In its early days the EBCS came to the decision that it would require its coaches to focus on the delivery style best suited to a player: in other words adopt the principle that there could be a variety of methods of delivering a bowl successfully. Players are individuals, they come in a variety of sizes and shapes, ages and abilities and it is reasonable for us to make the assumption that their individual needs may differ.
It would have been far simpler and less challenging for the coach to instruct new players in a set procedure. It was therefore a brave decision to take but the end result was that the quality of coaching was higher and the learning experience for the player much richer.
This approach is very demanding and requires that the coach is able to use questioning techniques effectively. Learning tends to be more rapid when a player is involved in making decisions rather than being told how to do it ‘properly’. How many of our new coaches are in fact given the necessary support and practical training in this most important aspect? I suspect that it does happen but is not presented in a manner that stresses its importance sufficiently.
Open and closed questions are commonly used by experienced coaches to very good effect. This article will look at what constitutes an open or closed question, when to use each type and provide examples of how coaches may be trained to develop the use of appropriate questions during the coaching of new players.
(n.b. It is assumed that pages 16-19 from ‘Coaching for All’ Levels One and Two have been read this article is only using parts to illustrate the questioning technique)
Open and Closed Questions
A closed question usually receives a single word or very short factual answer. For example, “Have you bowled before?” The answer is “Yes” or “No”;
Open questions elicit longer answers for example “What has made you come along for coaching?
They usually begin with what, why, how. An open question asks the player for his or her knowledge, opinion or feelings. “Tell me” and “describe” can also be used in the same way as open questions.
Here are some examples:
- What happened to the bowl?
- Why do you think it curved?
- How will you get the bowl to finish on the centre line?
- Tell me what you need to do to eliminate the ‘bump’.
- Describe the feel of your last delivery in more detail.
Open questions are good for:
- Developing an open conversation: “What other sports have you played before?”
- Finding our more detail: “What is the best time of day for you for a bowls lesson?”
- Finding out the other person’s opinion: “How well do you feel you have done in this first session?”
Closed questions are good for:
- Testing the players’ understanding: “So, when you got lower did that make the delivery smoother?”
- Concluding a discussion or making a decision: “Now you know how to deliver smoothly will you be able to practice that before the next lesson?”
A good coach uses appropriate questions
There is clearly a place for each type of question and the skill of a good coach is in choosing the appropriate one. Like all skills it takes practice and mistakes or inappropriate questions will occur. Having a bank of questions to draw on is one way of developing this skill until such time as it becomes a normal part of the coaches’ technique.
Remember that preparation is a key element in all coaching. Prepare the questions thoroughly before the session begins.
Let us take the example of teaching a beginner, probably one of the most rewarding challenges the coach encounters. In this first session the performance objective is to help the player to develop a smooth and comfortable delivery. We will also have other objectives in mind e.g. finding a line to the centre of the rink, and making the player keen enough to return for the next session. (Getting them ‘hooked’)
The measure of success can be clearly observed for the first two objectives by the player and the coach. These should be shared with the new player at some early point in the session. The last one, however, is dependant on the success ‘felt’ by the player at the end of the session.
Planning the end of the first session.
It may seem the wrong way round to plan the end before the beginning but this is a journey and we need to know the destination before setting off.
- What questions might we plan to ask at the end of the session?
- In what order will the questions be asked?
- Which of these are open questions and which ones are closed questions?
Here are some examples:
- “How well do you feel you have done in this first session?”
- “Did you manage to deliver the bowl smoothly?”
- “Were you able to find the centre of the rink some of the time?”
- “Did you enjoy the bowling?”
Questions during the teaching of a beginner
Having warmly greeted the new player with a smile and a handshake what questions will be asked? What type of question are they? In what order will they be asked?
These questions should be aimed at allowing you to run quickly through the necessary health and safety (housekeeping) requirements. They have come to bowl not to listen to a coach talk.
Here are some examples:
- Have you been to our club before?
- Are you familiar with the layout of the club e.g. toilets?
- Have you bowled before?
We ask the player to pick up the jack stand on the mat and roll the jack between our feet with sufficient weight to reach ¾ the distance up the rink. A good coach will be observing the action and allow the player three or four attempts. Often he/she will smooth out their own delivery without the need for the coach to ask any questions. In these cases just positive encouragement is all that is required. If the player is unstable and/or bumping the jack the coach should ask the player one or two questions.
What questions might be asked?
Here are some examples;
- How does it feel when you roll the jack?
- Can you hear a bounce or bump?
- What can you do to make it smoother?
- Do you feel as though you are falling over slightly?
- What can you do to make yourself more balanced and comfortable?
- Will keeping a small distance between your feet help?
- How does that feel now?
- Does it feel painful in any way?
These questions demonstrate how a good coach will be constantly involving the player in decision-making while at the same time checking the success of any changes. It is important to allow the new player time to adjust to any changes. There are very few bowlers who are physically incapable of delivering smoothly.
Introducing the bowl
We introduce the player to the bowls and ask them to choose a size that is comfortable for them to hold. We ask them to roll the bowl down the centre and observe what happens. We ask them to hold the bowl up and look for a difference in shape on each side (some can and some can not see the shape of the bowl). It is explained that it is this shaping of the bowl that makes it turn.
The sharing of an objective at this stage can be beneficial.
“If by the end of the session you can deliver a bowl smoothly and finish near the centre line you will have done well, as it is very difficult to do.”
We ask them to attempt to make the bowl finish on the centre line. If they are unsuccessful what question/s might you ask to adjust the line?
- What will you have to do now to get the bowl to finish in the middle?
- When I stood over to one side of the rink during the jack rolling what did you do to get it between my feet?
- Did you face me?
A visual aid should be introduced that is placed by the player on a line they think will result in the bowl finishing in the middle. Any adjustment is also done by them. A common question is:
- Do you want to move the marker?
All adjustments should be attempted by them without criticism, keep on asking questions that will encourage them to adjust the body position.
We decided early on in the preparation that success for the coach is whether the player is ‘hooked’ sufficiently to want to return for more lessons. This final part of the first session is intended to do just that.
The target is set up to look very difficult with two bowls and a jack at a length that the player has been bowling. The gap between jack and bowls is made too small for any bowl to pass through and the object is for the new player to get shot bowl. As soon as a measure of success has been achieved, be it only a close bowl, think about finishing the session. Clapping and cheering are in order accompanied by much praise. The session should be concluded on a high note..
This brings us back to where we started, i.e. the planned questions for the summary.
Teaching a Level One coach
This article can be used for teaching new coaches or even as a refresher course by removing the example questions.
Here are some methods that could be used:
- Each coach is asked to produce their own responses. At every stage these can be shared with the group and a bank of questions produced for use by all involved.
- A discussion and agreement reached on the type and possible order of questions.
- A practical on the green exercise with the coaches in pairs, role playing in turn the coach and the player.
Any skill needs to be practiced and the questioning technique is no different. Coaches may well feel threatened if this is not presented sensitively. We should be looking to help each other develop this skill. Use small supportive groups to develop trust between the coaches. Allow each coach to respond to their own performance first.