Tuesday, May 8, 2007

The Coach As A Leader - Part 2

The Coach as A Leader – Overcoming Obstacles on the Way to the Mountaintop
Part 2 by Mike Spracklen.
From American Rowing July/August 1996
Just as the bond between coach and athlete is critical, so too is the confidence between coach and governors. Before the leader ventures on a journey up the mountain, he must have confidence in the people who can control his destiny. Sometimes the leader is uncertain about who is following and who is chasing him. Support can be a noose around his neck, preventing him from moving forward while threatening him if he fails.

Often in amateur sport, people holding influential positions are ineffective leaders because they are so interested in themselves and their own accomplishments, they never get around to appreciating and understanding the feelings of the other people who are sharing the sport with them.

Whatever the frustrations and inconveniences the coach faces, his duty remains with his athletes. Support for their needs is paramount. He must do whatever is necessary to help the team regardless of the incumbencies in any given situation. The coach must be at one with his athletes and not permit stress to influence his attitude.

The Best Approach to People and Problems
‘That’s why a good leader not only has to be fair, he has to be scrupulously fair’

Other things being equal, a friendly, likeable coach is always more persuasive than one who isn’t. There's nothing wrong with a pleasant, good-natured approach to people and problems. In fact there's none better. The strange thing is that we often forget to use it. One reason is that under pressure of sport and competition, we sometimes take ourselves a little too seriously. We get to thinking about our feelings and problems and forget about the other fellows. Another reason is that people think they have to complain loudly as possible in order to appear firm and decisive to get things done. That isn’t so. You can be just as firm and decisive with a smile on your face as you can with a scowl, and just as convincing too, once people have learned that you have a habit of meaning what you say and following through to make it stick.

Good leaders do not blame circumstances or conditions for their behaviour. Their behaviour is a product of their own conscious choice, based on vision and values. Behaviour must not be based on feeling.

Likewise your behaviour toward other people can’t be based on whether you like the or not. It’s perfectly natural to like some people better than others, but that’s exactly what a good leader must hide. Every athlete wants an even chance. If athletes feel you’re treating someone else better than you treat them, they resent it. That’s why a good leader not only has to be fair, he has to be scrupulously fair. Whether you like someone or not, fairness demands that athletes will have the same chance and you measure their performance by the same standards. Those standards of measurement must be obviously impartial. You must be careful to avoid letting the likes and dislikes affect the way you treat people. Athletes don’t like favouritism and tend to lose respect for a coach who doesn’t treat everyone on an equal basis.

Cultivating Optimum Performance
‘…the best way to get better performance is to treat the athletes with understanding’

Smart coaches don’t treat people vindictively. They keep their feelings to themselves and think coolly and logically to provide a solution which will help the team and not get in its way. It’s easy to become angry with people who misbehave, but the best way to get better performance is to treat the athletes with understanding.

Being temperamental is not constructive. Losing your temper is not helpful. The best results come from having faith in people despite their faults, putting each day’s failures behind you and starting the next day with a positive, optimistic approach. A positive approach starts with faith that people can learn to do better. Coaches who get athletes to improve start by believing the athletes want to be successful and that they are capable of it. They appreciate athlete’s good points and avoid emphasising the bad.

Good leaders will listen and try to understand the athlete’s problems. They are approachable and easy to talk to. They involve the athletes in decisions involving the team. They put the well being of athletes before themselves. They will not allow problems to spoil the atmosphere. They seldom get angry or grumpy. Rowing has to be fun. . It’s not fun training under a disagreeable, grouchy coach. His attitude is bound to create feeling of distaste and resentment that knock the athlete’s confidence and affect the team’s performance.

When an athlete joins the team, he must not feel he has lost his privilege to speak and act for himself. He must feel part of a team with the freedom to communicate his thoughts and ideas. It’s the athlete’s sport and their program, and they should be comfortable with every part of it. They should have freedom to set their own destinies, chose where to train, in which boat they wish to compete and who should be their coach. The coach should encourage his athletes to participate in family outings and reunions and to priority education above sport.

Selection Principles
‘The longer you have them training, the better you will know their strengths and weaknesses…’

Winning at the international level demands physical power, and most races are won by athletes who fit as definite physical profile. Most, but not all, winners are large people. An important component of success is persistence. Nothing in the world can take its place. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘press on’ has won races where talented athletes have failed. Three requirements of athletic performance are psychology, physiology and physique. Most athletes have one or two or these requirements but seldom all three. The athlete with all three is your world-beater.

Selection is always a traumatic experience for the coach as well as for the athlete involved. The best way to select crews is to get to know your athletes well. The longer you have them truing the better you will know their strengths and weaknesses and where they will fit best into a boat. Three principles to apply at selection are consistency, fairness and accuracy.

Decisions must be consistent year by year. Athletes will more readily accept rules that don’t change to suit particular circumstances. Fairness can be interpreted in different ways. Should the coach be fair to everyone or just those who deserve it most? When the goal is to be the best you can be, it’s natural for the coach to give priority to athletes who are prepared to make the required commitment. If the goal is to win, priority must be given to those who are capable of winning.

Accuracy is important. The coach’s reputation will rest on the results of any decision he makes about the team. It is important to prepare well for the trials to avoid mistakes which will cause the athletes to mistrust the results. You must have confidence in what you do, the way you do it and in the result.

At selection time, disappointments are inevitable; however, most athletes are reasonable people, and when trials have been fair they understand why they are not selected. Normally it is the coach who complains. Be confident in your decisions, understand where the coach fits in the triangle, and your integrity will see you through.

Handling Criticism
‘A true leader can absorb criticism when it achieves the purpose of improving the team’

The higher you climb the mountain the more obstacles you will find in your path. Stumble and you are at the mercy of the mountain. You must remain sure-footed on the mountain path. Hold confidence in what you are doing and do not be dissuaded. Your character is your destiny. A true leader can absorb criticism when it achieves the purpose of improving the team. But sadly criticism is not always for the team’s benefit.

Three reasons for criticism are 1. The critic wants the best for the sport; 2. He wants a coaching job for himself; 3. Some people just love to complain.

We simply assume that the way we see things is the way they really are or the way they should be. Our attitudes and behaviours grow out of these assumptions. It is unfortunate that sport is seldom without its critics, and rowing has its share of them – people who seem to get satisfaction from criticising others, people who enjoy swimming against the tide, people who enjoy rocking the boat. You can never silence all critics but you can learn tolerance by understanding them. Fit the complainer into a triangle and understand his motives: Critical-Selfish-Cantankerous.

Critics are perceptive at identifying weaknesses. They are respected people whose interest lies totally in the well being of the sport. Selfish people try to pull others down to further their own cause. They may be jealous or simply want the job themselves.

No one raise himself by telling everyone how good he is, and no one raises his own reputation by lowering others. One of the most important ways to manifest integrity is to be loyal to those who are not present. When you defend those who are absent, you retain the trust of those who are present. Some people derive satisfaction from complaining and do so endlessly. They often harbour animosity from past disagreements which festers inside them.

A person’s integrity comprises what he says and does. Coaches should be accountable for what they declare to be true. Make a false declaration and it’s a ‘minus’ on your trust account.

It’s unwise to argue for other people’s weakness. It’s also unwise to argue for your own. When you make a mistake, immediately admit it, correct it and learn from it. We should not be too eager to criticise when things don’t go our way. We should also not be too eager to look for someone else to blame.

Counteracting Bad Influences
‘Negativism is contagious but so is enthusiasm’

People in a team will adopt different roles: the team joker, social organiser, the money collector, the latecomer, the leader, the lover, the hypochondriac and more. Two of a kind can be disruptive, but the worst problem is when there are two leaders. When two people pull in opposite directions, it can divide the team. Different personalities will also emerge, like the extrovert, he introvert, the solemn, the happy, the honest and dishonest. The ‘backstabber’ who motivates himself by disliking someone on the team is also a potential source of disharmony, especially if that someone is the coach. Other types are the athlete who blows his own trumpet and the athlete who feels insecure and wants assurance.

Another bad situation is two complainers. Negativism can spread through the team unless the group understands the problems. The triangle principle will help the team identify motivations for an athletes complaint and prevent negativism from affecting them or permeating the group. Negativism is contagious, but so is enthusiasm. Enthusiastic athletes are an asset to a team. Positive attitudes help the team say on track, encouraging those who are down, showing the way when they are lost.

A selfish leader will take the team along the wrong path. He will cut a program or change a session for his own benefit. Likewise, the late-arrivers are detrimental to the team. When people are unexpectedly late or absent, adjustments have to be made at the last minute. These makeshift changes are usually ineffective. It’s important for the coach to be punctual. Good time-keeping sets a good example for everyone, and athletes feel better about complying when they know the coach has the same commitment.

Five Athlete Needs
‘The coach is a member of the team and cannot divorce himself from the athletes and their problems’

Take time to appreciate the work athletes do. Is training boring? Has it lost its challenge? If so, what can you do to remedy the situation? You will never resolve the problems completely, but you can develop a constructive approach that hold, them to a minimum. How do you motivate athletes to train better? The answer, say the motivational experts, is by fulfilling these five needs:

1. Athletes should believe their time and efforts will be fairly rewarded
2. The coach must create a climate in which athletes trust him and believe their commitment is for a worthwhile goal
3. Athletes should believe they will be appreciated and praised.
4. Athletes should believe they live in a democracy and retain the right to chose when they enter the team. They should be able to communicate ideas, suggestions, fears and opinions to the coaches without fear of retribution.
5. They should believe they are treated as individuals not statistics.

Athletes continually rely on the coach for confidence although at times it is not obvious. Even though they seem self-reliant, totally confident in themselves and act independently, they thrive on the comfort and security of the group. Athletes gain confidence from watching others train with them. The need for reassurance increases as the pressure of competition rises to its peak. The coach is not immune to these pressures. He suffers the same kind of stresses but must keep his emotions hidden. The crew will feel more secure with advice given unemotionally rather than shouted by a stressed out coach who is behaving outside his normal character. Coach and athlete share a unique type of stress. When one fails, the other fails; when one succeeds the other succeeds. This relationship is not confined to competition but encompasses the entire preparation cycle.

The coach is a member of the team and cannot divorce himself from the athletes and their problems. He has to tread a fine line – close enough to be a friend but distant enough to be a leader. He needs to be friend who will give them confidence through different levels of stress and a leader who will give them confidence on the journey on the path of opportunity. Ultimately the sport is about enjoyment, having fun and having fun winning. The higher the peak, the greater the satisfaction in facing the challenge.

Diffusing Last Minute Jitters
‘They must feel better prepared than they think they need to be’

A few days before the big race, many questions will pass through the athlete’s minds. Nerves will create doubts. The athletes will come to their coach for reassurance. They will become aware of every part of their bodies. The smallest ache or pain will be a concern. Is my pitch right? Did I have the correct food for breakfast? Did I get enough sleep last night? Is everyone in the crew ready to go? These are the kinds of thoughts that run through athlete’s minds.

If everything has been covered, these concerns can be controlled. It is easier to reassure athletes that all is OK. They must have no doubts while sitting at the start for the biggest race of their lives. They must have no doubts about anything that has been done. They must feel better prepared than they think they need to be. They must have rehearsed over and over again every part of the race from day one to the final. They must have no doubts about anything that could affect what they have to do to win.
Athlete’s confidence must stand the test of doubt when things do not go as planned. Athletes will suffer pain and anguish as long as they think they can win, but the moment doubts appear, confidence faces its biggest test. Believing they are going to win when pressure is at its greatest is what will keep athletes going. Hanging on just one second longer names you the winner.

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