Recently Mark Bennett MBE talked to us in a podcast interview around “A Needs Centred Approach to Coaching”. In this article we will dissect the key takeaway moments from that interview so you can learn and implement the ideas into your coaching. Firstly some background information about Mark:

Mark is a former British Commando & senior instructor within the Army Physical Training Corps who served 22 years before turning down promotion in order to leave the services & pursue his passion full time. He has spent the last 30 years developing robust and scalable strategies and tools to help organisations, teams and individuals maximise the performance potential of themselves and the people they are influencing. Mark hasn’t just developed the ‘how to’ tools and strategies to increase engagement, learning and performance; he has designed powerful interventions that support the change required to embed the behaviours and cultures that maximise performance. He has named this holistic approach the Performance Development Systems (PDS).

Here are some of the highlights from the Podcast and biggest takeaway messages:

The transition from working to the military was one that took place through evolution and as he began to begin to work with his first sets of sports clubs he realised the importance of; developing the influencers (coaches, parents, players etc) to embed change for the long term. As Mark’s journey has developed, he has now found common traits when working across all sports with coaches with the main ones being: lack of self awareness, you don’t know what you don’t know. It is at this point Mark then begins to speak about tools for coaches to develop their self – awareness: just simply film yourself coaching with a go pro and watch back the footage.

Firstly, self evaluate yourself and how you felt the session went. After this, just simply watch it back and listen and don’t look at the technical or tactical and just simply look at two areas: are they engaged? And what impact is what you have having on the players? This is called a ‘cold review’. A ‘hot review’, is you reflecting on the session directly after it has taken placed whilst you’re in the emotional state. Through completing a ‘cold review’, you will begin to observe a notice behaviours that you wouldn’t have necessarily taken note of during your ‘hot review’. The purpose of a task like this for coaches is to help them to understand what they’re doing now when they’re coaching and to help them to identify the intervention that they need for change.

So are there differences in traits across coaches working with different age groups?

Mark begins with sharing that he sees bad traits when working with coaches in different age groups and coaches should be coaching what is in front of them whilst linking it to a ‘lighthouse’. A lighthouse is the destination that you’re aiming to take the players to; what does it look and sound like? This vision then needs to be shared with parents, players and coaches and all those influencers on the players that you’re trying to develop for the long term. Our role as coaches is to help them to get to the lighthouse and our responsibility isn’t to just coach the technical or tactical but in fact to help them to want to stay in that sport as well as developing into a better person because of it.

More often coaches coaches get drawn into the technical and tactical when planning and delivering their sessions and actually we should be looking to focus on children that can make decisions for themselves and commit to them without fear. Therefore, for all coaches you need to be clear on your ‘lighthouse’ and whatever you decide needs to be shared amongst all your parents, players and other coaches to help you to work towards getting them to the lighthouse, together.

So who are the influencers?

And how can I influence them myself? Marks’ belief is that this is commonly the most important area that we miss out on upon. As people of influence will either “kill the growth or build the growth”. These influencers can vary from: coaches, parents, the owner of the club and players. “Performance is a behaviour and not an outcome” is a philosophy that runs through Marks’ philosophy of his system. When it comes to players, Mark introduced the idea of looking at your players and listing them based on whether you think they are a Ninja, Assassin or a Sheep. A simple task that he encourages any coaches to do in their own time when looking at their own players.

“A sheep is someone that can be influenced by anybody” and their behaviours will change based on others around them. The assassins “are your disrupters; who either covertly disrupt or just begin to start challenging. Lastly, we have the Ninjas “these are your loud speakers and these can often be highly motivated and really want to play well and until we do something that I call Ninja mastery, they could get frustrated by others if they’re not doing as well as them”. Mark highlights the important thing to bare in mind afterwards when looking at your players “Many assassins can become great Ninjas and many Ninjas can turn in Assassins unless we engage them; so when we are looking at influencers both Ninjas and Assassins are influencers.

So what are you doing to get the Ninjas and Assassins onside?

A great example of Ninja mastery is taking that player to the side and praising them for their answers and getting them to acknowledge that others in the group may not speak as much or have as much confidence to do so and empowering them to support those quieter players to help them to share their ideas and thoughts. Mark highlights how you can get the Ninjas to positively reinforce when working with others in the group, gradually enabling you to form a connection with that player which is strengthened by short, sharp interventions on this.

When it comes to an Assassin that is disengaged is to take them to one side and ask them to share what they see during the practice or game and asking them for their thoughts. Once you get their thoughts, ask them to come up with a strategy with the team on how they will complete the task or help the group to achieve their objectives. Suddenly, you find that person becomes engaged and they feel empowered because they have a voice.

Should I be coach or player led?

Mark believes that there is a lot of misunderstanding on player led, athlete led or coach led. Throughout Marks’ observations he began to notice that coaches that called themselves a player centred coach; often weren’t. Since then, Mark has now adapted his approach to begin to be “Needs Centred”. Mark begins to explain this by defining what coaching is for him “Coaching is a light and shade, coaching is a craft, it’s ability to be aware of your state and scan by looking and hearing and sensing all the data around you in that moment; in yourself, your coaches and the players. It’s then knowing the good judgement based on in this moment can I manipulate the game to facilitate a pressure or loading; do I need to bring one player out and do a hot review on the sidelines? Or is there a need to give them a time for them to sort it”.

Your whole aim as a coach is back to your lighthouse and ultimately, this is what should govern how you then work. Mark speaks here about his own lighthouse and how this then impacts upon him as he aims to make himself redundant as a coach and help players to be able to self-review as they look to make their own decisions and solve problems for themselves. He speaks of the importance of not asking lots of questions, as players will simply just begin to share learned answers. “This is what I call need centred, we identify what we need in the moment for that player and team based on their long term development; and not on a quick fix”.

You can listen to the full podcast here:—Mark-Bennett-Needs-Centred-Approach-eok838 or Watch the video here:

For more information on Mark and his work, visit his website with plenty of free recourses plus a new online course coming soon –