As coaches, we are encouraged to develop and document our own coaching philosophy and mine has been developed and is published on my website and on the Ironman coach profile.
The reality is, that in my case, philosophy is a flattering label for a few plainly obvious words, cobbled around popular themes and values that are important to me as a coach. But an experience this weekend has helped to put my own philosophy into perspective, as indeed it has my own coaching knowledge and ability, gained over the last seven years.
As part of my Level 3 triathlon coaching qualification, I had the great pleasure of meeting Chris Furber, formally a coach within British Cycling (under Sir Dave Brailsford) and now National Performance Director of British Para-Swimming. Alongside amusing and emotive anecdotes, Chris shared his current coaching philosophy, the notes from which I have set out for you below:
- ROAR – Responsibility, Ownership, Achievement, Respect
These are the values that frame the athlete – coach relationship. For a coach, creating a contract with your athlete, that sees them taking responsibility for their training and ownership of their training plan, is key for the coach to have the space to focus on coaching the athlete, rather than chasing around after them and checking they’re doing what they are supposed to do.
2. Marginal Sport
British cycling is now known world wide for the performance benefits of aggregating marginal gains. The marginal gains however become somewhat irrelevant if you haven’t got the basics right. A titanium skewer won’t be of much help if your athlete has 30% body fat!
- Centralized Training
As Performance Director, Chris brings together athletes and coaches centrally. (When coaching individual athletes, we might build a network of expertise around us, in place of a centralized coaching team). Centralization of coaching facilitates an environment where its ‘safe’ to say, “I don’t know” and to refer to others for advice. Most importantly, this approach requires a growth mindset, whereby the coach acknowledges that they are continuing to learn and have not yet learnt everything they need in order to fulfill their role.
- Coaches should be judged on their ability to coach, not performance (its ok to fail).
As a coach, think in terms of moving on an athlete, rather than your athlete winning races. Many coaches point to the accolades achieved by the athletes they coach to support the notion that they are themselves, great coaches. If the coach started with a great athlete, that inevitably went on to win, what was the coach’s contribution? In a high performance team, a great coach is someone that can adapt to the varying needs of athletes in the squad, rather than catering solely to the specific needs of one individual.
- Emotional Intelligence
Make decisions and provide feedback on the basis of logic, rather than emotion. When receiving feedback from an athlete, hear the emotion first and then analyze the data before ‘solving’ the problem.
Recognize that sport is emotive and learn to separate that from actual performances, decisions and feedback. Consider insight profiling in order to understand the introversion extroversion or emotion or logic of your athlete.
- Drive comes from athletes (beware of magpies and fettlers)
Make sure that the athlete wants ‘it’ more than you want it as a coach and that they are prepared to do what it takes to achieve their goal. Beware of athletes that constantly look for bits of equipment, or minor tweaks to their set up for the gains they need to give them the winning edge.
- Components of a winning performance
Know what it will take, in terms of the building blocks of transformation, to get your athlete from where they are, to where they want to be. Make sure every session states where it fits within the plan and how it contributes to the desired outcomes.
- Hard work isn’t enough – work smarter
Don’t just keep doing more and more volume in the name of hard work. Think about tactics and techniques more. Do the minimum amount of training required to achieve the outcome, and no more, keeping in mind that the minimum might be in itself, a huge amount.
- Clarity, transparency, consistency and congruence
Athletes want consistency – don’t be different under the pressure of an event than you were in regular training. Use clear links between the goal and the training plan. Agree the goals and the means of reaching them with the athlete (refer back to ROAR).
So these are the main points I picked up from Chris who spoke for 2 hours, 29 minutes and 30 seconds of his allotted two and half hours, without once, as far as I could tell, looking at his watch. He said a whole lot more than you’ve read above but I hope that the points I chose to note capture the essence of his philosophy.
The really big takeaways for me are that the core of his philosophy is in the emotional contract between coach and athlete that are set out in the ROAR values in point one. The coach can’t make the athlete perform; only the athlete can. So let’s ensure that our athletes understand that from the beginning. Get the basics right and only when you’re reaching the potential of those basics, allow yourself to peer into the margins for potential gains. As a coach, keep a growth mindset because the only thing we really know is that currently, we know very little.
As for my own philosophy, I think its time for a thorough review. I have always believed in the basics, so that’s a theme I’ll keep. I’ll be reflecting over the coming days and weeks about what is really important to me about my coaching practice and values, and what the athlete’s I coach commonly experience. I hope that the next time I publish a philosophy it’ll be a little more me and a little less ‘B.S’.