The ability to question a coach can be there difference between doing things “the way” and doing things “the best way”. Benjamin Franklin believed that it was every citizen’s responsibility to ask questions of power; it is the serious athlete’s responsibility to ensure they and their coach are working out the most effective path together.
We should be careful of the overly-confident coach, because confidence comes from coherence. Coaches who have seen one way of doing things are more confident in their judgements than people who have examined more options. Good coaches can help the athlete explore different “ways” of doing things, and may appear less confident in any one approach.
This is the athletes journey – not the coaches. If an athlete wants to improve, then feedback should be solicited. It should be concrete and specific. Athletes who want to get better should be asking their coach questions about own performance – “Were you satisfied with X, Y or Z?”
Asking questions, and investigating options, are critical for developing creativity and innovation in practice. Confidently asking “What If…?” questions often involves combining ideas that don’t come “naturally” to the athlete. This mix and match mental process is at the heart of creativity and innovation, pushes the athlete out of their comfort zone, and can lead to developing new skills and strategies.
However, there are ways of questioning people that are more effective than others. Questioning everything for the sake of it, like a surly teenager, is not beneficial for the athlete or the coach.
For instance, it is vital to ratchet down tension when questioning those in a position of power. By adopting a conversational tone, rather than confrontational one, it can invite the coach into a positive discussion as opposed to an argument.
Over-using the word “Why?” can also make people defensive. Starting questions with “What if…” or “How do I…” allows the coach to describe their perspective, and lead to productive discourse.
Coaches are human beings, and it can be a natural reaction to become defensive when questioned. However, asking someone their opinion can stroke the ego and lead to a productive discussion.
As an athlete, especially a younger one, it can be intimidating to question the “expert”. One method of overcoming this is to write a list of questions you want answered. Don’t be satisfied until they ARE answered! If your coach cannot answer, it is up to you (preferably you and your coach together) to find out the answer.
It is important to get the balance right when it comes to questioning a coach, and I believe that the athlete should start every encounter assuming the position of less power. If we want to get the most from your relationship with our coaches, then we have to start with seeing their perspective clearly before we try to move their position through questioning.
Once it has been accepted what the next course of action is – regardless of whether it was the athletes idea or the coaches – it is the athletes job to “get on with it”. Dissent for the sake of dissent is not useful.
Most importantly, don’t play Devil’s Advocate for the sake of it. This can cause defensiveness, stall practice and ultimately get in the way of a positive athlete / coach relationship.
Athletes – this is your journey, take responsibility for it!
Good athletes ask questions. Good coaches don’t have all the answers.
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