Tuesday, 5 March 2013

I am are wrong

OK, I promise - this will be the last post on Performance Therapy for a while, and to be honest, it’s not really going to be on performance therapy anyway...if you’re interested in performance therapy, please check out parts I, II, and III, and my little 500 word introduction. 

Instead, - and following on from Part III - this post will address my struggles in over-coming some of the roadblocks that I have encountered during my coaching career, how I learned from these struggles, how they have made me a better coach, and what this means to us coaches who are simply trying to do a better job...

I began this series as a bit of an exploration into the blurring of roles...more and more, we are beginning to see professionals in strength and conditioning branch out into sport therapy, and vice versa...more and more, we are seeing nutritionists work as strength coaches...Doctors getting into nutrition, etc...

But as one group of people move closer together, another pulls farther apart...comfortable in the status quo, many are resistant to the change, perhaps confused as to where their own futures lie...


I’ve thrown that word out now a couple of times...but looking back, I wasn’t really aware of them.  Sure - there were challenges...there always are when you’re doing considered out of the ordinary (a coach doing ‘therapy’ on the side of the track and in the weight-room was definitely - at least at the time - ‘out of the ordinary’).  But I didn’t really look at them as ‘roadblocks’, per least not initially.  

You see - my rules were pretty simple - if it helped the athlete, we needed to find a way to get it done.    If people disagreed, then the answer was also pretty simple - they were wrong!  We just needed to find a way to bypass them.  Go through the back door.  No problem...

Now - there is no doubt that there are far too many people in this world who’s only path to power is standing in the way of those who are tying to get it done.  And there is no doubt that sport is not immune to these folks.  I can personally attest to that.  

But this is the reality.  We know this.  

Still, we spend far too much time and energy on these people.  

I spent far too much time and energy on these people.  

...expecting these folk to change is illogical - we cannot control their actions.  We can only control our own.  

The Stoics would say that the most effective attitude to adopt in the face of challenge is supreme acceptance...and it was with this slowly evolving realization that I began to alter the way I did things...
a little. 

Instead of continually butting heads, I began to at least try to understand...a decade of running on a treadmill had taught me that ‘the good fight’ was not the answer.  Instead of continually living in the reactionary present - most influenced by the most immediate - I took a more global perspective.  If I could see beyond the moment, I could better control the dynamic.   

No one works in amateur sport to become rich.  Almost all have the best intentions of the athletes at heart - coaches, therapists, administrators, everyone...
Not all will agree with what the best strategy is - but that’s OK.  In fact, in most cases, it’s preferred...but more on that later...

The 'Lone Wolf'...

Learning to see through each other’s eyes is the key to being’s what separates us from our primitive ancestors.  The ability to imagine what others think and feel is how we developed our complex social society.  It was this empathy that led to greater degrees of cooperation...and it’s why the path of the ‘lone wolf’ is often so challenging...

To expect everyone to agree with me was naive, and it eventually lead to impatience - to forcing change, when the conditions may not have been ripe for it. It was this impatience that led me to being canned from an NGB a week after helping to lead them to the most successful season in their history...but that’s another story - for another time...

Successful people have often suffered on their way to their successes.  They experience criticism of their work, self-doubt about their progress, and many setbacks along the way.  What separates the successful people from those that ultimately fail is the successful ones push on...refusing to be dragged down - with an almost maniacal belief in what they’re doing.  

Even though there were times of doubt.  Times when I questioned whether or not I was on the right path.  Times when I clearly made mistakes, I recognized the importance of ‘staying the course’.  

It’s a paradoxical course.  While I believed that what I was doing was correct, and that I had no choice but to push on, I found that maybe the more effective way would be to be patient.  Allow for the change to happen more organically - not to force it.  The Gestalt paradoxical theory of change is interesting...and instructive...
it basically states that the more you try to be who you are not, the more you stay the same - while, conversely, change only comes about as a result of “full acceptance of what is, rather than a striving to be different” (Frederick Perls).

Can't we all just get along...

Even though I occasionally continued to fight the instinct of rushing forward, and forcing change, I realized that sometimes slow and steady wins the race....we can get more done by working together.  Working together gives us better insight into each other.  A depth of understanding that would not exist if you continue on your own.  And it is this that I believe holds the key to success in high performance sport - for only by working together, by learning from each other, by gaining new insights into our own thoughts.  Only by branching out into other fields can we gain additional perspective into our own.  Only by truly  working together as an integrated team can we truly optimize performance.  

“you cannot dig a hole in a different place by digging the same hole deeper"
- Edward de Bono

Lateral thinking - and the ability to combine seemingly unrelated ideas - is the key to expertise in all fields.  It is the key to a truly integrated process. 

Too many people in sport, however, misconstrue this term - ‘integrated’...

With the rise in popularity of Performance Enhancement Teams, (PET Teams), Integrated Support Team (ISTs) and the like, integration in sport has become de rigueur.  Too often  though, it has simply meant a group of individuals that happen to work together, and perhaps come together for a meeting every couple of weeks.  

True integration requires effort, constant communication, and the ability to think creatively and laterally - the ability to admit to ignorance, and the wont to do something about it.  PET Teams and ISTs are the perfect medium to drive this process.  But, rather than simply discussing our own assessments...our own judgments, we instead need to temporarily suspend our ego - and allow for possible alternative viewpoints. 

If we have developed a high-quality support team we need to  trust their authority in their field.  Conversely, the views of all in the team need to be equally accepted.  I may not have the depth of understanding of the human body that our medical team has, for instance.  But my unique experiences and perspective into it may - and should - expand their own perception. We may have disagreements. I hope we have disagreements. For it is these disagreements that lead to true progress.  If we all held the same opinion, all but one  of us would be redundant...

“It is a great folly to hope that other men will harmonize with us; I have never hoped this. I have always regarded each man as an independent individual, whom I endeavored to understand with all his peculiarities, but from whom I desired no further sympathy. In this way have I been enabled to converse with every man, and thus alone is produced the knowledge of various characters and the dexterity necessary for the conduct of life”. 
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

If I can sum up the entirety of my apprenticeship with Dan Pfaff in one sentence it would be the integrated and holistic nature of the athlete-sport. It saddens me that coaches, support service providers, and sport administrators are still having debates that question this concept.

can you pick out the two Olympic Gold Medalists?

Be a generalist...

Coaching is generalist in nature - it always has been.  

It is a fairly recent advent that has seen the implementation of specialists in nutrition, sport psychology, biomechanics, physiology, etc., and this is only once an athlete reaches a certain level.  The 99% of athletes that are not ‘elite’ are coached by generalists.  It is what initially took me down the road of nutrition and therapy, for instance - necessity (as it did for every other forward-thinking coach, I’m sure). The best coaches are ‘jacks of all trades‘.     So let’s not get tied down in a reductionist way of thinking.  Lets not get too hung up on terms, descriptions, roles, and ‘scopes of practice’.  Instead, lets all work together. We become more creative.  The challenges we face, we can face together.  We find purpose in our ‘work’. 

By requiring coaches to ‘just coach’, we are in effect limiting their ability, their creativity,  and the ultimate success of both the coach and the athlete.

This is a fact, and should not be ignored, or misunderstood. 

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take order, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently,  die gallantly. Specialization is for insects,” 
- author Robert A. Heinlein (quote poached from the blog of Henk Kraaienjof)


  1. Another great post Stu!
    The comments regarding PET/IST particularly resonate. It seems to me that we are highly effective at putting quality people into the IST, and invariably become efficient at operating inside of silos. The assumption is that he/she is "taking care" of their respective domain, and this is likely to be the case; however, true collaboration between the groups disciplinary experts is what leads us to progressive, innovative, and lateral thinking solutions.

    1. well said...
      I think the PET/IST as a concept is excellent...we just need to learn how to use it more effectively

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