ASPIRE to be World Class

I have been very fortunate to be part of the panel of coaches enrolled on the 3rd Aspire coaches development program run by sports coach uk. The weekend just past (or rather Monday and Tuesday) was the 2nd seminar and to say that it was challenging would be an understatement.

Now I am not for 1 second suggesting that I have ever considered myself to be a world class coach or anything but. ……..If pushed I’d probably say I was pretty good. I have had some success at national level and managed to get swimmers selected for representative national trips with some degree of regularity.
I consider myself to be relatively driven to succeed and improve my knowledge, I think I am fairly critical of myself and would say I am on a bit of a quest for perfection or rather the perfect way for me to operate. I strive to be world Class I guess you would say.

And I thought I was doing a pretty good job all things considered.

A BIG theme from the Aspire program is self reflection, again, something I thought I did. As it turns out……not so much.

So after yet another lengthy spell in Birmingham airport (I wonder how much shares in that place cost) I decided on the flight home that I would actively reflect on the weekend, on what I had heard and what parts of it I could apply directly or indirectly to my coaching.

I started thinking about how I reflect, I reflected on my reflection. I record, almost, everything and evaluate performances, I alter sets depending on how swimmers react to the workload in specific sessions, but……..not once do I mention me in my reflection. I don’t mention my own performance, what has distracted me, what I have done well or done less well. I assumed that a good session by the swimers ment that I had done a good job. In hindsight and on deeper reflection I don’t think that’s the case at all anymore. Swimmers can perform in spite of the coaches short comings in sessions or coaches can have their best session and it just not work.

So that’s was the 1st step……change how I evaluate, actually start evaluating my performance not just my athletes. See what I can learn about myself and how I can be a better coach.

But next problem was what do I compare myself to? What is the benchmark?

I have had the privilege of working beside, and swimming for, some excellent coaches (coaches far better than me), but are they world class? Are they the best in the world at what they do? Should I set the bar higher?

Seems obvious to me when I think about it…….If I want to be world Class I need to look at world class examples, stop limiting myself to comparisons within Ireland and evening within swimming.

I actively encourage my athletes to seek out world class examples of performers in their events and compare themselves to it.

Why do I not ask myself the same question? How hard can it be?

Turns out……pretty tough.

I could name world class coaches of course but this isn’t about copying other coaches, this is about finding what makes them world class and adding it to who I am to improve me not turning me into them.

I’m 40 years old this summer and it turns out I had no idea how to get to where I want to be.

I know what I want, to be a world class coach, to enjoy podium success, to influence the lives of the athletes in my program in a positive way but…….After 20 years have I gotten any closer than when I started? Probably not.

That was a low point.

Every day in training I write some words on the board

#HBDYWI (HOW BAD DO YOU WANT IT) is a personal favorite. So decided to apply the same principles I ask of my swimmers to myself.

So what makes for a world class coach?

Here’s what I think

Six Practices of World Class Coaches

This is by no means exhaustive but I guess it’s a start

Setting the bar high.
World Class coaches know what constituted excellence, and wont settle—or allow their athletes to settle—for anything less. They persevere, session after session, without lowering their standards or giving up on the pursuit of excellence. As a result their athletes reach a level of excellence never attained before.

Stating “shoulds” clearly.
Clear shoulds provide targets, which in turn prompt desired behavior. This is why fund-raisers like to create visuals showing the amount of money collected compared to the goal. World class coaches don’t simply say “do that again and make it better.” they go over race, strokes, points, games etc, pointing out the where improvements can be made. Their feedback is specific, words are never minced, they do not hesitated to tell exactly what they liked and didn’t like, however the primary focus is never on how bad a performance was, but on how it could be made better. Interestingly, clear shoulds not only provide unambiguous targets to hit; they also help to clarify the current “as is” and the distance between the two. With world class coaches the distance between the target and the as it becomes crystal clear. The athletes job then is to close the gap.

Refusing to “rescue.”
World Class coaches put the onus on the athlete to make the adjustments needed. They encouraged their athlete to come up with solutions.

Testing for understanding.
World class coaches never assum the athlete understood what was expected of them. They provided feedback, then ask “So, do you understand what you need to do? How will you go about doing it?”

At the start of every session, a world class coach carefully lays out the steps and what they expect to accomplish from it. Having a firm focus and deliverable outcome for every session.

Having patience.
We all get frustrated by the need for repeating drills over and over, but world class coaches never let it show. Athelets are on a learning curve,and the coach needs to give the time needed to get up to speed.

So that’s what I got, not exhaustive but a start. And how do I compare beside these things? About as good as I thought I did. Truth is I am literally miles from where I want to be in my career but at least there is a clearer idea of how to move forwards.

Now the journey begins……….finally

Til next time


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posted by Peter


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