Athletic Readiness, Motivation & Commitment

So off the back of a brief conversation in the twittersphere concerning a previous blog, Jo Carritt of Everyday Training and I came up with the idea of a collaborative piece on the murky and expansive topic of motivation and ultimately, athletic readiness.

Readiness, motivation and commitment
An idea is born!

The plan is to integrate Jo’s insight and coaching nouse with an alternative perspective from me in the hope of coming up with something worthy of practical application for both the coach and athlete. So here we go:

Jo: 

It’s always great as a coach when people come and congratulate me on the performances of the athletes that I work with, and as I’m working with ever more athletes within my local community, this seems to be happening with increasing frequency. Of course, I cant and don’t take all of the credit for their success, and am always fast to point out that it’s the athletes themselves who do all the hard work - I just provide the guidance and advice that enable them to get the best effect from their commitment.

There are a couple of athletes in particular who generate a great deal of praise for my coaching, and are widely admired within our community – widely admired, because they are widely known. But whilst they’re achieving great results and showing improvements that their peers find remarkable, I know that it’s the result of deep commitment and hard work…born of a true love for doing it.

These people live and breathe their training. But, not just THEIR training -  they give they share, they talk about, they interact, they get involved, and they support others too.

During a conversation with an admiring friend of one particular woman that I coach, I remarked that .. “She’s not one of these athletes who’s all about “me” and “my training” ….”    And this made me think – perhaps that’s part of what enables her to work so hard, be so dedicated. A deep love of the sport that she’s become part of. Or in other words…intrinsic motivation.

I’ve written and spoken a lot about motivation and goal-setting through the period that I’ve been racing, learning, mentoring and coaching triathlon.  Sports psychology and the aspects of NLP that relate to it are really interesting to me and I read and think a lot about these topics.  This interaction has me wondering if whether I might have attributed more importance to the GOAL than the motivation framework that it lies within.

Having goals with strong emotional resonance for season to season motivation is very important for most of us. Even so, I’ve worked with a number of athletes who’ve had very clear GOALS and a genuine desire to achieve them….but those goals turn out to be unrealistic for the amount of energy that they want to put into achieving them. As this becomes apparent through the coaching process, the goal is devalued and their motivation easily disintegrates. I believe that a big part of my role coach to help steer an athlete away from this vicious cycle (ie lack of motivation>less inclination to train> poor training frequency> results that don’t reflect progress towards the goal> further lack of motivation) and towards goals that are in line with the lifestyle and importance of triathlon within the priorities of the athlete.…without killing their hopes of course!!

For example, many people have the basic physical capabilities to qualify for Kona, (the Ironman World Championships) which is THE  most common goal for talented long-distance triathletes. It’s what they’re willing/able to do to become the best in their age-group that sets apart those who actually get to wear a lai around their neck. If it’s a chore – and all coaches have worked with athletes for whom they feel like they’re having to persuade them to complete each training session -  then it’s just not going to happen.

If the training process and trying each day to being the best you can be in the pool, on the bike, running the hills, in the gym …is what gives you your buzz, is what makes you YOU…then you’re on your way to success. And you’re a pleasure to coach!

But, obviously these clients are a small minority.  So, how can I, as a coach, tap into this type of motivation in order to instill it on the more “goal/task oriented” athlete and benefit them? These people, on the whole are willing to work just as hard for what they want…and to invest in the services of a coach to help them….it just doesn’t flow quite as easily for them.

Is this due to the direction that their motivation comes from? How does one determine that at an early stage in the coaching relationship? And can we help to turn that? Or do we simply learn other methods to engage with athletes with different types of motivation? Are there “good” and “bad” motivational origins???

Andy:

The first thing to notice is that motivation is a broad and multifactorial topic.  Many of the questions raised Jo’s post are centered around different types or sources of motivation and the variable climate and coaching dynamic they might influence. To best respond to these conundrums, I'll adopt a broader perspective and focus on the idea of ‘readiness’.

How to determine athletic Readiness
How do you know if you are ready?

The topic of readiness something I encounter frequently with my work regarding obesity and seemed like a unique angle to approach as it is often overlooked. For example, when an individual is considering dieting it is  important to establish that they are ready, willing and able to undertake the challenge that lies ahead.  Within the context of the questions Jo poses, there are numerous parallels that exist with the client who is looking to diet and the athlete who is considering getting coached toward a specific goal. I believe that taking the time to understand the readiness of an athlete can be the difference between a successful and exasperating coach-athlete relationship!

Why is readiness important? 

First of all it is crucial to understand the importance of readiness. That is, knowing that wanting something, and being ready for it are not the same thing. Using Jo's example, I might really want to qualify for Kona. This however doesn’t mean that I’m ready to undertake and prepare myself for the qualification process. Being ready means I’ve organised my life to the point where I have enough time and resources to train and recover to give me the best possible chance of qualifying. While I can theoretically qualify without being truly ‘ready’, the chances of doing so are greatly enhanced if conditions are in my favour. This is so self-evident it hardly seems worth mentioning. But is often an important question we might forget to ask!

So now we appreciate why readiness is important, how do we actually assess whether someone is ready to achieve their goals?

This is where it gets tricky. There is no real way to know for sure as to whether someone is ready until they try. But that doesn’t mean we have to rush in without attempting some basic levels of enquiry.

After having established whether an athlete’s goals are vaguely realistic, we can try to understand if their goals exist for the 'right' reasons. Obviously this is tricky ground and I preach extreme caution around quarrelling with the values of an athlete (don't), but we know that engaging in a challenge is more likely to be intrinsically enjoyable and motivating if:

  1. The athlete is doing it for themselves, not for someone else (e.g. to prove them wrong - although this can be a powerful motivator)
  2. Borne out of self-respect and not self-hatred
  3. They have accurately weighed up the true costs of what they are committing to
  4. They don't see goal as a solution to a problem they have. (In and of itself, winning a race or a medal, or even comparing favourably to others in athletic terms won't make you happy)
  5. Is their goal or challenge personally meaningful?

These are all ideas worth discussing in preliminary conversations with an athlete. It is important to stress there is no right or wrong answer. But gaining a better insight into the reasons behind the goals of an athlete can allow you to assess whether they might be ready in a little more of an objective fashion. If all of their responses point in one worrying direction, it is not unreasonable to assume that there might be something else going on an that there might be bigger fish to fry!

Readiness, motivation and commitment

While its good to know a little bit more about the 'why', readiness is also about motivation and commitment.

Motivation

While athletes are often guilty of saying what they think a coach wants to hear (and the coaches equally guilty of taking this at face value) getting the athlete to rate their motivation out of 10 can be simple way to assess their readiness. Compare their motivation now with past efforts. If they have a special goal, is there actually anything particularly special about now? If not, is there anything they can do to make it different right now? Again, a few more pertinent questions here will uncover any uncertainty in their desire to pursue a given challenge. A good dose of honesty here might save a lot of frustration down the road.

Commitment

Commitment should also be discussed and is another idea that is often confused with motivation. Commitment can be thought about as how to how long motivation is likely to last. Lots of people can be motivated for a couple of weeks or maybe even a couple of months. But when the same sessions keep rolling around, and its deepest darkest winter our desire to train can fast diminish. Remember that certain 'favourite behaviours' are likely to have to go in service of lofty goals. Appreciate also that lots of things can affect commitment, such as the behaviour and attitudes of those around you.Is the wife, partner or family onside? Again, its vital that you discuss these openly and honestly without judgement. Its ok to say you don't want to be a world champion. Remember that everything has a cost. Are your life circumstances now a suitable environment in which to take on the challenges ahead? If not, is there anything you can do to alter this?

commitment
It might be a long road ahead, and commitment will be required

If any sense of ambivalence still remains, nothing beats a good old pros/cons style list. Sit down with the athlete or get them to write out what they might gain, and what they will have to sacrifice in service of their goals. As you can see below, written down in the cold light of day, my aspirations of heading to the big island don't stack up so well!

Gains Sacrifices
·      Sense of personal satisfaction

·      Appreciation from peers regarding dedication required to achieve goal

·      Enjoyment of new and sought after race experience

 

·      Consistent early morning training sessions

·      Lack of social time due to extensive training commitments

·      Loss of training freedom

·      Financial cost of (numerous?) qualification attempts, and race entry

·      Financial cost of coaching

·      Holiday sacrifice for training and race weekends

 

So there it is. Perhaps more questions than answers and no clear cut way to assess the readiness of an athlete with absolute certainty, but hopefully some places to start. It is also important to remember that just because the athlete might not be ready now, doesn’t mean they will never be. Alternative, more suitable goals might even become apparent to both the coach and athlete by working through the process above. Give it a whirl, and let us know what you find! Whatever you do, leave your ego at the door, and be honest with yourself and your coach/athlete.

Rugby Tour – Lessons learned

What a few days I have had. I'm finally on my way home after a very long week that began with a stag-do in Wales before heading straight to Switzerland to meet up with my brother and join his school's Rugby tour. It was an enjoyable if tiring week and I thought I'd use the flight home to reflect upon the experience.

Prepare (to be flexible)

I'd made several attempts in the months and weeks leading up to the tour to try to work out exactly what they wanted from me in terms of S&C.  As time progressed, it became clear that things might be subject to change. Even on arrival, as we discussed the week ahead with the helpful reps at Brown's Sport an Leisure, things were shifting. We originally had two slots in the gym, both on the same day.  We managed to secure a third, but that was the day before the double gym day, and the day after both of the sides on tour had their first game of rugby. So in addition to a lack of clarity on the exact calibre of individuals I'd be working with, there was also uncertainty around the the condition they would be in.  All that was clear was that the timetabling was far from ideal.
The ISZL Junior Varsity Rugby Team preparing for their game in Seville
The ISZL Junior Varsity Rugby Team preparing for their game in Seville

In addition to delivering the gym sessions with them, I was also in charge of getting them prepared for their games and training sessions. The first session a great time to assess what I would be working with. I think that warm ups not only serve as a great way to do this, but can provide insight into the character strengths of the group. When you set them a novel physical challenge, how do they respond? Who gives it a go no matter what, who doesn't even attempt it?  This week I used Dan John's 'get back up' warm up for part of the first warm up. It requires minimal instruction, and as well as a good laugh, when you ask 33 adolescents to do a straight arm plank with their arms behind their back, you start to see who the more determined and creative really are. Unsurprisingly, there was a real mix of physical and character-based competency in the group.

By the time we reached their third and final gym session of the week, they were all physically quite tired and mentally exhausted. It was a hot day and so I moved the session more to a theory based one. I took them through some of the considerations of a warm up, the basic movement patterns of the human body and how they might construct a workout when they next go to the gym. To test their learning, we challenged them to take their own warm up the next morning. I was pleased to say that they delivered a RAMP-based protocol that would bring a smile to the face of even the sternest UKSCA assessor.
With the information available prior to the tour, it would have been hard to plan much more than I did. In hindsight, what was useful however was condensing and integrating an ongoing assessment process into the work I was doing with the boys. Challenging them early and often. Talking to them to find out how they responding. Observing at them at breakfast and lunch and dinner to see how spritely or exhausted they might be. Most importantly being prepared to change and acting on that feedback.

Developing Strength (of character)

Like many S&C coaches, developing strength in those I work with is a high priority. Sometimes however, this might not be in a physical sense. The tour was sharing the facilities at Browns with Leicester Tigers Academy and I managed to sneak a couple of opportunities (via the medium of beer) to talk to some of the guys at Leicester. I was intrigued to know what they looked for in their academy players from a physical standpoint. While not ignoring the basic physical requirements of the game at the elite level, their coach, however referred more to the importance of strength of character as something they look for in their players. A goal of the tour was for the boys to develop as rugby players. I think many of them did. As a group of highly priveleged individuals however, several of them also had a lot to learn about independence, humility, and respect too. As a rugby team, at their level, arguably these qualities might be even more important than their physical prowess when if comes to team performance.
The ISZL Varsity rugby team completing their warm up under flood-lights
The ISZL Varsity rugby team completing their warm up under flood-lights
To me, the gym environment is as much a place to learn about these character strengths as it is one's physicality. This I think was exampled well with their first main session in the gym. I had a sit down with the boys at the beginning of the session in to find out what they did when (if) they went to the gym. As you can imagine, many of their responses were characterised by bicep curls and precious little consistency in rep schemes or attendance. When I asked them what they wanted to get out of the sessions, they said they wanted to learn how to bench. Running with it, I asked them how many pressups they thought they could do. One responded with forty, many with 15-20. Then a student came out with 'he means the ones he showed us' (i.e. proper ones). At which point many of the students revised their estimates downwards by 10-15.  I then asked them to get into a straight arm plank, cueing them as necessary to reach a good position. Once they were all in position, I stood there, just calling out small adjustments to individuals who started to deviate from good form. Within a minute more than half of them had dropped to their knees. Some of the bigger and older boys in the team were also somewhat upstaged by their significantly younger counterparts. The exercise was not meant to be humiliating for anyone involved and I don’t think it was. They were all tired, and many of them struggled. Having bonded well throughout the week, it was great to see a healthy dose of humility amongst them. I think in that moment they began to learn the principle of 'earning the right’ and what it really means to ‘leaving your ego at the door’ They certainly won’t have gained much of a physical stimulus from the session, nor would I have wanted them to considering their timetable.

Creating a culture and opportunities for growth

As I’ve alluded to, a big part of the tour was about creating and exposing the boys to an environment in which they could develop. I have to commend my brother and Mark Newman for bringing it all together. But as good a job as was done on this in clearly explaining what was expected of each and every one of them, outlining the tour ethos and providing ample feedback, some individuals were just not as ready as others. Everyone’s personal journey is not something that cannot be forced. I think its entirely natural for any coach to want the best for their charges, but the bottom line is, some either lack the self-awareness or confidence to take the first steps on that journey. It has made me reflect upon in my own sessions that I coach, am I doing my best to culture an environment for the development of those that I work with. I know I can do better, and it will be something I will be working on over the coming sessions, weeks and months.
Huelva rugby team wanted to take this photo to support Alberto Aláiz - a Spanish rugby player who suffered a serious spinal injury this month playing the game he loves
Huelva rugby team wanted to take this photo to support Alberto Aláiz - a Spanish rugby player who suffered a serious spinal injury this month playing the game he loves. To me this is what rugby and sport is all about.

Meeting of the Minds International Online Conference 2015 – A Summary

First of all, may I congratulate and thank Brendan (and all the quality speakers) on another great online strength and conditioning conference - Meeting of the Minds 2015. I tuned in last year and it really is an innovative idea that seems to work very well.

For those that didn't catch it all, I've included a Storify timeline of some of the main tweets throughout this year's Meeting of the Minds online conference. Over the next week, I will put together a post with some more detailed thoughts.

In the mean time, share, tweet and enjoy!

SGCP 4th International Congress of Coaching Psychology 2014 Review

SGCP 4th International Congress of Coaching Psychology

International Congress of Coaching Psychology

Sport, Performance and Coaching Psychology Stream

I just wanted to post up a quick review of the Coaching Psychology Conference I attended on Thursday 11th December last week. Having recently discussed the need for awareness of organisations such as the SGCP to those involved with coaching, it seemed like opportune timing to put my own advice into action. Considering my background, I was naturally drawn to attend the Sport, Performance and Coaching Psychology stream, chaired by Professor Sandy Gordon, and Dr Sophia Jowett. As such, I decided to attend this stream in its entirety and have summarised my thoughts below. Hopefully my insight will be of some use to others.

The opening address

Image of Professor Mary Watts
Professor Mary Watts

The opening address was delivered by Professor Mary Watts who spoke about the title of the congress ‘Changing lives, Changing Worlds - Inspiring Collaborations’. She recounted experiences across her career in particular noting that despite the various roles she has fulfilled, due to the cross-disciplinary nature of coaching, regardless of title/function there is always an opportunity to learn. Professor Watts mentioned that when it comes to learning, inclusivity has been a foundational principle in promoting the collaborative nature of the SGCP and her own personal journey.  This certainly struck a chord with me, and seemed to align with the notion of ‘humble authority’ that I also try to apply. In essence, everybody brings something to the table, and we can all learn something from it if we are willing.

Sport Psychology, Performance Psychology and Coaching Psychology - Professor Sandy Gordon

Headshot of Professor Sandy Gordon
Professor Sandy Gordon

The morning session of the Sport Performance and Coaching Psychology Stream was introduced and kicked off by Professor Sandy Gordon who began with a discussion of the interface between Sport Psychology, Performance Psychology and Coaching Psychology. He set out, that with regard to the aforementioned topics, practitioners are working with those who operate in a space that is ultimately measured by external demands, yet requires enhancements in skills and behaviours that must be intrinsically motivated. In terms of the practical applications, the appropriateness of a strengths-based approach was evaluated. The notion that in times of stress, it is our strengths that we default to, that few of us like working on our weaknesses, and rarely will we be able to turn them into strengths. I especially like the line:

'success is like teflon, failure is like velcro'

 It is well known that we ‘learn from mistakes’ and these memories stay with us. That should not dissuade us from trying to learn from our successes also.

The Coaching Relationship: Its Role and Significance for Success and Satisfaction - Dr. Sophia Jowett

Head shot of Dr. Sophia Jowett
Dr. Sophia Jowett

Having studied Dr. Jowett’s work on the coach athlete relationship with reasonable interest at university, due to the time constraints for the talk, it was very much covering old ground for me. I was however intrigued to hear about the release of a new tool called Tandem (http://event.tandemperformance.com), which seems to be an app that can quickly measure and score aspects of the coach-athelte relationship. As a well validated tool, this could be a very useful app for future coaching practice. Questions after the talk explored the implications of perspective of the coach-athlete relationship (i.e. it is dyadic). More specifically, what does this mean for environments whereby more than one coach is involved with a given athlete, and how does each dyad influence the ‘coaching culture’ within which it exists. After the talk, I did also ponder the negative aspects of coaching relationships and how these might influence outcome. It is clear that relationships that might be considered of lower quality by the 3+1C’s model can still perform at the highest level in terms of results achieved. What negative aspects of these relationships might be adaptive? Might a more harmonious relationship even lead to worse results? What would be the ethical implications of such a finding. Really interesting stuff, and just a shame the slot was too short to allow for greater discussion.

Paradoxical functions of exercising in women with anorexia nervosa - Dr. Liv Jorun Kolnes

This was another talk that seemed to sit very neatly into an area of personal and professional interest. Dr. Kolnes presentation focused specifically on exploring the meaning of compulsive exercise to AN-restrictive inpatients. The research aimed to potentially provide coaches with a broadened understanding of compulsive exercise in these individuals and in general.

Three key themes were identified relating to compulsive exercise in this population:

1) Emotion regulation, distraction and escape

2) Embodied emotional stress

3) Provides identity and belonging

It was an interesting talk. Especially because it seemed clear that there the meaning of exercise can appear to be implicated in a potentially beneficial emotional pathway. It seems it is not just solely a method of escape, but a way in which the patients can feel and get in touch with their emotions. However, the continuation of exercise can often extend recovery in those with AN, and with the role it can play in promoting a negative energy balance, this might just be another manifestation of an egosyntonic feature of AN. So no clear actions to be taken from this, and it would be irresponsible to suggest that there should be a place for exercise for those recovering from AN. However, when you consider some of the similarities of elite athletes and those with ED mindsets, the themes above would seem to shed light upon what exercise might mean and the function it might serve. Further exploration might allow us to know which features of exercise we might culture in a prophylactic manner to those at risk, or even for widespread benefit.

Internal Coaching: The Inside Story - Katharine St John-Brooks

After a short break, I returned to the stream’s workshop. Not working as an internal coach myself, I did ponder whether another talk might be better to attend, but took the advice of the David Tee with regard to Congress Logistics, and embraced the opportunity as serendipitous. After an introduction to her research exploring the rewards and challenges of being an internal coach, we were split into groups to work through an ethical dilemma. Although the research was focused specifically on internal coaching. I felt it certainly applied to any form of coaching within a broader organisational structure. The ethical dilemma, is also not one exclusive to internal coaches. My personal take-homes from this exercise were:

  1. The need for a robust coaching contract at the outset of a coaching relationship. This brings perspective and congruency to a coach’s behaviour in relation to the dilemma. As part of this contract,  firm ethical guidelines should be integrated into this agreement.
  2. Know your skill-set. Often it is not appropriate to ‘diagnose’ or to think we should attempt to solve a problem ourselves if it is outside our realm of expertise.
  3. The benefit of supervision. Dilemmas are dilemmas for a reason. A fresh perspective can often be both  reassuring, protective and productive.

This was probably the only session I had not decided I would attend before the conference. It made me wonder what other talks I might also have found so productive had there been the opportunity. Were there too many streams? Did the conference paradoxically dilute the opportunities for collaboration by offering too much choice?

Mindfulness, Ego-regulation and Psychological Momentum in Golf - Graham Kingma

This research was as interesting as it was complex. Coming from a background as a professional golfer, Graham’s work concentrated on a clearly interrelated but very intricate area of psychology that sits somewhere between coaching, sport and performance.  Despite this, the golf theme certainly seemed to draw in a big crowd!  Having conducted my own combinations of qualitative/quantitative research on small sample sizes, I’m not one to bemoan the inherent questionable statistical validity of the results, but nor am I one to ignore the potential value of such work. I was naturally drawn to the immediate conceptual juxtapositions of ideas such as psychological momentum (essentially time-bound) and mindfulness (in the moment). The non-judgmental nature of mindfulness with regard to ‘failure’ schema (inherently judgemental). However, both throughout the talk, and in discussion with Graham after, he was able to propose the potential value of their unexpected fusion. A further point that arose was the benefit of coaching of mindfulness with specific application to the discipline of golf. Throughout my own daily practice of mindfulness, I constantly derive benefit from domain specific application of the practice, and was glad to see this reflected in the research.

Coaching Psychology in Sport & Athletic Career Development: Narratives of Young Talented & Retired Professional Football Players - Dr. Ho Law & Unnur Maria Birgisdottir

This talk was based on research that came from a blend of narrative and coaching psychology. As opposed to focusing on the technical and tactical skills one might normally think of regarding coaching in football, it compared the experiences of young, up and coming footballers, with those of retired footballers to see if the comparison could be of benefit to players or coaching psychologists.

While the younger players' views were optimistic and progressive relating to  dreams and hopes of their future, this was in stark contrast to the more pessimistic and regressive viewpoint of retired footballers. The retired players stressed the value of relationships and the expectations and pressure of a career in football.  This was summarised by ‘pretty picture vs rough reality’ scenario that poses questions about the role retired players might play in helping to communicate the realities of elite sport to youngsters.

Goal Orientation in Coaching Psychology: Setting performance targets may be counterproductive to long-term performance - Kim Louw

This was a whirlwind talk, packed full of content with a necessary theoretical intro - and still one of the most enlightening of the day. Kim discussed both the state and trait nature of goal orientation and after a brief review delved into her research.  Alarmingly, it showed that even tiny manipulations were enough elicit the performance approach (aka ego-oriented) state, and that this effect was enough to override one’s trait/personality goal orientation. Since performance approach states are associated with status driven risk taking and subsequent unethical behaviour, the stand-out message for coaches is clearly ‘choose your words very carefully!’. It might only take a couple of words to adversely influence the behaviour of a coachee or athlete. Another insight of note, was that in certain settings it can obviously be difficult to avoid performance oriented goals. In these situations, multiple goal theory might help, whereby inclusion of mastery related goals along with performance approach goals might buffer the negative effect of those that promote performance approach based goal-orientation.

The motivational antecedents and affective consequences of fitness-assessment procrastination: Implications for coaching interventions - Dr Caroline Petherick

Although perhaps not the most robust population selection for this particular research question, once again a consistent coaching message was alluded to - the need for development of an culture that promotes the central principles of self-determination.  Although I probably feel that notion of fitness-assessment procrastination might better be approached from an informational point of view, it was still a talk that also threw up several insights relating to how perfectionistic tendencies and poor body image can present as surprisingly stubborn barriers to exercise in female populations.

Panel Discussion

The Stream was concluded with a 'panel style’ session that was really more of an open forum. The discussion evolved to cover what role the SGCP might fulfil in the future, in particular with regard to its collaborative approach and inclusive nature. Although the discussion regarding a protected status for coaching psychologists was broached, I for one would like to see the SGCP, at an organisational level, engaging with other bodies within the coaching profession to improve the coaching at a foundational level. I feel there are many bodies and groups that could benefit from such a relationship with the SGCP, and that this engagement would also be of mutual benefit to SGCP members.  The strength of coaching psychology is in its collaborative nature, and to make it more exclusive would only serve to generate unnecessary barriers to many of the groups with which it was designed to serve.

Keynote - Wilful Blindness - Margaret Heffernan

Head shot of Margaret Heffernan
Margaret Heffernan

Now I don’t want to just come across seeming like i’d wildly sing the praises of the conference regardless of what I heard, but the keynote for Thursday was really very good. My notes are a little shaky however, after an early start and full day of talks. Perhaps then it wasn’t great at all, and I was just 'wilfully blind', lacking the capacity to critically evaluate the content. Either way, I had not heard of Margaret Heffernan prior to the talk and I will certainly be following up on more of her material, when I can be more certain of my judgment.

Image of Margaret Heffernan delivering keynote talk at SGCP conference
Margaret Heffernan - Image courtesy of @DLeekF pic.twitter.com/sJw4crbi3c

Her talk eloquently reframed the idea of conflict. How in organisational and personal settings, we always seem eager to resolve it, but that it can be protective and productive. People are often afraid to speak up do to fear of the consequences, or merely an impression of futility. Silence however, will only lead to one thing; maintenance of the status quo. It will guarantee it, and at an organisational level, this can be poison. Conflict may not be comfortable, but in what ways can we embrace and harness conflict to make sure we are not ‘wilfully blind'?

Thought provoking stuff indeed

Strength & Conditioning and Coaching Psychology

Strength & Conditioning and Coaching Psychology

At conferences and talks, its quite common to hear Strength and Conditioning Coaches reference the relative balance of 'Strength' and 'Conditioning' in their everyday work. We all follow slightly different pathways into the industry, and with those pathways come individual differences in our skills, philosophies and programming preferences. Coming to Strength and Conditioning from a background of endurance sport, my personal knowledge-base was certainly more skewed towards the conditioning side than strength.
The Intra Strength and Conditioning Coaching Balance
The Intra-Strength and Conditioning Coaching Balance

While I, and I'm sure many coaches alike, continue to work to address these imbalances, it was reflecting upon this process that led me to consider that our relative Strength-to-Conditioning-know-how-ratio is not perhaps the widest gap in most our skill-sets.

Strength and Conditioning is a burgeoning area of academic and applied research. As such, should we wish to develop our theoretical or academic understanding within the field of Strength and Conditioning, the information we might need to bring us up to speed is literally at our fingertips.  These opportunities are well publicised with any number of e-newsletters, subscriptions, workshops and seminars forming an active education sector within the field of Strength and Conditioning. If you don't know your or your MAF from your V02 - no problem.

Now of course, academic knowledge alone does not make a great S&C coach. It is just one component of the bigger picture. Any coach worth their salt knows the lab is not real life, and rarely will the latest journal protocol barely resemble what you might be able to practically implement in training. The point is, when it comes to both the science behind S&C and subsequent application of that knowledge, the field of Strength and Conditioning promotes a widespread awareness of the need for balance if we are to maximise the utility of our practical and scientific understanding.

The lack of Coaching Science in Strength and Conditioning

When it comes to the development of our coaching know-how, I feel we begin to lose that aforementioned balance. While there is clearly no shortage of coaches and organisations stressing the importance of developing our coaching ability, the constructive discourse and application of up to date research in the field is sorely lacking.
Part of the problem, can be summed up well by the predominant notion of "Coaching as an art”. Now I’m not for one second going to even try to deny the creativity, intuition and experience that undeniably contributes to making of a great coach. My issue, is that at some ways, this idea can diminish our responsibility in ascribing structure, critical thought and practice-based evidence on our journey as coaches.  Coaching is not just an art. The ‘science of coaching’, is a field of research that is as valid and as buoyant as that of S&C. Yet despite the existence of area of research that produces systematic, peer reviewed literature, it hardly seems to form a blip on the radar of most S&C coaches. I believe the longer we only mention the requirement for developing our coaching skills, yet continue to define it as some nebulous idea that comes from experience and a bit of gut feel, the wider the gap between our technical S&C knowledge and our applied coaching skills will grow.
The Art of Coaching
The Art of Coaching

The need for Coaching Psychology in Strength and Conditioning 

So what do we do about it? Iron out the inconsistencies and start treating coaching as we do our S&C knowledge - with a bit more scientific and academic rigour. I’m not saying ignore the contributions of creativity, intuition or experience on our individual journeys to becoming a better coach, nor do I wish to overstate the value of ‘scientific evidence’. But as a profession, Strength and Conditioning has a great deal to learn from fields of research that specialise in the coaching domain.

International Coaching Psychology Review
International Coaching Psychology Review
The Special Group for Coaching Psychology (SGCP) for example, was founded approximately a couple of years before the UKSCA. It was done so
"in response to concerns about untrained or poorly trained coaches, and the related need to promote improved standards of practice for the benefit of the profession of coaching, coaches, their clients and the public at large"
The potential application of Coaching Psychology to the role of a Strength and Conditioning coach is as obvious as it is (seemingly) absent.  Strength and Conditioning is a cross-disciplinary field, and must integrate the working knowledge of physiologists, biomechanists, physical therapists, nutritionist/dieticians etc on a daily basis. I think it would do well to increase its integration and with that of Psychology and in particular, Coaching Psychology. Coaching Psychology is about the practical and considered application of the art AND the science of coaching in service of our clients' goals. To consider coaching as just art, and to leave our development as S&C coaches in the hands of the anecdotal, I believe is a disservice to both ourselves and our athletes.
The Art AND Science of Coaching
The Art AND Science of Coaching
In future posts I hope to distill some of the more recent learnings from the field of Coaching Psychology in relation to S&C and would urge you, if you don't already, to consider doing the same.