The Best Want to Get Better

One thing to keep in mind when coaching elite athletes: The best want to get better. Rarely are they complacent or satisfied with where they are. This is a significant part of what makes them the best.  They take pride in their craft.

There is a great article at Training Ground Guru about Rene Meulensteen’s coaching process with some of the best players in the world that illustrates this point.  Meulensteen served as the “skill development coach” at Manchester United under Ferguson. He was hired to improve the skills of the first team which employed some of the best players in the game.

The article also points to some factors that separate the best coaches from one another.

Requires A Confident Coach

The article describes his confident approach to the task.

“The key to top players is that they recognise whether something is bullshit or quality to make them better,” the 53-year-old says at a café near his home in the Cheshire town of Wilmslow.

“I always said, ‘we’ve got something we can add to your game’. Add is very positive. Add means more, add means better. Not once did a player come to me and say ‘what a lot of bullshit that is’. And believe me, they would have, because they were top players.”

Coaching Elite Athletes: Each One is Different

The articles also shines a light on the different approaches required with different players.

Where Ronaldo was right place, right time, Diego Forlan was wrong place, wrong time,” Meulensteen says. “He was a great guy and a fantastic player, but because we had Ruud [van Nistelrooy] there, scoring every game, he could never get into the side in his best position.

Sir Alex Ferguson

Hiring a skills coach for your talented first team was an unusual approach, and one that only Ferguson employed.

“First-team technical skills development coach: a job I haven’t heard of before or since. It was born out of Sir Alex Ferguson’s belief that any player, no matter how old or how good, could still improve.”

It’s also entertaining to read how Ferguson prepared a team to play.

You can read the article here.

I’ve written about Sir Alex Ferguson before.


Weekend Links: Sports and Money

Weekend links to sports and money:


Nadal at the French Open The New Yorker

Confidence is crucial for any athlete, but especially a tennis player. After all, he or she has no one else to turn to. The place to look is always inward. It’s existential. Tennis players call it belief, and they talk about it, mostly to themselves, all the time.

Conflict Management The Blizzard Football Quarterly

The U.S. is Christain Pulisic’s Team–But He Can’t Do it All The Ringer

“Christian is an outstanding young player,” Arena said during a prematch press conference. “We’re hopeful that as he moves forward in his career he’ll continue to show the dedication that he has shown in his early years. We think that he has outstanding potential.”

Bruce Arena: Great Player Manager  TCC

Arena Exceeds Expectations ESPN

Arena, who coached the United States from 1998 to 2006, got the job because of his familiarity with the program and its players as well as his presumed ability to get the red, white and blue to Russia in 2018. He was the choice by necessity and by default, the best man to get the job done, but also the only one who could.

How Juan Carlos Osario Turned Loss into a Valuable Lesson Yahoo

He took solace, above all, from the Argentine literary icon Jorge Luis Borges. “He writes,” Osorio said, “that the defeat has the humility that the noise of victory doesn’t know, doesn’t deserve.”


The Seduction of Pessimism  Collaborator Fund

On one hand it makes sense. Daniel Kahneman once wrote: “Organisms that treat threats as more urgent than opportunities have a better chance to survive and reproduce.”

sports and money

Wealth Advice That Should Be Obvious    Mr Money Mustache

No. None of it. When you get a windfall, it goes straight to your highest-interest debt, or your mortgage, or to buy your next chunk of index funds or your next rental house. Why would you inflate your lifestyle, when you haven’t even bought your freedom yet? Windfalls should be viewed as giant Groupon discounts on Freedom Itself.

Lessons from My Investment Class  A Teachable Moment

It occurred to me, the best strategy was to explain to people what NOT to do. This eliminates much of the nonsense and leaves a sound process as the only suitable alternative.



The Success Equation: Skill Plus Luck Equals Success

Success Equation: Skill Plus Luck

success equation: skill plus luckHave you read Michael Maboussin’s book  —The Success Equation?

I have been reading different Michael Maboussin  for a long time. He is a very successful investor who often writes about luck and its impact on investing and sports.

I find the intersection of these two disciplines fascinating.

Well, he is back out with another persuasive article. This time Maboussin presents compelling information on the increased need for luck as skill increases. If skill is increasing significantly in a discipline than we find ourselves back in a dynamic in which luck comes into play. He calls this the “paradox of skill”:

“..This is one of the lessons of the paradox of skill. Getting better in an absolute sense doesn’t matter if it’s offset by the competition. Hitters today are much better than they were in the past, but so are the pitchers. The improvement is obscured by the interaction”

The article also touches briefly on Anders Ericcson work on deliberate training in Peak.  Basically he is reminding us that the increase in skill is due to a tremendous increase in training.
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The entire article is worth your time. You can read it article here.
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I have written about luck before here.
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Other books you might like by Maboussin:
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(The Coaching Conversation is an affiliate of

After Your Best Player Retires

The Guardian looks at the remarkable coaching job Gregg Poppovich has done with the San Antonio Spurs this year. Tim Duncan, one of best and most consistent players in the history of the league retired this year. Most franchises would be expected to have a down season, but the Spurs continued to excel.

Popovich has won NBA coach of the year just three times in his 21 seasons. Likewise, LeBron James has only been deemed league MVP four times in 14 seasons and isn’t even a finalist for the award this year. Both men are so consistently excellent that there’s an urge among voters to almost punish them for it and feel the need to honor some other coach or player this year because surely Pop and LeBron will have more opportunities to win individual awards down the road. But if all was fair, each man would have double-digit trophies and no one could rightly complain. Maybe the better idea is to just name the NBA’s coach of the year award the Pop Trophy and then it won’t matter who they give it to.

Poppovich is one of my favorite coaches of all time. I’ve written about him before here and here.

Weekend Links: March Madness Requires Mental Toughness

I’ve watched a little of the NCAA basketball tournament this year and read quite a bit about the teams, women’s as well as men’s, that are playing. Two things have stood out to me.  One is the tremendous importance of mental toughness in making it deep into the tournament.  The other, just how significant a role fundamentals play in getting to the next level. Standing out matters to kids and parents, but you really need to be well versed in the fundamentals to be great.

This week’s links focus in on these two factors beginning with the tremendous resilience shown by the Mississippi State women’s team. We also see the focus on fundamentals and the mental toughness of perennial contender UNC men, who won their game by rebounding well when all else was failing them.

On to the links…

March Madness  Mental Toughness

mental toughness





Mississippi State’s Stunning Upset of UConn  (Times Picayunne)

Mississippi State (33-5) and UConn met in the Sweet 16 last season and the Huskies won by 60 points — the most-lopsided win in regional semifinals history. All season long the Bulldogs had that humiliating loss on their minds.

Now they’ve erased that defeat, beating UConn (36-1) — which had won the last four national championships — on the grandest stage in one of the sport’s greatest games.

Connecticut’s 111-Game Winning Streak (NY Times)

“They beat us,” Coach Geno Auriemma said. “They took us away from the things that we like to do. We didn’t have the kind of maturity that you need to win at this level at this time of the year.”

Gonzaga Wins (Spokane-Review)

The games keep getting bigger. Gonzaga keeps getting better, particularly in crunch time.

South Carolina Drops Heartbreaker  (SEC Country)

And it came oh-so-painfully close after it looked like all was lost. The Gamecocks made a frantic second-half comeback, as they have so many times in the postseason. But it was not enough, as the No. 1-seeded Zags had too much in the end.

North Carolina Back to Finals  (Sports Illustrated)

“Not a lot of teams get another shot at it,” Tar Heels forward Theo Pinson said. “Just the way that game ended, for us to finish and dig in and find a way to win—we’ve been through everything now.”

Number of Women Coaches Has Plummeted in Title IX Era

In 1972, when the gender equity law known as Title IX was enacted, women were head coaches of more than 90 percent of women’s college teams across two dozen sports. Now that number has decreased to about 40 percent.

Training Mental Toughness

3 Things I Learned from John Kiely (HMMR Media)

Once you understand this complexity, you cannot ignore the need for an individualized approach to training. On the one-hand you have to understand how each layer affects each individual athlete. Then you have to use tools and techniques to switch off stress that might not be helping the athlete adapt the way we want. Stress is good, as long as it is focused on our goals. Other stress just distracts us and holds us back. Kiely provided some great examples of how coaches can gain control over stress. The number one way is through feedback, which gives us a view of the current situation.

Six Exercises for Developing Mental Toughness (Strategic Athlete)

3.) Learn to ignore the things that you cannot control

In Ryan Holliday’s book, The Obstacle is the Way he talks about the philosophy of Stoicism or the ability to endure pain or hardship without a display of feelings and without complaint.

The basic premise is: It’s not what happens to you, it is how you react that really matters.

Develop Mental Toughness on the Court (USA Basketball)

They Can Hit Homers but Playing Catch That’s Tricky  (NY Times)

Although Headley offers lessons in defensive play, it accounts for only 4 percent of the instruction he and his staff conduct. Hitting instruction accounts for 75 percent of the private lessons, and pitching lessons make up the remaining 21 percent.

“It’s what people come to private facilities for,” Headley said. “We have it all, but that’s what they ask for.”

Women Coaching in the NBA

Adam Silver, the NBA Commissioner, recently endorsed the idea that we will see women coaching in the NBA.

women coaching in the nba





Specifically that there will be a female head coach in the NBA.

The key, he states, is to create a pipeline by which women have the relevant experience.

“There definitely will,” Silver said about female head coaches. “And I think it is on me to sort of insure that it happens sooner rather than later.”

“I would make all the same points in terms of being a head coach in the NBA that there is no physical reason why women can’t officiate in the NBA,” Silver added. “I think it is more a function of the fact that they haven’t been in the pipeline to become NBA officials.”

Of course this means there may not be a woman for some period of time. But some women are getting closer to the qualifications.

Continue reading “Women Coaching in the NBA”

Weekend Links: Trusting the Process

trusting the process
March Madness: Trusting the Process

Trusting the Process (Pac 12 News)

That, says Neighbors, was the moment he decided to do the unthinkable for a coach – banish goals.  Goals, he reasons, are limiting and the Huskies had no need to go further once they reached the goal they had set many months before of reaching the NCAA tournament.

Washington in the NCAA Tournament  (ESPN)

Elite Eight 2017  (CBS Sports)

Xavier’s Run to the Elite 8 (SB Nation)

South Carolina Coach Bonds with Young Reporter (Yahoo Sports)

“He’ll be back? I got to tell you now, when that young man asked the question he asked yesterday, I’m not trying to get any national attention on this, my SID told me that it’s become like a story,” Martin continued. “I wish I could express myself like that when I was his age. That was, I’m telling you, that is as articulate and good a question as I’ve been asked all year. That was powerful stuff.”


Continue reading “Weekend Links: Trusting the Process”

Free Play Versus Coach Led Training

free play versus coach led trainingDave Wright, editor of the Player Development Project, posted an interview with Dane Coles from the New Zealand rugby team the All Blacks.

The two discuss his player development journey, focusing on the  benefits of free play versus coach led training and the role of the coach and teammates in development.

How much of your development as a young player was coach led versus free play?

I was quite lucky really, my old man coached a fair bit and we had another good coach called Ray Hayward. There were elements of coaching, but they kept things pretty basic. Looking back, I think playing with so many of my good mates probably had a bigger influence on me than the coaches. It was mainly about going out and enjoying yourselves and playing with your friends, but my Dad and Ray were a pretty good coaching team. In my last year of school we managed to win division three and they guided us along the way; we had a fantastic team culture.

I’ve written about this topic a few times, but I think it bears repeating.  Many successful athletes extol the importance of free play versus coach led training early in their development. Free play encourages love of the game, improves creativity and problem solving, and develops skills that will be valuable off the field as well.

Continue reading “Free Play Versus Coach Led Training”