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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
In the spheres of performance science much attention is paid to 'athlete health'. It has become widely recognised that lifestyle factors are critical, not only mediating performance and training adaption, but also impacting upon injury and illness. Despite such growing awareness, until very recently the notion of coach or practitioner health has not been widely considered in the same way. For the first time, important discussions on the topics of coach and practitioner health are being held more widely. For instance, coach health in the field of strength and conditioning was recently featured on the very popular Pacey Performance Podcast. These discussions have raised important issues in relation to the unique challenges presently faced by practitioners operating in the information age. In addition to exploring these issues in more depth in this post, more importantly we will examine strategies and tools to help negotiate these challenges, and ultimately find a way of working that is sustainable in the long term.
Athletic talent and sporting potential are hard to define and harder still to capture. Such ambiguity presents a major challenge for 'talent identification' and 'talent development' programmes in sport. Marking out a youngster as 'talented' is not only fraught with uncertainty, doing so can also carry negative consequences for their development moving forward. In this post we will explore the topic of 'talent' and discuss the challenges inherent in the processes of talent identification and development. In light of these issues we will examine how we might best nurture and develop young athletes whilst avoiding the pitfalls that can result from labeling them as 'talented'.
The term elite appears incessantly in the sporting domain. But what do we mean when we say elite? What does 'elite' mean to you? For many when the term 'elite' is used what this calls to mind is more akin to 'elitist'. The interpretation of 'elite' is often synonymous with 'exclusive', and a domain reserved for the chosen few. In this post we will dig a little deeper into these misconceptions and explore what differentiates elite from elitist. By the end of this discussion we hope to provide an outline of the hallmarks that constitute truly elite practice in sport.