In any realm of life, when you’re in the process of trying to master a skill, at various points along the way you will ultimately make mistakes. However, with reflection, you will grow from those mistakes and become better. Well, that’s the theory anyway. In Daniel Coyle’s book ‘The Talent Code’, he has personally observed elite musicians, artists and sportsmen amongst many others developing their incredible abilities. Through the book, he breaks these components down into 3 key points on what makes those people in particular world class masters at their craft: Deep practice – Time being on the edge or just outside of your current ability whilst practicing a certain skill; Ignition – A burning desire within to improve oneself and have an internal flame to constantly be in a state of deep practice; and a world class coach – To guide, support, delivery high quality coaching and create the optimal environment of developing said skill.
This brings me onto the main talking point of this blog is that coaching is undoubtedly a skill within itself. All great coaches have had strong influences in helping them through the process of moving from being an average coach to a good coach, then to being great, then becoming world class (which is the dream for many of us).
As an aspiring strength and conditioning coach just graduating from university after three years of study, it all of a sudden dawned on me that in those three years I began developing the ‘strength and conditioning’ part of the job title but neglected the ‘coaching’ aspect of it. To this day, when leaving university, it would have been brave of me to call myself an average coach. I had a fear of talking in front of a small group of people, let alone being asked to take 30-40 menacing rugby players with just awful banter flying your way. However, I was then fortunate to be introduced to Sam Portland who gave me a shot when others at the time wouldn’t. Straight away, I remember him putting me in the direct line of fire of those 40 menacing rugby players to see what steel I had about me…. Turns out not a lot but luckily enough, I survived.
I have to admit again (now this is feeling like some sort of confession blog) that I had a slight hint of arrogance and cockiness about my understanding of strength and conditioning that I’d developed upon leaving university. However, this quickly got wiped out in a blink of an eye once I had my initial meeting with Sam. This began the first of many lessons that Sam has taught me beginning with that I know nothing, I mean literally nothing! The bubble was burst!! This was after I finished studying the field at university for three years. I would strongly argue that I’ve learnt more in the last 16 months than the 36 months paying thousands of pounds for an undergraduate course and a piece of paper. However, saying that, just like training athletes and for developing over the long term, I needed to create that solid foundation layer of understanding before putting the bricks for the house to sit on top. As people should know, it’s very hard to build a supportive and stable house on sand. Yet, till this very day of writing this blog post, I would still say that I know nothing.
However, there any many more key lessons that Sam has either directly or indirectly taught me and I would like to share with you five of those lessons as many could either relate or find this useful for in the future:
- Know when to switch off and let go
When the realisation became apparent that I knew nothing, I was very keen to learn to both grow my knowledge and coaching skill set. However, I learnt a valuable lesson both by Sam and the coaches of whom I was interning for at a Tennis academy: you need to know and have the understanding of how to switch off, let go and have your own time. This came to my full attention when I began to notice my coaching suffered as a consequence of my tiredness. I was actually sent home on a few occasions from the Tennis academy and told to have time off by Sam because I was so drained and in need time to recharge my batteries. I now can recognise by the change in the tone of my voice when communicating with the athletes of how tired I am and in need of a rest. Previously I would soldier on thinking this was optimal in my development as a coach, when now I know that it’s not benefiting me or the group of athletes when coaching in such a fatigued state.
- Don’t over programme
Maybe an obvious one too many but this lesson had to be taught a few more times in which I would like to admit: Only give the athlete what they can handle and how do you know you’ve given them too much before you’ve given them too little. On many occasions, again I have to shamefully admit that I made that mistake of programming too much volume for athletes. After reflecting with Sam and having that conversation, throughout this year it started to finally sink in that I wasn’t taking in consideration of the training state of the athlete and less volume of work would be beneficial (or potentially better) to create the same desired effects. Also, my programmes were perhaps becoming too demanding on the athletes time to complete and were unrealistic to complete.
- Don’t get married to your methods – be flexible for the athlete, environment and situation that is presented
Every athlete, environment and situation possesses a number of different challenges and when you’re married to your methods, you could be denying your athlete with the right appropriate intervention to produce the results required. An example of this is when working with a novice athlete, you hit them with an advanced programme such as 5×5 programme or a triphasic variation because you love the concepts of those programmes. Now, if dealing with a novice athlete, you know that any sort of stimulus you place upon them, they will soak up and adapt. Yes the programme will work but why not give them the bare minimum and what they can handle such as 1 set of 20 reps? Where would you turn to when you’ve placed such a high volume, high intensity stimulus on their body straight from the get go and they then exhausted that method. Once you’ve made that huge indent into their nervous system, you cannot get it back.
- Stimulate, Adapt, Stabilize – both for athletes & for coaches learning
The last year I’ve been in a rush to increase my knowledge levels and try to catch up to coaches who are years ahead of me in which I’ve tried to absorb as much information as possible. However, there came a downside where I wouldn’t use that information straight away in my practice so it was easily forgotten. A bit of a controversial piece of advice that Sam has recently given me was that he told me to stop learning. I started to find that I was beginning to push out the bread and butter material that I already know and should be implementing with my current level of athletes. I’ve found recently that you stimulate by learning new methods, you then adapt by enhancing those methods to your athletes / environment and then you stabilize by smoothing out those methods and getting the results before adding new layers on top.
- Place yourself in the right environment
Probably the biggest lesson I learnt from Sam was that when you’re in an environment and you’re not able to grow, to learn, to progress and it becomes harmful and restrictive to your development as a coach, then you need to walk away and let go. When you’re in an environment that isn’t supporting your growth, it’s time to leave. It’s very easy to stay in that current place but will be detrimental and hinder your development as a practitioner in the long run. Sam set this example to me when he resingned from his premiership position last October.
Overall, I think that being granted the freedom to create and experiment has really enhanced my coaching process more than anything as I don’t feel restricted or have fear of making mistakes. Sam has never truly overwhelmed me with feedback but has always given me the right feedback at the right time as he knows I over think things far too much as it is. Perhaps, even if it’s just a whisper, some may say that over this time, I’ve grown from just being an average coach leaving uni to a good coach under the guidance of Sam. But just keep it at a whisper as there is are new challenges lurking around the corner and many more lessons to be learnt in the up and coming decades with the ambition of becoming a world class coach.
Thanks for taking the time to read my post.