Usually when asked this question my first, rather flippant, response is that I didn’t know coaches had a type. My second, equally flippant, response is I’m a cross between Mary Poppins and Nanny McPhee without the singing or disappearing wart!
On a serious note it did make me stop and think about coaching philosophy. My background is predominantly sports coaching with a short foray into lecturing and I’ve always believed that I know I’ve done a good job when you no longer need me. Be it as an independent learner or an independent competitor.
However, don’t be lulled into the sense that this is a comfortable and pleasant journey – it’s not. To quote Brene Brown:
“If you’re comfortable I’m not teaching and you’re not learning. It’s going to get uncomfortable and that’s OK. It’s normal and part of the process”
I like the role of thought disrupter. After all, it’s not what you don’t know that gets you into trouble it’s what you know for sure that just isn’t so. In essence, my job is to observe, discuss, enquire, question, challenge, suggest then shut up and let you experiment. Importantly, this should always be followed by a review of the results of your experiments. What went well? What didn’t go well? What could be done differently and what needs to change?
One of my favourite coaching books is the Inner Game of Golf by Timothy Gallwey. In it he suggests that positive feedback can be as destructive as negative feedback and both are a form of judgement. Instead, as coaches we need to be instilling “situational awareness”. An awareness of what is, without judgement. Be curious, be interested, trust in your own good sense and notice what happens.
The key to situational awareness is not thinking. Concentrating without thinking lets you absorb what’s going on around you. In sport, it means quieting the endless chatter of thoughts so that the body can do instinctively what it’s been trained to do. For example, with horse riders it means if your body knows how to jump a fence then let it happen. If it doesn’t then let it learn.
Maximum effort means concentration, determination and trusting your body to deliver. This is what sports people mean when they talk about flow. It’s a place where our perception of the challenge we are facing is matched by our perception of our ability to meet that challenge.
“It’s lack of faith that makes people afraid of meeting challenges”
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow in Sports
For athletes, challenges take the form of competition. A competition is simply a means to test your training against your opponent, the course or the terrain. Be interested and curious about what happens and use it to inform your training. As Benjamin Zander says in his book, The Art of Possibility, when things go wrong instead of cursing, exclaim “HOW FASCINATING!” – try it, its’ truly transformative.
I suspect this is as true in “normal life” as it is in sport. The knowledge (or faith) that you can handle anything that comes your way is the key to allowing yourself to take risks. If you’re taking risks you’re moving out of your comfort zone; If you’re moving out of your comfort zone, you’re stretching your ability; if you’re stretching your ability, you’re expanding your capability; if you’re expanding your capability you’re well on your way to developing the knowledge that you can handle anything that comes your way!
Back to coaching. My job is to help raise your awareness of where you are now in comparison to where you want to be. Once you’ve identified the gap you can then decide how to close it and who might help you do that.
“If you want to continue to get better, then you speak and listen to as many people as you can and take on board the things you think will help you”
Andy Murray, interview in The Times, 2006
For me this is the approach of an independent learner, competitor or anyone else who wants to change something in their life. If I can help get you to this place then I’ve done my job.