and analytical abilities, coaching is made up of very different educational techniques from teaching. All the research of the last half century tells us that they are separate and distinctive methods to facilitate skill acquisition. It’s free info out there, so we owe it to our riders to get reading!
Like it or not, all coaches need to be able to teach and coach - for every skill at every level.
This means we have to know the difference between teaching and coaching techniques and how, and when, to bring them in to the lessons we give. It means being able to recognise when the rider needs one or the other. It also means recognising, when we are teaching (perhaps by habit,) in case we should be coaching (perhaps by preference) – or vice versa!
I’d better confess that ECEi is on a bit of a mission here
Somehow in the recent evolution of our equestrian language, the distinction between coaching and teaching has grown blurred. The two have become synonymous with each other and while teaching has receded into the shadows, coaching has run off into the spotlight to capture the glamour and the headlines. But, it is immensely important to retain the distinction between them, in the best interests of our riders and most particularly, their horses.
What it means for the horse
And this is the crux of the matter. We know, that since horses are not born rideable, no matter what their job in life, they need schooling. This is equiSpeak for teaching. The more skilled their rider is, as a teacher, the more successfully the horse learns.
If the horse is to get good at his job he needs much guided practice. Again, the more skilled his rider is, as a coach, the better the horse will learn to perform. (High-quality coaching from the saddle is generally pretty closely linked to high-quality rider education and experience.) And if the horse is to perform to their best in competition, they need polishing, usually by a high-quality competition rider (this is the icing on their equine cake).
We don’t generally take an unschooled horse into competition, any more than we would advise a beginner rider to purchase an unschooled horse. Neither would we confuse the content of a training session for an advanced dressage horse or jumper with that of a novice. We quite easily identify what general skills a horse needs to learn and what specific skills he needs to refine to become a winner.
So how does this happen? Perhaps because we are necessarily focused on evaluating the horse’s learning entirely through his performance.
~ We evaluate only what he does. We look, and we see. ~
Yet we are often not nearly so clear about the training content for his rider. Gaps in understanding which need ten minutes of teaching are easily overlooked, while skills that are lagging below the general standard of the rider are bypassed by a coach who is more focused on those that already work well.
What it means for the rider
With the rider, we’re often distracted by their use of language. We might ask them “....do you understand?” They answer “Yes”. At that point they could usefully add “...but not well enough to do it better”.
However, if they don’t do this, we are heavily inclined to take their words at face value and press on with coaching their skill when in reality we should review their performance, pause, and insert a teaching segment into their session.
~ We look, but we don’t see, because we listen instead! ~
If we do this, the rider’s performance will certainly stall. But in the meantime, the horse is being exposed to all their errors, and will learn his own faulty technique from each one of the rider’s efforts. That’s not to mention his confusion when you later try to put things right. Practice will certainly make perfect. Define perfect, please!
So here we are, still asking “What do we actually do?” But we can now answer that question. We teach and coach. And it seems we really do need to know the difference, in theory and in practice.
This is why ECEi has separate Teaching and Coaching pages
It’s why the articles, ebooks and resources are different too. You can then choose which you want to wise up on. You can find out which one you’re better at. Along the way, you’ll no doubt also discover which one you enjoy the most. In the field, you may then wish to hand-pick your clients to suit your strengths and preferences. This will lead to a much more focused approach to your coaching, a much more satisfied clientele and a whole lot more success and fun in your coaching life. What better way is there to put a shine on your reputation!