How to Move from Coach to Facilitator

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How to Move from Coach to Facilitator


Being a performance coach, it’s understandable if you want to be the one to make all the decisions, in the end you are accountable for your position and are judged harshly on a complexity of factors. It would be too risky to involve others in any decisions wouldn’t it?

In the case of a learning environment, there should be no need for pressure of attaining any kind of results but rather an expectation of providing an empowering and engaging environment for the learning journey.

The more decisions therefore, your learners can make, the more they will be empowered, in charge of their learning and it’s the ultimate way to draw out their potential as players and people.

‘Children are designed, by nature, to play and explore on their own, independently of adults. They need freedom in order to develop; without it they suffer.’ – Peter Gray

How can we provide this freedom to our learners as Leaders? (Other than encourage and promote time for free play away from us.)

We move from Coach, Teacher and instructor to Learning Facilitator.

First step in being a facilitator?

Leave the ego at the door. You won’t be the centre of attention. In fact, your biggest compliment will be for someone to ask ‘who’s in charge here’? Such is the ownership given to the learners. If it’s too hard to relinquish your ‘illusion of control’ then perhaps its best stay in performance coaching.

So how Do we move from coach to facilitator during a practice session?



  • design the GAME

  • Let them Play

  • watch them learn

Design the GAME

“Coach the Game, not the player”

Not only do games provide endless learning opportunities and enjoyment, they allow you to facilitate and observe rather than ‘coach’ and instruct.

Using drill-based exercises or expecting certain techniques takes a lot of direction, feedback and energy from the coach.

The beauty of a game is that it runs itself.

Once they understand the basic rules, you may initially be more of a referee as the players get competitive which is a great sign of being engaged but help them to ‘play on’ rather than get caught up in rules which may detract from enjoying the game.

Then ultimately you would move further away (emotionally not necessarily physically) and encourage them to self-organise and collaborate between themselves.

Watch the following video of a game running itself:


  • Do your best coaching  in your learning design as you design games to suit your purpose e.g. Physical literacy and diversity (Go to Multi-Games Blog), learning strategic principles and developing skill.
  • Set Up and Organisation – you can also involve the players by offering choice, giving responsibility and ownership over the space and set-up
  • Self-Organised Warm Ups and Free Play – can be a great way to encourage autonomy at the start of the session .

Let them Play

“The Observing Presence”

‘The students are now working as if i did not exist’ – Maria Montessori

This is where you detach yourself from the learners as they attach to the game and interact with each other.

Think of the ‘street’ or ‘playground’ experience, where the participants are self-organising, collaborating and problem-solving independently of adults. This is our ultimate aim yet we remain the safe, stable presence always available for help if needed.

#Search for Emerging dynamics

As the session is in progress, your observation is tested as you join your learners in attuning to the game information presenting itself. You now search for emerging dynamics which can lend to deeper learning or change – change of constraints, change of game. Here you do well to invite contribution and collaboration from your learners.

#Use Effective Questioning

Questions become a great tool but with careful consideration of using open questions rather than ones that could influence the learners to give you the answer you want rather than their own expression of the learning experience.

  • “Do we need to change any rules?” (Helping learners attune to game constraints and information)
  • “What’s this game teaching you?” (Helping learners recognise learning opportunities)
  • “What can you do improve to play better as a team?” (Helping learners develop strategic awareness)
#Give choice
  • “Should we move on from this game or explore it further?”

Consider carefully any interventions to the game experience. Ask yourself before speaking up ‘Is what I am about to say going to add any value to the players learning?’ (Go to ‘Coaching for Learning not Performing’ Blog)

Watch them Learn


Rather than instructing and having to engage yourself in the session, taking a step back as  Observer gives opportunity to nurture relationship. It may be as simple as collecting balls for the kids. Or chatting to the resting team about what they did on the weekend. Showing more interest in the learner as a person not just a player can be make the most powerful impact on their self-esteem and confidence.


‘Who dares to teach must never cease to learn.’ – John Cotton Dana’

Take time to really observe how the learners learn. Watching players make the same mistake two, three or ‘heaven forbid’ ten times, then they do something different to avoid the same outcome, how powerful is that?!

#Patience and a long term approach

‘When we teach something we take away the child’s chance of discovering it themselves’ – Jean Piaget

It’s tempting to want to jump in, but instead patience and a long term approach is needed to draw out the learners full potential in it’s right time.


Openess to flexibility can lead to unique, authentic opportunities as they unfold as Development Coach Joey Peters tells of her unusual facilitating role one day;

“I often get frustrated with the kids that they won’t go and collect balls. It’s like doing a ‘ball run’ has turned into a punishment for them!

One day we were doing 2v2s, no resting teams and not enough nets for all the goals. I knew it was of high value for the players to have quick access to balls for more repetition. So I became the ‘Ball Runner’ that day.

It was very humbling, yet the amount of thankyou’s I received, I could feel they appreciated and respected me more for doing it. I would never have been able to do it previously when i was “Running a session’. Who would’ve thought I could my best coaching by ‘Running after balls’ that day.”


To conclude the session, facilitating a discussion may prove of worth to encourage your learners to reflect on the experience. Use of open questions again would help here as would adding your own feedback on your observations to help learners with their own articulation of the experience.


Moving from Coach to Facilitator is moving from being front and centre in your practice sessions, to taking a back seat and moving the spotlight to your learners as your learners take ownership of their learning.  This by no means diminishes your value as Leader but rather magnifies your learners experience.

Encouraging learners to collaborate with other learners is a powerful means to grow as athletes and people whilst always having your support and careful guidance through the learning journey without having to rely on you.

This gives a true reflection of collaboration and teamwork with all participants of equal value in the learning experience. After all, why be a one-man band when there’s an orchestra at your finger tips?



3 Comments on “How to Move from Coach to Facilitator”

  1. This philosophy is extremely liberating and fun. However, almost every coach has been a student not only in football but in school. He or She is conditioned to sit in class and take instructions from a teacher. So they have the teacher/instructor framework ingrained in their minds. Therefore, only coaches with a teachable attitude will be ready to change their beliefs and this change too will be a gradual, long-term one.

    Thank you,
    Anand Radhakrishnan
    CEO – GetSetGo Kids Sports & Fitness

  2. Pingback: The PE Playbook – October 2016 Edition – drowningintheshallow

  3. Pingback: Trust the Learning Dynamics - Game Play Learn

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