Monday, 22 October 2012

you must leeaaarrrrn...

Developing a philosophy is a process that most of us do sub-consciously; the lives we live, the experiences we experience, our innate morals and ethics, and the relationships we develop all help us in this.  Many business leaders, teachers, and politicians develop philosophies as a necessary part of their careers.  ‘Life-coaches’ are now recommending the process of personal philosophy development to their clients; books are being sold; conferences are being sold-out.  Personal philosophy is big-business...

...and while it is a good and useful thing for all, it is a requirement for a coach.

A coach develops a philosophy to help guide their planning.  Without understanding your methodology, how can a coach even begin to put together a program?  How can he justify the program to his athletes once it is developed?  How can he know what to change if something goes wrong?  Justification of a personal or coaching philosophy should be a constant , on-going, and consistent process.  This is the ‘natural’ part of our development as coaches - the part we don’t really cognitively think about, be we do and experience on a daily basis. As well as these daily developments, we should set aside periods of structured justification.  I try to to this at least once a month, and have done it as often as daily, when our strength group used to meet on a daily basis to discuss certain concepts. The process could be just me sitting alone in a coffee shop, and questioning some of the things I do.  Or it could be more formal meetings with athletes, support staff, and other coaches.  Or anything in between...

The biggest systematic part of the evolution of my coaching philosophy occurs once a year during the break between competitive seasons. Each year, as part of my debrief protocol of the season prior, I do a bit of a ‘spring clean’: a large reassessment, where I review the previous year - what went well - what went not so well - why this was so, etc. - and begin to prepare for the upcoming season.  This year, I took it back a couple of steps further, and I studied my justifications of everything within my system - from the most basic to the most complicated. It has been a very enjoyable process, which has allowed me to really zero in on what is important, and led me into more study into the science of philosophy.  

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to write a little about this synthesis process, but today - just a little background on how I feel the philosophy development process seems to work (at least for us coaches):

I see it as a four-step process:

1. Exploration: Without much information or experience, we slowly begin to find our way - taking influences from large varieties of sources and inspirations, we begin to explore many different information avenues, and begin to find which of them we can best use to find our own way.

2. Information: As our passions rise, and our energies soar, we begin to collect information like it’s going out of style.  It is through this early part of our lives and careers where mentors can be especially important in guiding us through what can be an overwhelming process.  Especially in the present age, the amount of information we have available can be intimidating.  It is this step where I feel most coaches get a little lost, and begin to struggle.  Overwhelmed by information, they never really develop a succinct philosophy, and without guiding principles, we have nowhere to turn when things go wrong.  Basically, it becomes an ever-lasting series of ‘blow it up and start agains’.   Conversely, rushing through this step - trying to develop a philosophy without the requisite information is also problematic: this is where we see a lot of average coaches.  Examples are the coaches who cling steadfastly to what they have always done - perhaps what worked for them when they were athletes; dogmatic in their beliefs, but lacking the basic information necessary to convincingly justify their positions.  Our guiding philosophies, at this point, are usually very heavily influenced by others.  Opinions are not strong, and can be quite fluid in form.  We must not be afraid to  experiment freely - it is important that the information we gain is practical; and the most successful in this process are usually the ones that have failed often in their practical application of their principles. 

3. Knowledge: as we develop more breadth to our information base - giving us additional perspectives, we simultaneously begin the process of synthesis.  Some information may not fit with our admittedly malleable philosophies, and we quickly dispose of it.  Through this process, we begin to become knowledgable.  We develop a certain expertise.  Opinions are now predominantly our own, and are usually not borrowed from others.  Our outlines of our programs don’t change much from year to year; details often do, but our methods remain constant.  We don’t change guides half-way up the mountain.

4. Wisdom: As we develop our information base; as we begin the process of information synthesis, we to continue to learn - but a majority of new information comes from subjects outside of our particular area of expertise - where we begin the four-step process again - just in a field that others may not see as necessarily related.  It is this ’lateral thinking’ that gives perspective and breadth to our knowledge, and it is when we begin to synthesize a variety of different subjects together where we develop true wisdom.  We began our careers, and our adult lives, as generalists - not having enough information to have specific opinions on any one topic, we form general opinions on many.  Throughout the course of the development of our philosophies, we became specialists - zeroing in on specific domains - what was important to us, and the impact it had on our lives.  Through this final process, we again become generalists - we acquire sufficient knowledge to be seen as ‘experts’ in a number of domains, and it is how we link these varying domains together that truly define our legacies.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

It's not whether you win or lose, but...

Having worked with athletes in Canada, the United States, and Britain, I have often spoke of the difference in the development of high-performance in all three - and specifically, the differences in the philosophy of participation vs winning at young ages. How sport is approached at the younger age-groups is often a remarkably good predictor of the types of athletes that are produced at the top-end.  
Aron McGuire - a former decathlete and National Team Bobsled athlete for the United States is well-suited to discuss this topic.  As the Associate Director of Championship and National Teams for USA Track and Field, Aron has vast experience in all levels of sport in the United states.  Like me, he questions whether there is too much emphasis ‘participation’, and not enough on ‘winning’ - a construct that has recently begun creeping more and more into the US system...

It's not whether you win or lose, but...
a guest-post from Aron McGuire
Over the next month, the Unites States presidential candidates will participate in series of four debates. President Obama will debate Mitt Romney in arguably the most anticipated events of the campaign season. It will be critical for each candidate to influence voters, sway public opinion and connect with the masses with topics which will include foreign policy, unemployment rates and local economics. President Obama and Mitt Romney will need to be prepared to present their plans and opinions, as well as react to the other candidate’s comments.
Preparation is essential for winning the championship game, getting an A on a final exam or landing a dream job, but knowing what and how to prepare play a greater role to a successful outcome. Keeping score is something we all experience at an early age and, most often, keeping score and determining winners and losers is associated with sports. Everyone knows who won the World Cup or the Super Bowl. Several years ago, a trend of not keeping score at youth soccer leagues and baseball games started becoming popular. Perhaps the organizers want to encourage kids to have fun and exercise without the stress of focusing on winning or losing or parents want to spare their child hurt feelings of losing the game. Despite the intention, these organizers and parents are depriving the kids of an opportunely to develop one of life’s most critical skills – the ability to evaluate preparation.
One of the best things of sports at an early age is the development of life skills. We learn teamwork, goal setting, respect for others, hard work, etc. These life skills, if taught correctly, become valuable assets throughout our lives. Preparation is one of the key factors that influence successful outcomes, but more importantly, possessing the ability to evaluate the effectiveness of preparation is critical life skill that leads to future successful outcomes. Preparation is important but knowing what and how to prepare is critical. The earlier this skill is learned the sooner it can be used. Feedback is needed to evaluate preparation and develop the ability to evaluate the preparation. There are very few situations in life which provide immediate feedback better then the score of a game. The score lets us know if the training and practice we’ve been doing has been effective. Have we run enough miles, taken enough shots on goal or spent enough time in the weight room?
Possessing the ability to evaluate our preparation isn’t limited to sports. Let’s take look at a job interview. Most job interviews involve many applicants applying for one position. Basically, there is one winner and a bunch of losers. We provide the company with our resume, research the position and interview with someone or a group of people from the company. If we are fortunate to be the one winner and receive an offer for the job, we can determine that our preparation was effective. If we aren’t so fortunate and receive the disappointing form letter from HR thanking us for our time, we can conclude that we may need to update our resume, spend more time researching the position or work on our interview skill before applying for the next job. 
As President Obama and Mitt Romney prepare for the upcoming debates, they will spend many hours preparing themselves on global economics, health care and the role of the government. How effective their preparation is will play a key role in their success. Although the winner of the debates in unknown at the moment, perhaps one indication may be who played the most sports as child and did they keep score?