In this latest offering we explore some of the traits that differentiate the best coaches and practitioners in their fields. One disclaimer before we start is that this post is based on observational study. To some degree the themes we explore reflect wisdom shared by prominent individuals via different forums and media. However, I unapologetically give more weight to traits and behaviours that I have directly observed. I have been fortunate to interact with a representative sample of these exceptional individuals across multiple sports in various contexts; this has provided the opportunity to see how they approach their work with ‘live’ athletes in different scenarios, as opposed to how individuals claim they act and operate in practice. The themes we explore are therefore more a product of this direct observation, rather than simply distilling what has been presented elsewhere.
As the saying goes, there is no success without struggle. The fear of making mistakes can become disabling, particularly if our aim is to try something new or different. So perhaps we need to to reframe how we think about making errors to avoid being too constrained by the desire to not get it wrong. The quest to be creative and innovative in our problem solving necessitates having the freedom to try new and different things. This principle applies whether we are seeking to explore new questions, or find different solutions to existing questions.
The current post is the culmination of a three-part series on coaching athletic movement. In the opening part of the series, we delved into the ‘why’, and sought to elucidate what roles we have to play in this space. With part two we got into the ‘what’, and proposed that the lenses of mechanical effectiveness and efficiency might unite our aims in both performance and injury realms. With this final instalment, we get into the ‘how’, and provide some practical guidance on how we might deliver what we outlined in part two, and ultimately fulfill the roles we identified in part one.
In an early post entitled ‘The Rise of the Movement Specialist’ we identified an apparent gap in the technical input and direction provided to athletes when it comes to athletic movement skills. The appearance in recent times of hordes of self-styled ‘movement specialists’ seeking to fill the void, or rather recognising a niche in the market, is indicative that something is presently lacking. With this 3-part post we attempt to tackle the question of what our role is in this space, and offer some guidance on how we can do better.
In this first part of the 3-part series, we start with ‘why’…
The word 'culture' is often thrown around in the context of teams and organisations. Everybody is talking about culture. Despite being a nebulous term and intangible in nature, culture is cited over and over again by teams and organisations. Everybody seems to be in agreement that culture is critical to success in different realms, even if we are not necessarily clear on what it is. Culture is simultaneously cited as both the root cause and universal solution to all ills. In this post we will try to get a handle on the 'C' word. More importantly we will attempt to get to the bottom of what creates culture, and explore how we might go about effecting a change in team or organisational culture.
Major competition poses unique challenges not only for the athlete, but also the coach and wider support staff. From a logistical viewpoint there are a host of additional factors to manage, but on a more personal level, each member of the team must also manage themselves and how they interact with the athlete. In the crucible of a major competition environment the mettle of all individuals concerned is tested, and every member of staff connected to the athlete has a responsibility. In this post we will dig deeper on this topic, and explore ways we can support athletes in handling the pressures to compete at their best on the biggest stage.
Athletes and coaches across all sports incessantly speak about the importance of 'focussing on the process', and process goals. As coaches and practitioners we are likewise ever mindful of scheduling constraints and the need to make best use of the finite time permitted to prepare our athletes. In previous posts we have spoken about the importance of mobilising mental resources, and the critical role of athletes' perception in relation to training responses. Here we will venture into the realms of teaching and learning, in order to make meaningful use of the notion of 'process focus' in the context of sport. In our quest for more purposeful training we will explore the concept of 'meta-learning', and outline how these principles might be applied to the process and the practice of preparing athletes.
In the Information Age the propensity for critical thinking has become arguably the most critical skill for practitioners in all fields. In the present era, with unprecedented access to a vast sea of information at the touch of a key stroke, the ability to filter and to critically evaluate are paramount. This is the great irony of the Information Age; at a time when the need has never been greater, critical thinking is seemingly a dying art. Increasingly we are plagued with superficial knowledge and incomplete understanding. We are beset on all sides by spurious reasoning and a preponderance of facile solutions. In this post we argue there is a need to resurrect critical thinking; we must understand the true meaning of skepticism and embrace it. Here we present the case that rediscovering these faculties will allow us to negotiate our way to free thought and provide the tools for independent learning to attain deeper understanding.
I regularly engage in mentoring coaches and practitioners, and the universal starting point in this process is a 'SWOT analysis', allowing the individual to identify areas where they require development. A frequent response and common theme relates to the process of planning or programming training. Before we get into the puzzles to solve when programming physical preparation, let us begin with a revelation: athletes are humans not machines. Input does not necessarily equal output. When working with athletes we must understand that we are dealing with inherently complex and highly dynamic biological systems. Designing a training plan for an athlete or a group of athletes is therefore far from straightforward.
In this post we will unmask the flaws in the conventional wisdom that relates to planning and programming, including periodisation models. We will uncover the realities we face when programming training, explore the puzzles involved, and define the challenges we must resolve. Finally, we will outline a road map approach to guide planning physical preparation in a way that acknowledges the uncertainty, along with some strategies to help navigate the unknown and shifting terrain, to allow us to steer and adapt our course as we go.
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 reflection 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.