Mental Skills

Emotional Aptitude in Athlete Preparation

Emotional Aptitude in Athlete Preparation

Emotion has traditionally been viewed as something to be suppressed. The logic goes that as leaders and people in positions of authority we should be detached and act ‘without emotion’. If somebody is described as ‘emotional’ generally this is construed as a bad thing; when we become ‘emotional’ the implication is that we are no longer being rational or we are not capable of reason. Conventional wisdom advocates we avoid an emotional response or making emotional decisions. In contrast to these established views, more recent study in this area demonstrates that emotion is in fact integral to reasoning, decision making, guiding our behaviour, and our ability to relate to others. Emotional intelligence is accordingly becoming recognised as being at least as important as more established forms of intelligence. Indeed we increasingly hear commentators proclaim that ‘EQ trumps IQ’. In this latest Informed Blog we delve into the role of emotion in coaching and our work with athletes, and explore what aptitudes we need to possess in this area as leaders, coaches, and practitioners.

Fostering Diversity of Thinking

Fostering Diversity of Thinking

Divergence of opinion has traditionally been viewed in less than positive terms: when x and y don’t see eye to eye on a particular subject, this is generally seen as problematic. By extension, we hear of the virtues of assembling a group of ‘like-minded’ individuals. Organisations typically promote compromise and conformity as virtues to foster harmony and unity within the group. Contrary to this, the wisdom of crowds illustrates the benefits of aggregating judgements from a broad and disparate group of individuals. To further strengthen the case for diversity of thought and experience, ‘cognitive diversity’ is in fact found to be the major factor that differentiates successful teams and organisations. In this Informed Blog, we explore the paradoxical ways diversity and divergence are conceptualised, and see what lessons we can take on a group and an individual level in the context of sport.

A Wake Up Call on Sleep

A Wake Up Call on Sleep

Sleep is essential to sustaining life. Yet the majority of us are casually dismissive when it comes to sleep. We routinely deny ourselves this most critical sustenance of our own volition. The attitudes towards sleep among high performing individuals in different realms and society in general are quite baffling. We also largely fail to make the connection between the reckless lack of care and attention we give to our sleep and the dizzying array of consequences that inevitably follow. Objectively this behaviour is bizarre, and our failure to prioritise sleep defies logic. With this latest Informed Blog we explore the myriad ways you lose when you don’t snooze sufficiently.

Traits of Elite Coaches and High Performing Practitioners

Traits of Elite Coaches and High Performing Practitioners

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.

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

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 to 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.

Perils of Binary Thinking and Polarised Debates

Perils of Binary Thinking and Polarised Debates

For a practitioner who spends any time on social media it is easy to get the sense we are in the death throes of informed debate. Authorities (often self-proclaimed) seem to constantly spew forth evangelical proclamations, push their ideology and promote others who espouse their doctrine, and decry those who express contrary views. Sadly, it appears there are no shortage of young zealots eager to answer the call to join the modern crusades conducted on a social media battlefield. In this post we will explore the trend for binary thinking and polarised arguments that fuels the tribalism we see on these platforms, and how this is increasingly creeping into sports science and medicine circles. We will then attempt to plot a path back from the edge of the abyss, and bridge the divide between factions to allow us to return to real debate.

Major Competition Coaching

Major Competition Coaching

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.

A 'Meta-Learning' Approach for More Productive Training

A 'Meta-Learning' Approach for More Productive Training

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.

Unravelling 'Locus of Focus' - Where to Direct Athletes' Attention When Training and Competing

Unravelling 'Locus of Focus' - Where to Direct Athletes' Attention When Training and Competing

Locus refers to a place or position where something is located: locus of attention concerns the location of an athlete's focus when executing a movement. Typically, locus of attention is stratified into internally versus externally located focus. The current dominant message to coaches and practitioners is to cue in a way that avoids an internal focus of attention - essentially 'internal focus BAD; external focus GOOD'. Yet when we look beyond the dominant narrative and take a closer look at the research on the topic, the question of where and how to direct an athlete's locus of attention when learning and performing becomes rather more complex. There is growing evidence to indicate that what is optimal may vary according to the population concerned, the task, context and even individual preference or predisposition. In this post we will delve deeper and attempt to unravel the topic of locus of focus.

The Burden of Advantage in Athlete Development

The Burden of Advantage in Athlete Development

The paradoxical burden of advantages is something that those who work with young athletes (and young people in general) often grapple with. We might consider this a 'first world problem of privilege' for developing athletes; some might even argue it is symptomatic of the wider ills of modern society. Whether or not you subscribe to such views, few would disagree that a sense of entitlement is the enemy when developing young people, regardless of whether the aim is that they grow up to become good people or top athletes. In either scenario, many of the qualities we are seeking to instill are much the same.

As we will explore in this post, the luxury of advantages, unless carefully managed, can pose a serious problem when our aim is fostering the traits necessary to strive for mastery and achieve long-term success in sport. We will investigate what makes a conducive environment for developing young athletes who demonstrate 'talent', and what pitfalls to avoid. Finally, we will tackle the question of how we might negotiate the challenges we presently face on our quest, and recommend practical steps to ensure young athletes are equipped with the fuel for the journey and the tools to overcome obstacles on the path to becoming elite.