Joystick Coaching – Why should players find the answer for them-selves?

Zoe, Captain of Hisalis girls under 16s explaining tactics to her team.

Every player who has ever been coached during sport has been on the receiving end joystick coaching at some point. For example a coach might say to a player that they need to do a certain tactic in order to have an advantage over the other team. At Hockey Club Hisalis a few coaches and I have often laughed about a certain style of coaching: Joystick Coaching, where the coach micromanages every part of their players in the field and gives explicit orders while they play. Although this style of coaching can have it’s advantages in the short term period, over a longer period of a players development it begins to be a problem.

There are many reasons why joystick coaching can be useful though.  If the player does not know the best decision at this time the coach can help them by telling them, for example telling the player when they should pass to the left when they have not seen that option until the coach suggested it. As many of you are thinking this while reading this the question arises: What happens when the coach does not give the player answer to a situation when they can not find the answer themselves? They usually make the wrong decision and often do not make a decision at all and just freeze.

This leads me on to discussing the implications of giving joystick coaching over a longer period. This style of teaching is more commonly known as Command Style where the…

“Learners copy the teacher’s behaviour or instructions and there is little opportunity for social contact between learners” (Woods, 1998)

Advantages of Command Style:

  • Gives clear information on movements skills or tactics Discourages the learner from developing responsibility for their own learning

  1. Establishes clear relationships for routines is of limited use when developing open skills which require the learner to make their own decisions and to adapt

    Disadvantages of Command Style:

    • Discourages the learner from developing responsibility for their own learning
    • Is of limited use when developing open skills which require the learning to make their own decisions and to adapt

    It is apparent that this style of learning can help in certain situations, and it is best fitted for the youngest children learning the techniques of sport. Although using my girls under 16 as an example it causes more problems than advantages as the girls need to solve problems under pressure while playing matches, Problem-solving Style:

    “Here, the teacher sets problems for the learners to solve, which encourages the learners to think about their sport and to be creative in their approach to problems/. there may only be one solution or several, and the teacher may have limited control over how the learners work and think in order to solve the problem…
    … ‘For example the teacher may ask “How could you gain the attack if you were in this situation?’ Learners may benefit from hearing others explain their ideas or understanding, just as it helps their own understanding when they have to articulate their ideas and explain their thinking to others. (Woods, 1998)

    Advantages of Problem-solving style:

    • Increases understanding which in turn increases motivation
    • is valuable where the  sportsperson has to make their own decisions whilst the competitive situation is in progress
    • Helps the learner to develop their own solutions to problems

    Disadvantages of Problem-solving style:

    • Requires learners who are able and confident about expressing them selves in front of others
    • Requires teacher to have extensive knowledge of the topic
    • Can be time consuming

    Something that I think almost all players I have coached this year can agree to: I ask a lot of open questions to my players. I often start questions with “What do you think…?”, “If this happens what should you do?” and “Tell me what you would have done differently?”. This is because I really understand the value of Problem-solving learning. Something that my players have come to understand (for the most part) is that this type of learning takes a long time and the results are not apparently straight away, this can be demotivating, although when they have to make decisions under pressure while playing a match on a weekend they often make the right decision without my instruction.

    To conclude, although I think that joystick coaching has it’s uses I think coaches should really invest more time in delivering problem-solving learning situations during their sessions as much as possible. By focusing on the way in which your players look at problems and solve them with minimal help, you will receive incredible amounts of wealth (goals, higher performance, motivation, happiness and self worth for example) from your players.


    Woods, B. (1998). Applying Psychology to Sport. Oxon: Bookpoint Ltd.

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