What Athletes Value Most in a Coach

It’s important to think about what athletes value most in a coach. Here’s a nice little article explaining who Ronaldo considers the best coach and why.

“We had an important game in the Champions League and I said, ‘Coach I need to go to see my daddy’ and I was a key player, I was a very important player and he said, ‘Listen, your personal life, your family is the important thing that you have in your life. If you want to go three days, four days, five days you can go’.

“This moment is what I keep for me because it was the most important time in my life and he shared it with me. This is why I respect him and for me he’s the best coach I ever had.”

This is a crucial lesson for us all.

Focus, Language and Performance

In a new post on the USA Volleyball site John Kessel presents a big change in his teaching and feedback. He is adjusting to an external focus when teaching skill to his athletes. What does this mean?

Based on the work of Gabrielle Wulf, the author of a textbook Attention and Motor Skill Learning,  Kessel  has transitioned to using an external focus of attention for the athlete when giving feedback.

He no longer bases his instruction/correction on the movement of the athlete or technical specificity.

“That said, her (Dr Wulf) work is groundbreaking and it has made me change many of my words. The compilation of research across many sports shows that an external focus of attention for feedback – for both the coach and the athlete – is so clearly superior to an internal focus.”


Well, an internal focus is worse for retention primarily, which is the key to whether or not learning has taken place.

Too often as coaches we pay attention to how they are doing when they are working with us in training,  but too little on how they transfer the skill and perform it in a game when the pressure is on. In other words, retention is performance.

He goes further and says that teaching an internal focus is worse than providing “no coaching at all.”

The key he maintains is to move to an external focus, where the coach and athlete turn their concentration to “the effects of movement.”

“In a nutshell, the more you tell the performer, young or old, to focus on something inside their body – especially a body part, but also even the idea of “breathing” – the less effective the learning.  The skill is not only performed less effectively that day; the retention is also inferior.  Internal feedback phrases from the coach often result in a player performing/retaining worse than having no coaching at all.  The research shows this in so many varied sports, that we need a change in volleyball, and I welcome you to share your own change to external feedback phrases from common internal phrases.  The key is to move from an internal focus – concentrating on body movements – to an external focus, or CONCENTRATION ON THE EFFECTS OF MOVEMENT.”

The phrase “worse than having no coaching at all” hits on a gut level.

Kessel goes on to provide examples of the changes in language that he now uses to teach.  He also guides athletes with questions allowing the athlete to develop the language and metaphors for herself in order to deepen retention.

I am currently reading the textbook Attention and Motor Skill Learning to dive deeper into this topic.  In my own training sessions I have been applying these principles. It takes discipline and practice to make this change and I have not been doing it long enough to know its effect. But, I am curious enough to work with it.

Finally one other thing really impresses me.  Kessel provides a model of life long learning and change for every coach out there. Don’t stop evolving.

The entire piece can be found here.


Complacency versus Fear

Complacency versus fear. We experience both while trying to achieve big things. Typically we worry more about the latter, but it might be valuable to reconsider.

Complacency versus fear
Photo by Laurel Fan

Recently a friend of mine recommended a video of Alison Levine doing a Ted Talk in which she recounts the lessons she learned about fear and complacency leading an all-women team up Mount Everest.  Levine is a polished speaker, the talk is often funny and entertaining, and includes many lessons that can be used while coaching a team.

You can pull out a number of small excerpts throughout to show your team and use them to make a point.

One of my favorites–and I’m paraphrasing–is that “fear is a normal human emotion, but complacency can kill.”

She is discussing the danger that awaits on particularly precarious and dangerous parts of the climb. In those dangerous moments it is better to manage your fear and turn it into focus than it is to be complacent in the face of danger.

I recognize this same dynamic in coaching.

We vilify fear, but in certain situations it can be a useful tool to concentrate the mind or drive us to prepare. Complacency, on the other hand, can creep in and makes us vulnerable to the big moments we failed to prepare for, and to the mundane that we take too lightly.

It can do a lot of damage quickly.

I find this a very useful talking point with players.

Don’t worry too much about having some fear. Fear points you in a direction. It challenges you.

Worry more about becoming complacent and turning manageable tasks into bigger challenges and big challenges into threats.

Levine’s tale of ascending Mount Everest is valuable on many levels. You can find the video Lessons From the Ledge here.


Learning About Investing Makes Me a Better Coach

investment coach
Photo by ota_photos

I am not an investment coach, but I believe that learning about investing informs my coaching and makes me a better coach.

I enjoy reading and thinking about investing. For many of my friends this is incredibly dull.  OK, for most of my friends.

They really hope that I don’t discuss stocks or the markets. Or, write about it.

Before you turn away or move on, let me share just one thought.

Many of the things that I learn when reading about investing translate into valuable information for coaching.

For example, this little article on an investment site about overcoming our bias towards action.

The author discusses our need to act in most situations even when it might be best to simply do nothing, show patience or have faith.

Many coaches change quickly when times are tough because they feel the need to do something, maybe anything, to impact the situation.  We humans can’t tolerate how it feels to simply continue on the path, or worse, just wait.

Our team calls this urge to act the “Do Something Bias”—the feeling that you need to act, even when the situation doesn’t warrant it. This bias often surfaces when we feel like we are experts in a situation—and feel an undo amount of control over something uncontrollable—or when we face uncertainty and acting is our way to alleviate the anxiety of the unknown. But this bias becomes a problem when the best course of action is to do nothing. And it’s surprising how often this is the case.

It brings to mind a book I am reading and re-reading lately Antifragile, which is more philosophy than investment, but Taleb, the author made his reputation writing in the investing world.

Of course, this is probably true of any field.

The more we expand our interests and reach, the more commonality we will find among disciplines, the wider the lessons we are exposed to and the more thoughtful we can be about coaching.

Much of what we learn in other areas can be applied to coaching and in fact helps us to expand our thinking and improve our work.

So no I’m not an investment coach, but I still think learning about investing makes me a better coach.


Bias Towards Action

The Farnam Street website provides more insight into our tendency to act, our bias towards action, when the best course may be stillness or better yet, maintaining continuity.

The post from Farnam Street begins with this quote:

“We trained hard, but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form into teams we would be reorganized. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing, and what a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization.” — Roman satirist Petronius Arbiter

We all have this bias towards action at some point. Can you recognize it? And, can you stop yourself from action when the opposite is warranted?

The entire article ,which draws from the great book Seeking Wisdom. is worth reading.