Questioning is a teaching tool that has been used in the classroom to great effect, however its translation into coaching contexts has been less successful. Questioning should theoretically provoke your players to find answers, but often the answer is a yes or a no which indicates a black and white view of a game that consists almost entirely of shades of grey.
Yes or no questions are better known as closed ended questions, where an answer is given and can be either right or wrong, with little in between. The alternative is open ended questions that require exploration of the subject, and raise further questions in response. At the developmental stage, players often don’t have the answers and need that opportunity to explore. For example:
Should you pass to the striker when the opportunity arises?
But what if they’re making a decoy run to free up your winger? What if they’re tying their shoelace? What if you’re a man down and you need to be careful in your possession? You cannot prepare your players for every situation they will face, which you can reflect by ‘opening up’ your questioning. For example:
When should we pass to the striker?
This allows players to explore the concepts they’ve learned about, and leads onto the next stage in the learning process, as defined by Bloom (2001). In a footballing context, players learn what a pass is, how to do it, then they apply it. This is often where the learning process stops in youth football coaching.
There are many session plans passed around and copied where the players get a point for passing the ball x amount of times. In these games, every area is equally viable for the team in possession to pass around in, but in a match some areas are far riskier than others to pass in. They’re applying their learning, but not moving onto the next part of the process, analysing. This is where effective questioning can help players reach the next stage in the learning process. For example:
Should we pass across our own goal?
If not, why not? What happens if that pass goes wrong? What happens if it goes right? Why not pass it forward? Should our centre backs pass to each other at all? Is that pass any more or less risky higher up the pitch? Should we take the safest option or take risks? Which technique is most appropriate?
The answers you receive will allow you to check your players’ learning, challenging any misconceptions they may hold. Without questioning, misconceptions can go unchallenged and players can continue down the wrong path. It is vital to maintain an atmosphere where the players feel confident responding however, so every answer should be greeted respectfully by the coach and the rest of the group. This can help create an environment where ideas are shared between players without the coach’s direction, creating a shared idea of how to play between teammates which massively aids cohesion on the pitch.
Some players will answer before thinking, so it’s worth implementing a rule whereby you don’t accept any answers for at least 5-10 seconds after asking a question. Some players will avoid volunteering answers if you let them, so it’s also worth picking players at random to answer. The added benefit of this is that it lets players know they can’t switch off for fear of being ‘picked on’ for questioning.
Since I’ve implemented effective questioning I’ve noticed massive improvements in both the decision making ability of my players, and their communication with myself and each other. They feel more comfortable voicing their thoughts, which allows them to feel more comfortable with the group as a whole, and play with greater confidence. It empowers the less technically or physically able players and gives them a chance to show their skills, as they often have to work on the cognitive aspect of the game in order to keep up with their peers. It also provides players an opportunity to speak their minds, and gives coaches a chance to work on their listening skills.
- Examples of effective questions
- What do you think will happen if (_________)?
- And is that good or bad?
- How will you feel if (________)?
- Why is this option better?
- Why do you think that?
- Can you give an example?
- How did you do that?
- How can we change that?
- What did you notice about (____________)?