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Questioning - A Coach's Best Tool

Updated: May 10, 2021

A coach's best tool is the use of questioning. What is the point in a coach doing all the work? If a coach is doing all the work, for the learner, what will they actually be learning? That is the best way to live life, is by doing as little as possible to achieve the best success. That is why all coaches must use question throughout their sessions and their practice.

Questioning forces the learner to think about something. Whether they are exploring something new or looking at a specific technique or aspect of a stroke. Questions like, "what happens when you lean backwards and paddle around?" This is a great open question that will force the paddle to explore the notion of active posture but in a creative way. Some paddlers will be able to answer the question on the spot, no matter how experienced they are, but the important part is too practise. Tell the paddler to have a go and PROVE IT, play about with the technique and try something different. This might mean as the coach you need to ask a more challenging but related question to get their thoughts provoked.

My challenge to you as a coach/instructor is:

Can you facilitate an entire session only using questions?

You are not allowed to tell them any of the answers. If you have tried this leave some comments below to let us know how it went for you. Remember, this is a one-off trial at experiencing and trying a range of questioning and this session could be 5 minutes or a whole hour. But most importantly, if something isn't working then adapt what you are doing. Please remember that you need to meet the needs of your group, therefore you might need to choose this trial group wisely (maybe even tell them you are going to try this out).

Types of Question

My favourite saying is:

"Active Paddlers make Active Leaners!"

  • Open questions - a question that has either lots of different answers and/or one that requires an answer more complex that yes or no. This will enable better engagement.

  • Quick Recall - Best used for an end of session review. Something I like to call Throwback Mania - how many questions (open questions) can you ask and get a response in a few minutes.

  • Probing - These questions will support the thinking to find a more complex answer; they are likely to be more specific. For example, "Why do you think that is happening? or What effect is that having on the craft/boat? or Why might holding the paddle like this have a difference?

  • Leading Questions - We all have paddlers that find answering questions difficult. As a coach you may need to ask questions that encourage them to give the right answer e.g. You were leaning to the side, weren't you? If you were turning more than paddling forwards, what do you think 'leaning back' does to the boat/craft?

  • One-word questions - Explain to the group that you are going to say a word and they have got to find the best answer and question to that word in groups. For example, "turning". The group could come back with active posture whilst paddling; they could look at a specific turning stroke; they might look at edging and changing the angle of the boat might affect turning in different scenarios. At first, they might need some support and additional questioning to support their thinking; but, in time, they will begin to become independent thinkers and learners whilst developing their own skills.

  • Chunking Questions - When asking a wide and more vague question, you might need to break it down into chunks. Much like coaches use Part-Part-Whole to develop a skill. Each question will get them to look at a different aspect of paddling slowly allowing them to formulate the answer to a bigger, more complex, question.

  • Think-Pair-Share - Collaboration is a very powerful tool. If learners can talk about their findings and explorations to a question, when they return too feedback to the coach, they will have already formulated their answer. This makes it easier for the learner to come forward and better for the cognitive process of learning.

  • Pass on Probing Collaboration to answer - pass the 'baton' to another learner. Can you get another learner to extend what has already been said?

  • Scaffold their answers with a beginning of a sentence - I agree, to add, like this person said I also think this. Working as a team to find the right answer is a great interpersonal skill to develop, additionally, giving the coach a better answer.

A few pointers to consider:

  • Avoid Closed Questions - Yes or No questions. They don't any chance for reasoning or thinking. Try a whole session without asking a yes or no question.

  • Do not ask too many questions; instead, develop a planned strategy for questioning. For each question you ask expect an answer before moving on to the next question. And for every question you ask get them to SHOW you the answer.

  • Ask clear, focused, and meaningful questions that are personalized for the material and students.

  • Give appropriate feedback, ask probing follow-up questions, and validate correct responses.

  • Avoid rhetorical questions

  • Timing - ensure that you give a reasonable amount of time for the learner to find the answer and respond. It can be very difficult to answer questions when put on the spot. Unless you are reviewing the session and doing quick fire recall questions.

  • Practise the functions first before there is any accountability.

  • Accountability - are you making them accountable for the work that you are doing or is everything that they are doing going unnoticed.

Success criteria or Scaffold the Response

  • Raise the expectation!

  • What is really expected? - link to vocabulary that they should be using (e.g. fundamentals of paddlesports, active posture, connectivity...)

  • Teacher Created or Pupil Created Success Criteria - A success criteria is a check list that the paddlers/learners are expected to do in order to perform the skill correctly. This can be known as a Self-Check teaching/coaching style.

  • Peer Assessment - get other paddlers to assess each other against that same check list/success criteria. Once they can spot the errors, hopefully they can spot them in their own paddling.

Happy Questioning Coaches! Remember, the more work the learner is doing, the more learning that take place. Don't do the work for them.

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