Confessions of a Coach

This article was written and submitted to me by Björn Galjaardt. The article has application to coaching regardless of the sport that you coach.

Bright reflections playfully explore contemporary topics and aim to make you think. They are always teasing, sometimes provoking, but never judging. 

With a flirt to sport and business…

It’s like losing weight, in the beginning the results are amazing, but once you are getting closer to your desired weight it’s getting harder to see the differences. That’s the same for coaching. The reward and progression in the beginning of a training(cycle) is highly noticeable, but once you start working closer to the end goal there is more effort required to perform…

Confession 1: Motivation

What’s better than getting supported by motivated stakeholders? Working with highly motivated athletes. No matter what age, gender or level… for a motivated athlete, a coach will give away a thumb or an index finger. It’s crucial to read the word motivated and not talented athlete. There is a big difference between the two and the way to select or identify is a different chapter on it’s own. I wrote about that in earlier articles. In the book ‘My Olympic Mission’ by 2008 Olympic gold medal coach Robin van Galen, he writes about making the tough decision for the last spot on the women’s water polo team. Motivation translated in working hard, being a good fit for the group (Van Galen uses Action Types from Peter Murphy) and always the first and the last to leave for training and games, amongst some other indicators. Making sure the coach remembers your name for the better reasons. Van Galen selected not only on skills… “Motivation is like bathing, we recommend it daily” – Zig Ziglar.

Confession 2: Responsibility

Former Australian representative Amanda Leeson-Smith told a story once about one of her coaches: “He told the team that he was a businessman and that we were not good business, he left the team”. Shortly after, the team became World Cup winners (1986). What does this tell you about responsibility, roles and tasks? I do compare business and sport a lot. There are so many learnings from both worlds. When I have to push you into the pool, then why are you there? When your manager needs to push you behind your desk then why bother going to work? As a coach, it’s your responsibility to know personal interests, ask why more often than any other question. The drivers* need to be connected with the goal set by team or the personal goals of the athlete. However, it is a shared responsibility, the athlete also needs to keep personally inspired. Both need to interact to understand what the drivers are, it’s not just a given. In sport, coaches supply feedback on a weekly if not daily basis, that is another responsibility. The feedback has to be constructive and supportive towards the improvement of the athlete. Feedback and coaching are in my opinion a form of social recognition. You basically have the ability, till a certain extent, to break or make athletes. I would choose the latter. Use that in your advantage and don’t wait till the end of the season evaluation. Document your findings, testings and interaction with the athletes. It’s your responsibility to clearly communicate these outcomes, goals and targets, but also be open for the goals of each individual athlete in your team. “The price of greatness is responsibility” – Winston Churchill.

Confession 3: Winning

Sport is defined by winners and losers. In recreational games, you can participate and there is an entertaining factor. In sport most coaches want to win. However, winning only goes as far as the team goes. When you are an A division coach, you have to adapt your coaching style towards your new C division team. You can still win, but you need a different approach. The same applies from an athletes’ perspective. Many athletes want to make regional, state or national teams, but they are just not up to it (yet). Realistically they have to see if their skills meet the standard to ever reach that goal. Ask for a conversation with your coach, but also sit down with your athletes if you know that this is a their goal. Establish a plan. Alternatively look for a coach or club that does bring the best out of you. For more senior athletes it’s mostly up to them and their coaches. They still need support in regard to their study, work, social life, financials, etc. For junior athletes, it’s also their parents and school that have an impact. Perhaps they have other goals in life and they play because they have different values. Even when winning is the essence, it should not compromise the progression in training. A coach should work respectful with athletes and look at each individuals’ progression. I see a ‘win’ when athletes learn from a loss or a mistake and they train to improve and execute it in times after. In addition, I see a ‘win’ if a team tactical combination works, where normally there would have been a hesitation. “Winning is not everything, but the will to win is” – Vince Lombardi.

Confession 4: Culture

What would you do differently? Sometimes I receive this question. The first expectation is change. However, I would assess the current situation and then have a look into the drivers of change or challenges. Using tools and techniques I would adjust them in order to create a fostering culture to perform in. In business, it would be customer validation. Using different formats to understand the feedback, team profiles and placemats. From there we can look into guidance tools in order to work on the operational side of the program. Using frame works and short or long-term athlete development models to suit the game plan for tournaments and competition cycles. In clubs, it often comes down to coaching coaches. My advice is to have team bonding sessions and design game like training. Practice what you preach. Every training, even if there are only 3 athletes, should be the best training of their life. Why? Quality goes up and this lays the foundation for the future and the culture. Create a feeling of belonging where athletes can develop in training, hone skills and use a growth mindset, rather than a fixed mindset. Coaches need to be properly guided, have feedback sessions, write a team plan for each age group and build your team. Culture eats strategy for breakfast” – Peter Drucker.

Confession 5: Fame

There is a difference in between a well-known person promoting your club, or promoting your well-founded program. It doesn’t necessarily say that they can transfer the information to the age group appropriately in front of them, adjust exercises accordingly to the level and create the environment essential to grow. It’s good to promote for example well-known athletes or coaches, as a lot of times they don’t get acknowledged or supported. Credit to those that achieved tremendous results. On the other hand, there are many examples in sport of great coaches who didn’t represent the highest level, but have achieved amazing things with individuals or teams. When you are in the position of learning from athletes’ experiences or other coaches, by all means do so or take them onboard. Be careful of putting the pressure on, for example, a former athlete and having high coaching expectations. Don’t let them drown, but nurture and support them. I suggest doing courses every year, they don’t all have to be specific to your sport, as long as they are related. Watch videos, attend sessions of other coaches and take notes. Try things out and make sure to ask for feedback. “Knowing is not enough, we must apply. Willing is not enough, we must do” – Bruce Lee.

In summary, the 5 confessions are key indicators to support coaching. Most certainly there are many influences and factors to consider. Every coach has their own confessions to make, these were the top 5:

1.    Working with motivated athletes, looking how they would fit and what skills they need;

2.    The responsibilities the involve communication, understanding drivers of athletes and the role of feedback and social recognition;

3.    Winning and adapting to a respectful and realistic environment and approach;

4.    Culture, people and process followed by results;

5.    Leverage of fame whilst taking away pressure and up-skilling coaches and the club or program.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Björn is the coaching and pathway manager of i4bright (www.i4bright.com). He leads teams from Grass Roots to (High) Performance. Björn is a coach and content master with a flirt to business and sport. His passion includes water polo and development of the sport.

*Drivers in this example fall either in one of these categories: rational, emotional (desire), opportunity, commitment and support.


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