The Hard Questions for Coaches and Practitioners

In a previous post on the topic of what it is to be 'elite', we identified that willingness to challenge and readiness to being challenged represent critical traits. @@True reflective practice is predicated upon a readiness to ask yourself the hard questions@@. Not only that, we must resist deluding ourselves and answer the hard questions in an honest fashion. To develop requires stepping out of the comfort zone. Becoming better requires being unflinching in self-assessment and reflection. In reality, despite the best intentions the majority pay lip service to this; it is easier (and far more comforting) to lapse into telling ourselves falsehoods or half truths. You are your most important ally in this process, but you are also the biggest potential obstacle. Ultimately, @@for the process to elicit meaningful change, self-evaluation and reflective practice must have teeth@@. As a coach, practitioner, or indeed athlete, @@if you truly aspire to being elite you must be unflinching in asking and answering the critical questions@@, no matter how unpalatable the truths you uncover may be.

Before we begin, let us state at this outset that this post was written with the clear intention of being provocative. The objective is to challenge the reader; to prompt you to hold up a mirror to your motivations, your intentions and your actions. This post was not written with comfort in mind; indeed discomfort is integral to growth. Nevertheless, a disclaimer may be called for: if you are easily affronted, perhaps do not read on from here. For those that remain, courage...

THE ITERATIVE TERROR OF WHY...

The 3rd most discomfiting question for most coaches or practitioners is 'Why?'. The second most discomfiting is in fact a follow-up question to the first: 'Why?'. And, you guessed it, the hardest of all to deal with is when 'why?' is asked a third time.

The 'five whys' is a well established technique for interrogating the truth about people's underlying thinking and motivations. In reality, three iterations of 'why?' is typically sufficient - and is often enough to reduce the unsuspecting coach or practitioner to a quivering wreck...

WHAT IS YOUR 'WHY'...

What motivates your practice? Where do you look for validation? How do you derive satisfaction? Is your mission genuinely athlete support, or is it a quest for reflected glory?

KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE...

Who do you ultimately feel accountable to? Those who pay you? Or the athletes you serve? Do your day to day actions reflect this?

FEELING INVOLVED AND IMPORTANT...

What determines the extent of your involvement with an athlete at a given point in time? Genuine necessity? Self importance? Self interest?

OWNED OR BORROWED...

How did you acquire your philosophy? Was this a process of discovery and reasoning? Or did you simply adopt a ready-made philosophy or system of practice? Did you simply go with the tide of popular opinion on 'best practice'? Are you a follower or acolyte of an 'authority' in the field?

BUILDING ON SAND OR CONCRETE...

What is the basis of your philosophy and practice? To what degree does convention and dogma feature?

DIGGING DEEPER...

What is the depth of your understanding? Have you drilled down to the foundations? Do you understand the concept down to first principles? Have you interrogated and tested the logic of the underlying premise and assumptions?

AN ANSWER FOR EVERYTHING...

Do you have all the answers? Do you really? Are you prone to exceeding the realms of your knowledge when counselling athletes? Are you an instant expert*?

* 'Instant Expert' Phenomenon - having read something, heard a podcast, attended a workshop, or observed practice, present themselves as an authority on the topic.

FIELD OF VISION...

How is your breadth of knowledge? Does your thinking and understanding extend beyond your domain? Are you a specialist? Generalist? Both?

FRAME OF REFERENCE...

Do you know what 'elite' practice really looks like? Have you been exposed to a truly world-class environment? Would you know it if you saw it?

KNOWLEDGE IN CONTEXT...

How do you rate your knowledge of a given topic, versus your applied understanding of how it relates to practice? Do you understand it in context? Are you able to separate how the concept is presented in a textbook, versus how things work in practice?

NAVIGATING INFORMATION AND OPINION...

Do you truly exercise critical thinking? To practice critical thinking by definition you must first entertain alternative or opposing ideas: do you truly evaluate all the available evidence? Do you entertain the idea that your preconceived ideas might be wrong, or your pet methods may be flawed? Or do you simply gravitate towards evidence or opinions that support what you believe?

THE PERSONNEL OF YOUR INNER CIRCLE...

Who do you surround yourselves with? Who do you choose to populate your circle, professionally and personally? From whom do you seek feedback? With whom do you debate ideas? Look around yourself: do you see people who challenge you?

FOLLOWING THROUGH...

Words or actions? To what extent does one reflect the other? Do you fully consider the stakes when you commit to doing something, or pledge to take a course of action? How readily do you lapse? Do you fully appreciate the consequences and the damage to your credibility when you fail to fulfill a commitment, or honour your pledge?

STANDARDS...

What standards do you accept of yourself and others? Do you truly maintain and enforce these standards? If we are defined by the standards we accept of ourselves and others, what does this mean for you?

THE CRUNCH...

What price your integrity? In the crucible of a high-pressure environment, under challenge, or in difficult circumstances, do you remain true to yourself and your principles?

IN CLOSING...

Congratulations to those who made it to the end of this post! Your courage and readiness to expose yourself to the hard questions will be their own reward, particularly if you are able to answer in a frank and honest manner. Holding up a mirror up to ourselves, our motivations, our processes and practice is an important discipline for all practitioners. Those of us in the priviledged position of working with athletes must recognise and respect the responsibility involved. As stated in a previous post, elite practice is not complicated; but elite practice is not easy. Practicing a growth mindset and taking the necessary steps to hold ourselves accountable are necessary commitments if our practice is to evolve and we are to remain worthy of the faith placed in us.

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