Link to reading material to read before meeting: http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/dau/pat-jf3.pdf

What does a Socratic coach do?

A coach supports his players to understand and achieve their aims. He listens carefully, distinguishes and summarizes. He steers attention to possible solutions, supports the specific strategies and strengthens his players’ power to act and come up with the solutions. Coaches should help the players understand who does what, where, when, why and how it is done.

The Socratic method is about moving people along in a direction they want to go. It’s not coercion, or manipulation, it’s a means to help players see the world or ‘the game’ around them, and how they think about it, more clearly.

The ‘moving’ is done by guiding and, when necessary, nudging people to examine those things they take for granted such as their assumptions, beliefs and experiences. The Socratic method uses questions to challenge these things, to check their accuracy and their completeness. Through these questions the Socratic method guides players on a journey of discovery, and moves them toward greater understanding and increased performance.

Putting the Socratic method into Action

There are two elements essential to using the Socratic method:

1)    Questions, and 2) knowing where we’re going.

It’s not enough to just ask questions. You must ask questions that move people toward a desired goal or end state. This is why knowing where you want the group to go is so important. During your session planning, note down the coaching points you want to get to the group and write down the problems that may bring them out. Help the players solve those problems by choosing questions that will make the players think about what they are trying to do, who should do it, where, when and why they would do it and how it is done. With effective questions, you can create a vision for everyone in your team to focus on where you are going or where you want to go. Be sure to engage a variety of different players with questioning, don’t just allow one or two players to steal the show as the rest of the team may switch off.

Once it’s been decided where you and your team are going and why, the next question is usually, how do we get there? If this question draws nothing but blank stares, try flipping it around—tell me why we can’t do this. This will produce a list of obstacles—a treasure trove of questioning opportunities.

  • Why is this an obstacle?
  • Can we break it down into a set of smaller obstacles?
  • What condition do we need to create to overcome this obstacle?
  • Which do we need to do first?

Why use the Socratic method instead of just telling your players what to do or directing them?

When you have a tough challenge, an intriguing puzzle, what’s your reaction when someone walks up and tells you the answer? Anger? Frustration? Perhaps you feel like you’ve been robbed. Indeed, “giving” someone the answer to a problem or question is robbing them—robbing them of valuable learning opportunities, because in each of us learning happens fastest when we figure things out for ourselves. And when we figure something out for ourselves, we’re energized to go make it happen. So make a commitment to yourself not to rob people of the joy and energy of discovery, but rather to help them move forward by asking Socratic questions.

Questions we discussed during the meeting; 

  • When we receive the ball from the GK, where do we need support from teammates? Why?
  • When is the time to move into a supporting position?
  • If you have the ball and see two, three or four defenders around you, what does this tell you about where you might look to attack? What speed do you think you should do it? Why?
  • Who defends in the attacking third? How do we do that? What is the reward for doing it well? When and how often should we do it? When should we not do it?
  • Where on the field would it be different? Why? What should we do differently?

Afterthought

After presenting at the Impact meeting, I found that our coaches responded well to being asked open-ended questions and redirected further questions to other members of the team that got everyone thinking.

It was clear that there were coaches using Socratic Coaching during their weekly sessions and a learning opportunity for those that maybe haven’t used it before or don’t use it so often.