Monday, 28 October 2013

Optimizing the Positive Potential of Coach-Athlete Interactions

I love being a coach...

Coaching continues to be one of the great joys in my life.  Each one of us acts on our values, our ambition, our passion.  If you work hard, opportunity comes along and your hard work puts you in the place where you can jump off and do the things that actualize your passion.  Every person has their own starting place, their own story, their own unique pathway that has gotten them to where they are.  My own story isnt one that includes lots of opportunity as a child.  I knew from a young age that being an athlete was what I wanted to be.  My family was not a sports family and any and all opportunity I was presented with came from the public schools I attended.  I think its why I dreamed of becoming a phys ed teacher.  The idea of being an athlete was my own.  I owned it.  It came from my dreams.  It was a couple of high school phys ed teachers who vailidated my ambition that helped me actualize my vision.  It was the influence of some caring adults who helped me to change the way I thought about my potential and give me the courage to go for it.  Coaches play a huge role in the way young people see themselves and the possibilities that exist when you work for what you get.  No matter what you do or dont accomplish as an athlete, the way that you see the world can change in a positive way when you have a coach that helps you set your sights on some appropriate targets.

The more I read and the longer I am on this planet, the more that I realize that the important stuff is about working hard, about continuous learning, about seeing a picture of where you want to go and what you want to be.  Along the way its important to have friends - friendships that are recipricol in nature - ones where you give and receive equally.  I've recently rediscovered the joy of having a best friend and how having a deeper friendship with someone can change the way you see your world.    Carol Dweck, in her book Mindset, points out that friends can give each other wisdom and courage to make growth enhancing choices. For me part of the learning is reading - reading material that gets me thinking - that stretches my perception of what I can do and fuels me with ideas of how to get there.  One of these books has been Mindset by Carol Dweck.  In it Dweck speaks to the role of coaches, teachers, parents in helping create the type of thinking framework that helps people become their best. Isnt this really what coaching is all about?  helping kids become their best.  For me, its certainly why I coach. But why blog about it?  Who cares really about what one dude thinks.  I blog as a way of processing my learning - there are alot of great ideas in a book like Mindset - for me blogging is about synthesizing ideas into manageable bites.   Here is some more of the takeaway from this book.

What we say to the kids we coach matters

Delivering the message that 'success is about hard work' is something that is important to me.  When we give that message to kids it says - if I work hard, if I am persistent, if I focus on learning I will improve.  Its important for kids to own their effort and to see the link between success and hard work.  No successful champion of anything worthwhile has acheived something just on natural talent.  What is particularly astounding is someone like a Marit Bjoergen, World and Olympic cross country ski champion who continues to be at the top of her game for 8-10 years.  How is this possible - not natural ability alone - but a willingness to work as hard as she can to do everything in her power to be the best that she can be.  A sport like cross country ski racing I think has hard work built into it and its perhaps why as a sport it appeals to those with a growth mindset - someone who says to themselves 'I am going to work hard to be my best'.

How we praise kids matters

Focusing on the effort and choices is something Dweck says is critical to helping kids grow because it focuses on the piece that kids can control.  No one can control natural abilities - so focusing on it sends the message that 'you were born this way, destined for greatness'.  Praising talent or the outcome can set kids up when they hit a snag and don't win and their confidence goes out the window and their motivation hits rock bottom.  How many times have we seen this with young skiers in cross country skiing where early success kids drop out as soon the late developers catch up.  For me, its important to give these early developers the right mindset that focuses not on talent or outcome but instead on effort.  We lose too many early developers from our sport and its almost accepted as normal and expected - early development in cross country skiing can almost be seen as a curse because the pattern seeems to be 'win early on talent and size, then drop out later when the going gets tough'.  Its important that we don't give a message that leads kids to think to themselves 'I won because I have talent. Therefore I will keep winning'. We can't afford to do this in our sport. It just isnt big enough in Canada to be so reckless with young people.   Instead, we need to focus our work on developing a culture of hard work, effort, and perseverance.

How we help kids deal with disappoinment matters

Lets face it, as an individual race type sport, most kids who try out racing never get on the podium.  What we say to these kids can help them develop the tools for success later on.  As coaches, do we champion the champions or do we focus on developing a culture of 'hard work leads to success'. 

Dweck offers a few great ideas of things to say to kids experiencing disappointment

- I like the effort you put in, but lets work together and figure out what you didnt understand

- We all have different learning curves - it may take some more time for you to catch on to this, but if you keep at it, you will improve

- Skills and achievement come through effort and commitment

We live in a world now where so many parents bubble wrap their children - avoiding sports and situations where their children might experience set back or disappointment.  Here is a great response Dweck shares in Mindset of a parent helping his daughter deal with a competition result she was disappointed with.

"I know how you feel.  It is so disappointing to have your hopes up and to perform your best but not to win.  But you know, you havent really earned it yet.  There are many girls here who have been at it longer and who have worked harder than you.  If its something you want, then it is something you will have to really work for".


I love being a coach.  It provides an opportunity everyday to shape the future of young people.  It provides me with chances to show concern, be compassionate and have consideration for others.  You never know what kind of influence you might have on a young person through helping them be their best.  I like to keep it fun but focus on the bigger ideas - the learning that comes from deliberate and thoughtful interactions that promote growth.

Its already winter in our part of the world.  Time to strap on my skis and enjoy the incredible feeling that is cross country skiing.

Roy Strum
Canmore, AB

No comments:

Post a Comment