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There are a few things in life that really get my goat. One is washing my hands and finding the hand dryer doesn’t work, and another is when coaches talk badly about their own athletes and others, without knowing the story and struggle of that individual. This is known as the 'iceberg' effect. (Did you know that 90% of an iceberg is below the surface?!)
Insecurity is often the underlying cause to this behaviour, with coaches feeling more comfortable that other colleagues are aware how ‘difficult’ their athlete has been, and the reasons why they may be underperforming.
In reality, all athletes (and coaches!) have their struggles. Everybody has a story. Everybody is facing constant challenges on a day-to-day basis to improve. We all have imperfections. Nobody finds performance sport easy.
Now, as with all my lessons (you can sign up to hear the 24 Biggest Lessons I have learnt coaching high performance gymnastics on my website) I have been down this road, and made this mistake. I have felt these insecurities. I have had these conversations.
But coaching back in a club environment has thrown me on a steep learning curve (again!) I have enjoyed being part of the struggles, and more importantly helping the athletes overcome them.
I see progress as being relative to the level of the athlete. It would have been as much of an achievement for a coach to get ME to a national competition as it is for some athletes to make it to international representation (yes, I was that bad!)
I don't agree with the statement 'you are only as strong as your weakest link.'
How exactly are we to judge who our 'weakest' link is? If it's referring to the lowest level of athlete we coach, then that performer may have overcome significant personal adversity in order to be competing (or even just training!)
The coach may have in fact provided world class coaching support in order for them to fulfil their own genetic potential (remember, we do not all have equal potential in all areas of life, but we mostly have equal opportunity to develop and fulfil our own individual potential.)
That athlete could therefore be seen as your strongest link. They have overcome adversity and have battled the odds to make significant progress. Is it right to judge their strength purely by the level they are able to perform? They have had the greatest triumphs!
A few years ago, I was once having one of these unconstructive and critical conversations about somebody (not an athlete in this instance) and my good friend Richard simply replied, ‘she is only being the best that she knows how to be.’ That shut me up.
That one line has stuck with me since then, and it’s true. People are just being the best they know how to be. If they don’t know any different, can you help them to know better?
After all, how many athletes do you work with that are intentionally bad at their sport? I would be suprised if you could name any that do not want to improve or progress.
Kids are occasionally going to mess up at competitions. Sometimes disastrously! They are going to find some skills more difficult than others to learn and therefore perform them with less quality than you hope. There are going to be challenging moments ‘behind the scenes’ which need to be accepted as part of the journey and not broadcasted.
This is not always a reflection of the quality of the coaching. This IS coaching!
Part of the role of a coach is to support athletes through adversity, and help them overcome the hurdles and speed bumps that their sport throws at them. It’s essential for a good athlete-coach relationship.
Not all kids are going to the Olympics. We should enjoy the process of teaching and accomplishment for all levels. We should stand proud next to all of our athletes. We should accept that there will be challenges for all athletes and coaches and support each other for these journeys.
'The sun loses nothing by shining into a puddle.'
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