Polar Explorers and Strength and Conditioning are not two things that you would necessarily put together but on Tuesday I was fortunate enough to listen to Alan Chambers MBE. Alan is a polar adventurer and motivational speaker and he led the first British team to walk unsupported to the Geographic North Pole (not, as he would say, the “Top Gear” one) from Canada. Doesn’t sound too difficult sat in your office reading this on your tablet but take it from me, it’s a pretty ninja thing to do!
Alan delivered a great session and I wrote down ten key points that I think link directly to what we do on a day to day basis as coaches (I’m just glad we don’t operate in temperatures of -65 degrees).
1. Most failures are due to team dynamics. During my 17 year career I’ve been part of some fantastic back rooms and I’ve also worked in my fair share of terrible ones! In fact, there are a couple of situations that I would never put myself in again and that’s simply because of one or two members of the support team. I’ve had the best of times and most productive of times when the team has been right.
2. Impossible to instill passion – skills are easy to teach. I’ve interviewed hundreds of S&C coaches and I firmly believe that you should hire on ‘character’ not on qualifications. I can teach the skills and technical competencies but I can’t give you the drive that is needed to be successful in high performance sport. I talk about being a ‘PIG’ in this TEDx talk.
3. Never put your body where your mind has never been. I loved this one from Alan. Sometimes you won’t be able to physically rehearse everything that you need to do, but at some point you have to have worked through it in your mind so that when a situation arises and you need to act, it will come as second nature.
4. The old way is not the only way. I don’t think I need to say much more but if you’ve not looked at the TEDx talk already – check out what I have to say about being a cockroach! Have you got 10 years experience or just 1 year experience repeated 10 times?!
5. Set standards but…lead from the back. This was another strong message, often the head of department wants to be the one taking all of the praise but sometimes it’s important to sit in the shadows and watch your team and help them deliver from the back. Just because you’re a “leader” it doesn’t mean you have to be at the front all of the time.
6. 11 miles in 11 days – start steady – finish strong. On the expedition it took 11 days to cover 11 miles. The project was way off schedule. Alan understood that previous attempts went off too quick and failed early – the key to success was to start steady and finish strong. Often we walk into a coaching role and want to change the world in 1-day. Slow change is lasting change.
7. Tent Time – don’t wait until the end of the season to review and debrief. The best teams I’ve worked with review constantly and more importantly, when it gets to ‘squeaky bum time’ they review even more. The worst teams that I’ve worked with didn’t review regularly, stopped reviews when the going got tough and on some occasions didn’t even debrief at the end of a campaign. Reviews and debriefs are not always comfortable places to be in but they are essential for sustained success.
8. Self leadership. I will hold my athletes hand for a period of time but at some point they need to learn to wipe their own arse! Some coaches and trainers like to create a perceived ‘need’ with the athlete and these are the worst kind of coaches. A great coach gives the athlete the tools they need to be able to thrive with or without them. Create intelligent athletes that know where the toilet paper is!
9. The body will catch up with the mind. I’ve done a couple of daft endurance challenges (in my former life as a martial artist 2-minutes in the ring was a long time) so competing in 24hour mountain bike races, adventure races that take you from the east coast of Scotland to the west coast or more recently the Kielder marathon are a big challenge for me. Sure there is a physical component, but without exception success or failure came down to the mindset. Endurance work for me in dull and monotonous but once you can sort that out in your head your body will catch up. I think the same is true when coaching. Sometimes the physical output is poor but if we ‘coach’ and ‘educate’ our athletes, if they develop the correct mindest, the body will catch up.
10. OPERA – Ordinary People Extraordinary Results Achieved. I don’t think I need to add anything to this final point!