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The Four Levels of Coaching: Searching for the Heart of Excellence

By Jeffrey Hodges B.Sc. M.Sc.(Hons) B.Ed.

Some Fallacies about 'Warming Up'

By now, most serious sportspeople and up-to-date coaches and sports trainers have heard about the potential problems with 'static stretching' prior to sports performances. Contrary to the consistent, mandatory advice of many years, it has now been proven scientifically that extended static stretching prior to intense physical activity actually leads to a decrease in muscle performance, and even a greater potential for injuries.

Wiemann & Klee (2004), Jones (2004), and others have clearly demonstrated that static stretching can cause damage to myofibrils in muscles, and hence intense (stretching to maximum tolerable tension) muscle stretching before a sports performance leads to reduced performance and a higher risk of injury. It is now suggested that the best results are obtained by engaging in a general aerobic warm-up (e.g.. a five minute jog), followed by low intensity exercises similar in nature to those to be used in the actual performance. Any stretching should be submaximal and dynamic - not intense and static.

Further, when speaking of the warm-up few people even consider the mental and emotional aspects of preparing oneself for competition - attention is almost always focused just on the physical body.

So what is the best advice for the warm-up to get the best out of yourself? How can you warm up mentally and emotionally - as well as physically? What can you do prior to your performance to warm up most effectively?

First, let's consider when the actual warm-up really begins. Many people think of the warm-up as the ten minutes prior to a game commencing, or perhaps the thirty minutes prior to that. However I believe competitions are won and lost on the day before, and the morning of competition, as well as during the actual time of competing! I suggest that you want to see the warm-up as starting the day before, and to initiate a series of actions that you repeat as a regular routine in order to get the best out of yourself on a consistent basis.

Having a planned, positive routine established which you follow consistently gives you a sense of familiarity and confidence, no matter where the venue is, or who you're competing against.

To establish the best routine for yourself, think back to the times you performed your very best .... what did you do the day before? What did you eat? What did you think about? How did you direct your emotions? What did you have for breakfast on the morning of the competition? How did you warm up? What were you thinking then?

Obviously, you will want to tailor a warm-up routine specifically to suit you, but here are a range of tips and ideas that may be helpful. Note that not all the suggestions may be suitable for everyone, and it is not suggested that you do all of these things - select those that work for you, and establish them as a routine for consistent success.

The Day Before

* Sometime during the day, spend an hour or so relaxing and reading / listening to / watching a motivational book / CD / video. For example, watch replays of Olympic competitions - particularly people who's style is similar to your own, and with whom you identify. As you do this, remind yourself regularly of your own strengths, and imagine yourself performing like your role model.

* In the afternoon or evening, spend 30 minutes drawing up a competition plan for tomorrow. Focus on yourself and how you want to perform, rather than on anyone else who might be competing. Replay and relive in your mind some of your very best performances - times in competition or training when you did your very best. Remember specific highlights, and feel strong and powerful, and deliberately visualise doing the same tomorrow.

* Well before bedtime, take 20 - 30 minutes to go through a relaxation and visualisation exercise in which you imagine and feel yourself living out your game plan at the actual venue of the competition. Imagine not just the physical aspects of your performance, but also how you want to feel : confident, determined, focused - and enjoying it! I recommend this is done well prior to going to sleep, since you don't want to become obsessed with the comp and think about it all night! Do it once, then forget about it. [ There are many types of relaxation techniques and visualisation exercises that can be used for enhancing various aspects of sports performance, and I will write a more detailed article on Visualisation techniques shortly. Also, I have a range of six excellent tapes/CDs that cover Motivation, Positive Attitude, Concentration, and so on. See www.sportsmind.com.au for details ]

* Prepare your gear for tomorrow, then get a great night's sleep, by hitting the sack early. If you're a bit nervous, a short walk outside for 15 - 20 minutes before bed clears the head, and is far better than watching the idiot box (TV)!

The Day of the Match

* Rise early, have a drink of pure water, and do 10 - 15 mins of deep breathing and positive affirmations in fresh air - preferably in a park. Affirmations are short positive phrases and statements used to build self belief and confidence, and to commit to the process goals you want to attain. [For more on process goals and achieving goals, see my article on this, or refer to the Sportsmind book] For example: "I'm fit and strong and ready"; "I can do it. I'm going to perform to my best today."; and so on. [The Sportsmind book and Mental Training Manual explain how to write your own affirmations, and have sample lists of positive affirmations that you can use - again see www.sportsmind.com.au for details]

Most people feel better doing this outside in the fresh air, but of course if you prefer you can do them in your room, or even as you're driving to the venue.

* After breakfast, while you're checking your gear, play some of your favourite, up-beat music to get you excited and ready (e.g.. theme music from 'Rocky I or II', or from 'Chariots of Fire', etc. Think to yourself as you're listening that you're ready, you feel great, and you're really looking forward to the competition - you're going to do well, and enjoy yourself.

* Driving to the venue, again either say positive affirmations to yourself or listen to positive mood music.

* Thirty minutes before the comp, go somewhere by yourself and spend five minutes quieting your mind of all self talk, and simply visualise (without words) performing well, staying focused and determined and positive. As the time approaches it's important to switch yourself from 'thinking' to 'performing' mode. Positive self talk is essential in the competition build up, but too much thinking is detrimental to playing from the 'zone' - where we simply 'play' unconsciously, without much conscious thought.

* Just before going into the venue, use a positive 'trigger' for accessing powerful resource feelings of confidence, strength, self belief, joy, etc. [ I will explain how to build a positive emotion 'trigger' in the next issue - or check out my Champion Thoughts, Champion Feelings book ] From now on you want to be totally in feeling - quiet your internal dialogue, and get into the rhythm of your shot making; fully feel your balance, the temperature of the air, your breathing full and deep and regular, the feel of your hand grip, etc. Since the brain cannot process an external and an internal stimulus at the same time, by deliberately focusing on external feeling sensations such as described, you take away the opportunity for yourself to feel internal nervousness, doubt, or fear.

Now you're truly warmed up and ready ... go out and excel!

References

Jones, M (2004) The Effects of Static Stretching on Performance, pp.27 inModern Athlete & Coach Vol 42 - 1

Wiemann, K & Klee, A (2004) The Significance of Stretching in the Warm Up Before Maximum Performance, pp.24-26 inModern Athlete & Coach Vol 42 - 1

About Jeffrey Hodges B.Sc.(AES) M.Sc.(Hons)
Jeffrey Hodges is a performance consultant to elite athletes, sporting teams and corporate clients. He is the author of the widely acclaimed "Sportsmind - An Athlete's Guide to Superperformance Through Mental & Emotional Training" and "Champion Thoughts, Champion Feelings"; creator of the Sportsmind performance enhancement workshops and audio tapes; and Director of the Sportsmind Institute for Human Performance Research.

He is a NLP Master Practitioner and Associate Trainer, and his Sportsmind programs have been endorsed by the NSW Dept Sport & Recreation, and recommended by top sportsclubs and successful athletes. Jeffrey has competed in many sports, notably Volleyball, Squash, Soccer and Golf, and currently trains in Aikido, holding a black belt.

Some of his clients to date include :
Australian Rugby Union
St. Joseph's College
Woodlands Golf Club
Financial Institutions Remuneration Group (FIRG)
Societe Generale
Qld. Swimming
Network for Fitness Professionals
North Sydney and Penrith Rugby League Clubs
Qld. Athletics Assn
NSW Netball Assn
Northern Inland Academy of Sport
Victorian Soaring Assn
Orange Agricultural College Equestrian School
Qld and NSW Departments of Sport and Recreation
Qld Academy of Sport
and the RAAF.

For more information, contact :
SPORTSMIND , 77 FLAXTON MILL ROAD
FLAXTON Qld. Australia. 4560.
PHONE 61 7 5445 7994
email : jh@sportsmind.com.au
website : www.sportsmind.com.au

By Jeffrey Hodges B.Sc. M.Sc.(Hons) B.Ed.

COACHING IS A HUMAN ART

The disturbing, and increasingly common, examples of player (and spectator) behaviour in the various football codes (and others sports), over the past few years come as a timely reminder that coaching should be more than simply designing training programs, selecting players and developing the specific skills fo your sport. Coaching is more than simply passing on the sophisticated knowledge of a particular set of sports skills, training approaches, tactics and experience. It's even more than understanding how to manage and motivate people as individuals or teams, building mental toughness, or encouraging the competitive fire to compete 100%.

It is truly an ART - the art of bringing out the best in people. Making better people - not just talented athletes.

Elite sportspeople ARE major role models in our society - particularly for young men, so there is a great obligation laid upon coaches to develop the whole person through their coaching. Yet, until recently, most coaches have had little education, experience or even desire to address these important areas of 'whole person' athlete development.

With Olympic sports increasingly setting their sights on London next year, perhaps it is useful for coaches to ask themselves a key question.

WHAT ARE YOU COACHING FOR?

I believe it important for all coaches to ask themselves, "What am I coaching for?" What is YOUR reason for coaching? What do you hope to achieve for the people you coach, as a result of your coaching?

Please consider this question for a few minutes, and discover your personal motivations for coaching.

I suggest that there are in fact FOUR levels of coaching, and these levels reflect the coach's and athlete's purpose for coaching and being coached, and influence and inform both the coaching practices employed and the behaviours fostered and discouraged.

I see these four levels as four, increasingly larger, circles - each larger circle of coaching containing within it the smaller circle/s. Interestingly, I believe the skills and attributes of each lower level coach can be contained within the higher levels, yet the skills and aspirations of the higher level coaches are not necessarily encompassed, nor understood, by the lower levels.

The levels I suggest are as follows :

MANAGER or RESULTS COACH

The first level of coaching is what I term the manager, or results coach - someone who coaches primarily for the outcome: to win the competition, get the gold medal, obtain the endorsement contract, etc. This is the coach who is primarily concerned with the external 'successes' of their players - winning tournaments, making state or national sellection squads, improving their world ranking, and so on. They talk tactics and strategy with a clear outcome in mind - winning.

INSTRUCTOR or PERFORMANCE COACH

The second level of coaching is what I term the instructor level coach - someone who coaches for continual personal improvement in performance: reducing errors, improving fitness and strength, refining shooting techniques, and so on. This is the coach who is interested in refining the technical aspects of a players game - improving stance, accuracy and consistency, using video and biomechanical analysis of an individual's shot making to look for areas of improvement, and so on.

MENTOR or EDUCATOR COACH

The third coaching level I term the mentor - someone who sees coaching in a much broader and holistic way. The mentor seeks to not simply win medals, or just improve an athlete's sports statistics, but who's primary aim is to make the athlete a better person: eg. considering the wider aspects of an athlete's life - relationships, employment, diet, education, etc. This means addressing not just the physical and technical aspects of a player, but also recognising their mental and emotional makeup and working to improve these areas as well. For example, deliberately structuring training to simulate pressure to test the player's emotional resolve, concentration and resilience. The player for this level coach is also a person, and the coach is interested in the other aspects of the player's life and understanding of relationship/education/etc pressures and issues faced by the player.

PIONEER or INNOVATOR COACH

The final level of coaching, which I term pioneer, is not about the individual athlete at all. Rather these innovative coaches are concerned with the wider positive social and community influences which their coaching can have. They see coaching as a mechanism for community development as well as player development: eg. changing the level of violence in sport, raising the profile of women or disabled in sport, using sport as a means of assisting youth at risk, bringing a new innovation to the way their sport is played or seen. This is the coach who is open to new ideas and approaches, who promotes the game to the wider community, who reaches out to schools and who interacts with officials to raise the standard of all aspects of the game - because they LOVE their sport.

It can be argued of course that most sports coaches operate at all of these levels, for some portion of their coaching. So perhaps it is more useful to think of them not as levels, but rather as different 'caps' that the coach wears throughout the day and throughout his/her career.

Of course there is a role for each level, or cap, of coaching - a role that you take on as a coach - however, I believe it is important to identify where you stand with your coaching at present, and perhaps raise to question some of your motivations as a coach. What cap have you been wearing mostly of late?

This is not to devalue the importance of results and performance coaching - they of course have their place. However, I believe too much emphasis on the first two levels can lead both players and coaches to get caught up in outcomes - winning and losing, and then we forget it is really just a game, isn't it? We can forget that there are more important things than winning, or even playing well. We forget the joy of the competition itself, the joy of SHOOTING just for the sake of it!

If you are just coaching for results or performance, is this truly the best that you can be?

At the end of your coaching career, looking back would you rather say that you were responsible for such and such player / team winning so many tournaments or championships, or would you rather be remembered because of your ability to positively influence the entire lives of your athletes, and not just their sports results?

Would you also perhaps like to even be thought of as an innovator - someone who developed new techniques and approaches, and who's coaching influenced the way your sport is played and enjoyed, and positively impacted upon the wider community?

I know how I want to be remembered. Maybe it is time to put on the other caps in your coaching, even if just for a short time.

About Jeffrey Hodges B.Sc.(AES) M.Sc.(Hons)
Jeffrey Hodges is a performance consultant to elite athletes, sporting teams and corporate clients. He is the author of the widely acclaimed "Sportsmind - An Athlete's Guide to Superperformance Through Mental & Emotional Training" and "Champion Thoughts, Champion Feelings"; creator of the Sportsmind performance enhancement workshops and audio tapes; and Director of the Sportsmind Institute for Human Performance Research.

He is a NLP Master Practitioner and Associate Trainer, and his Sportsmind programs have been endorsed by the NSW Dept Sport & Recreation, and recommended by top sportsclubs and successful athletes. Jeffrey has competed in many sports, notably Volleyball, Squash, Soccer and Golf, and currently trains in Aikido, holding a black belt.

Some of his clients to date include :
Australian Rugby Union
St. Joseph's College
Woodlands Golf Club
Financial Institutions Remuneration Group (FIRG)
Societe Generale
Qld. Swimming
Network for Fitness Professionals
North Sydney and Penrith Rugby League Clubs
Qld. Athletics Assn
NSW Netball Assn
Northern Inland Academy of Sport
Victorian Soaring Assn
Orange Agricultural College Equestrian School
Qld and NSW Departments of Sport and Recreation
Qld Academy of Sport
and the RAAF.

For more information, contact :
SPORTSMIND , 77 FLAXTON MILL ROAD
FLAXTON Qld. Australia. 4560.
PHONE 61 7 5445 7994
email : jh@sportsmind.com.au
website : www.sportsmind.com.au

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