Informed Shorts: 'Meta Abilities' for Coaches, Practitioners and Athletes

In this second ‘Informed Short’ we explore the concept of meta-abilities, and unpack the superpowers that we can harness to enhance our practice in a variety of realms as coaches and practitioners in sport, and educate our athletes to make use of these tools for themselves. We can define meta-abilities as ‘higher order’ skills. A defining characteristic of meta-abilities is that they effectively determine how well we are able to make use of our other capabilities.

The first meta-ability on the list is ‘meta-learning’. We introduced the concept of taking a meta-learning approach to practice and training in a previous Informed Blog on the topic. To recap, meta learning describes our understanding of how we learn, which allows us to learn more effectively. This meta skill also encompasses the ability to deploy and apply our learning skills in different realms (such as skill practice, and athletic preparation).

Meta-cognition essentially relates to our awareness of our own mind. In this way, meta-cognition encompasses our understanding of our own thought processes and how we react to, process, and filter different inputs and forms of information from various sources. In particular, meta-cognition relates to our capacity for critical thinking, which as we contended in another earlier Informed Blog, is perhaps the most critical higher order skill in the Information Age.

Emotional intelligence is arguably the ultimate meta ability, encompassing a host of elements, which could each be considered meta-skills in their own right. Broadly we can classify these elements under the banner of intrapersonal intelligence and interpersonal intelligence, respectively.

Intra-personal intelligence is our inward looking sense or capacity for introspection. Intra-personal intelligence therefore comprises self awareness; in essence our knowledge of self, which includes self-reflection and online monitoring ‘in the moment’. Other related elements include our awareness and understanding of our own emotional state and emotional responses to events - in other words, our ability to name what we are feeling, but also be aware of what might be beneath it. Intra-personal intelligence relates not just to our ability to tune into our emotions, but also our capacity to harness and regulate them. For instance, we can be aware of our mood, but also conscious of our thoughts about our mood state. Further, intra-personal intelligence relates to our ability to reflect on our own emotions, and make some sort of rational judgement on our emotional responses. In particular, a critical factor is our ability to be conscious of emotional responses that do not serve us, particularly in the moment, and by extension able to modulate our emotional state accordingly to limit the negative impact.

Inter-personal intelligence is our social intelligence; in essence, our ability to recognise, to understand, and to navigate social situations and interactions with others. Critical factors include our knowledge of social structure and conventions, such as power relationships and social dynamics between members of group. On a human-to-human level inter-personal intelligence likewise includes our ability to read people and social cues, and respond accordingly. This latter aspect encompasses the ability to attend to, appreciate, and consider the other person’s viewpoint; in other words our intuition and empathic sense.

For more resources on a variety of topics related to coaching, athletic preparation, and working with humans, see the Books section of the website.