One of the trends that concerns me the most in sports coaching today is what a clever-person described to me as the “weaponisation” of coaching. By this, I mean the use of fancy terminology or acronyms that evidences how much knowledge a coach has. The more a coach can weaponise their knowledge — the more they can prove they know more than us (or more worryingly, their athletes) — the more powerful they seem, and therefore the more kudos they deserve.
I attended the Talent Equation – Live conference in Edinburgh recently where an academic from Oxford Brookes University gave an interesting lecture on the benefits of a Constraints-Led Approach to coaching. I agree with this approach, but was disappointed in a remark he made at the start of his presentation. I’m paraphrasing, but his belief was that he was an academic, we were all professionals, and that he did not believe in “dumbing down the language around coaching”.
Let me be clear on my own position first. I firmly believe in the importance of applying academic rigour and a scientific approach to coaching. We should be looking for intellectual ways to improve coaches, coaching and sport. In general, I believe we (the average coach) need to do a bit more thinking and a bit less doing to get better.
My problem is with intellectuals and the coaches who will use obscure language and acronyms to make others feel inferior. We all have examples of Know-It-All coaches that communicate in this way, often with a subtle bullying tone to their voice, to set themselves above their peers or athletes. I think this comes from insecurity and is repressed anger seeping out.
Einstein – ironically the most prominent intellectual of the last 150 years – is widely quoted as saying “If you can’t explain it to a 6 year old you don’t understand it.” Leonardo Da Vinci believed the ultimate sophistication was to take a simple thing and make it simpler. For me, the key to gaining respect as a coach is to use the easiest terminology possible so that everyone can understand what you are trying to say.
Sport is not complicated. It may be complex and nuanced, but it is not complicated. Those of us who make it more complicated through weaponising our knowledge are the problem, not the solution, to our athletes fulfilling their potential.
The problem is not having new, innovative ideas. The problem is not making these ideas as accessible as possible to each other. A rising tide lifts all boats and people do their best work when they share ideas, work together and borrow each others work. If our goal is to help our athletes reach their potential, then I believe we need to be better at making our ideas as simple as possible and sharing them with each other. The easier something is to understand, the better the chances of it being applied by the person it is intended to help.
It is the coaching fraternity’s responsibility to maintain the Circle of Safety, an environment where all members feel like they can contribute to the shared knowledge and wisdom of the group. This will benefit more athletes in the long run. Within our individual sports, It is the responsibility of the Leaders to ensure that this happens.
We can’t “win” at coaching. We are playing an infinite game that does not finish. Athletes will come and go. Success will come and go. The sport was there before us and will continue once we hang up our clipboard and whistle. We only get the opportunity to make an impact in our sport in the finite time we are involved. It’s my belief that the best way to spend this time is by keeping a beginners mind and adding as much value to those around us by NOT trying to prove how much better we are than each other.
It should be about our athletes, not us coaches.
(P.S. most of the research I do for these articles comes from books I share in a monthly email Book Club. If you’re interested in Coaching, Sport and Personal Development then email me at email@example.com to join!)
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