Keep To Time And Keep Them Busy
Every once in a while the question, “What makes a good sensei?” comes up for discussion. There are many valid answers for this question but this post is going to take a different approach to the standard responses. This month continues the series looking at what makes a good training session? Since the sensei runs the session, a good training session requires a good sensei. The inference being that if you do these things then you will improve as a sensei. This post will be considering that the session should start and end on time, and that it needs to keep athletes busy.
Before we get too far into this it’s important to have some background. There have been studies of elite athletes to discover what, precisely, they look for in an effective coach. Rushall (1995, Think And Act Like a Champion) observed that, “There is a group of overt and covert behaviours that are common to sporting champions”. Of particular interest is that he claimed this list was unchanging. Rushall researched the behaviours of 155 champions and record-holders over a 20 year period. What he discovered was that there were no differences between the old champions and today’s. The basic core values remained the same. Of this list, 10 of them are under the direct control of the coach.
The second of these is that excellent coaching sessions start and end on time.
An Obvious Failure
It should be obvious that good time-keeping is a basic requirement for coaching. It would astonish you how many people fail to run a session to time. There are two key points to this. The first is that it is an easy thing to correct. The second is that in most cases the reasons for failure to run a session to time are under the sensei’s control.
Starting On Time
A sensei should be ready to start the session exactly on time. As with planning and publishing the lesson plan this requires the sensei to prepare ahead of the session. Their materials should be organised. Any equipment required should be arranged and accessible.
There is, of course, an obvious issue with the arrangement of equipment. This is something that is beyond the sensei’s control and will lead to delays. Simply put, many dojo are not permanent. They exist in church halls or similar for the couple of hours that training takes place. Many dojo put down mats at the start and lift them at the end of the session. Mat handling can take a significant amount of time. Where that is the case though, it should only cause a delay at the start of the class, not the end.
The trick here is to encourage everyone to be ready to enter the hall on time to help put the mats out. Sensei and students should be changed and ready for training several minutes before class starts.
A sensei can build time into the lesson plan for cleaning the mats and putting them away.
These things are not hard to do and the delay to the start of the session will be minimal. With very little encouragement and a sense of enthusiasm from the sensei this will soon become a very efficient process.
The benefits of good time-keeping are more subtle than some other things but are well-worth cultivating. The first and most obvious is that training time is maximised. For many aikidoka training time is very limited and at a premium. An underlying goal is to get the maximum benefit from the maximum amount of time available. Starting late undermines that goal. It also sets a negative tone for the seriousness of the session. In contrast, starting on time lets the students see that the sensei is well organised and means business. It will be clear to them that the sensei cares about them and their development.
Ending the session on time is just as important. As a sensei it can be tempting to keep a session going when it is running well. The problem with this is that it demonstrates a lack of respect towards the students. If a dojo advertises a class as 2 hours long then that is what students will expect. In both professional and amateur activities people will have arranged other events around this 2 hour window. Additionally, they will arrive at the session ready to give their maximum effort for those 2 hours. Over-running a session will destroy their motivation, might make them late for other things, and it may even put them off returning.
Good time management is a simple skill to develop but has large psychological benefits to the whole dojo.
Keep Athletes Busy The Whole Time
The third aspect identified as part of an excellent session is that it should keep people busy the whole time. When training time is short, as it so often is, the dedicated student will often work very hard. They will seek to get the most they can from the available session.
The sensei should capitalise on this productivity by not wasting any time. Keeping the students busy will, in turn, help them perceive the class as a high value activity. This will help create a positive upward spiral with their motivation to train harder.
Being able to do this though does mean spending time on that all important first aspect. The session needs to be planned in advance.
Easy For Aikido
Keeping aikidoka busy for the entire session should not be difficult for a sensei. Very few dojo have any equipment beyond mats and wooden weapons. The trick then becomes to organise the weapons at the start of the session. Before the class bows in, make sure the weapons needed for the class are arranged at the side of the mats. Since the session has been planned in advance the students already know which weapons they require.
Keep To Time And Keep Them Busy
Running sessions to time, and keeping the students busy for the entire class, have similar benefits. They reflect well on the sensei, and show a level of respect towards the students. Demonstrating clear organisation will allow the students to perceive the value of the session and what they are learning. This will boost their motivation to train and so the student will learn more, which should be one of the goals of any sensei.
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