Mental Toughness Digest for Sport & Performance.
“The Magnificent Seven …
C’s of Coaching”
By Brian Langsworth (PSY0001339412)
What makes a good coach?
As Performance Psychologists we will often work with the athlete on the mental side of their game, complementing the technical, tactical and physical work that they may be doing with their coach. On occasions we’ll play both roles simultaneously, just as sometimes a coach will work across all aspects of an athletes training and performance.
One of the challenges for all of us as coaches, psychologists, mentors, parents is what role do we play, what strengths and skills do we have, and not have. Similarly as athletes what do we need to bring out our best?
As we traverse the vast expanses of land in becoming excellent at our sport or chosen endeavour, or excelling as coaches, what are the seven C’s we will need to cross and master? It is not going to be the same for everyone. In the modern sporting landscape, it seems the challenges are greater than ever for coaches to bring a number of skills to the table. Let’s explore some of these C’s:
Computer: I remember going to an Organisational Psychology conference on psychometrics. Paul Roos, one of Australia’s premier AFL coaches, was presenting to a room of psychologists (I was 1 of about 5 others in a room of 500 plus who cared and knew who he was). Paul talked about the use and power of data and analytics in understanding player behaviour and performance. These days coaches need to be like a computer (or at least have one) to understand the metrics behind performance. The film Moneyball pointed to the power of numbers in predicting performance.
Change agent: sometimes the best thing we can do for a player, is to help them consider what can they do differently? What can they change to improve their performance? In our mental method Controlling It, we remind individuals and teams to focus on what they can control, namely their effort and their actions and focusing on the present.
Care: When a player makes a mistake or does something stupid, as they will, as we all will and do, sometimes a player will respond better with a pat on the back and kind word rather than a spray. Sometimes the greatest thing we can do as a coach is to provide support. As Anna Meares, the great Australian cyclist, said of her coach, Gary West, ‘A good coach can change a game but a great coach can change a life and he has changed my life in so many ways.’ Providing care and support can leave individuals feeling nurtured and enable them to recognise and build on their strengths. This is perhaps even more relevant these days, as increasingly we see in the media the Mental Health challenges faced by athletes. It’s not all on coaches though or even psychologists. Self-care is also important and people must be empowered, and given the skills, to look after themselves.
Challenge: Too much support may lead to individuals feeing they are not challenged or pushed. A colleague of mine once said, we need to be careful as coaches, not to be too NICE (Nothing Inside Me cares Enough). People need to be challenged and stretched. Eddie Jones has done extraordinary things with the English Rugby side, and prior to that Japan, by pushing the envelope in training. An incredibly exacting training regime has also been the hallmark of Usain Bolt. The key is to balance challenge with support. As we discuss in our Mental Method, Simplifying It, it’s about getting the ingredients right.
Confidante: Finally, perhaps as Coaches we need to be a confidante. Someone that individuals can go to with their deepest darkest secrets and fears. Not for us to solve, but for us not to judge and sometimes maybe just listen.
But hang on a minute you might say! That’s 5 ‘C’s – what about the 6th and 7th. Frankly, I reckon if you have got the above covered you are doing pretty well. It’s also important to remember that we cannot be all things to all people. We have our own strengths and limitations. You may strike gold and work with someone who can do all of the above (and more) or you may find these qualities in a number of people. Coaches have assistants for a reason.
But what of the 6th and 7th ‘C’? Often the best coaches are Creative in thinking outside the square to get the best out of teams and individuals? Being a bit of a Comedian doesn’t hurt. Sometimes it is important just to keep it fun and light. According to Shane Warne, the best use of a coach is to get the team to the ground!
What other C’s can you think of? It is no doubt important to help others find their purpose or their Cause in their chosen sport or endeavour. What do they want to achieve and why? Further, how are they going to achieve it? It can be useful for a coach to help Coordinate and plan.
What else do you think is important? Please use the space below to let us know what you come up with.