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Three Lessons All Leaders Should Learn

1/11/2016

A coach sketching out a plan. Illustration. (Medium)BY KATIE ARNOLD//NATIONAL TEAM HIGH PERFORMANCE CONSULTANT

This past summer I was fortunate to be able to attend the Leaders Sport Performance Summit in New York. During the two-day conference, I heard panel discussions that included coaches, athletes, psychologists, and even a neurosurgeon. During these discussions I was exposed to a lot of new concepts that I had never previously learned. I also had a number of “forehead slap” moments when I realized that the fairly obvious idea that was being explained on-stage was actually something that had never really occurred to me before. Below are three of these ideas I heard that have proven to be the most valuable and most often repeated in my work and life.

1. “My son only skates full speed when he is trying to get off the ice for a line change.”
This anecdote was told by a professional hockey coach (and father) who was describing what he observed while watching one of his son’s hockey games. He couldn’t understand why his son appeared to give less than his full effort during so much of the game. When asked about it afterwards, his son said that the only time he knows exactly what he is supposed to be doing is during line changes. After hearing this simple and honest response, it seemed so obvious to me. We cannot reasonably ask people to give their best effort if we do not first tell them exactly what is expected. Clear and well-defined roles, duties, and expectations are an absolute necessity if we want to get 100% effort out of those we lead.

2. “Focus on identifying the problem, not just the results of the problem.”
It seems so simple, but in reality it is a pretty difficult thing to do. Anytime I am giving stroke feedback to an athlete or coach, I have to remind myself constantly to distinguish between the cause and the effect. When we go to a doctor with a list of symptoms, it is their job to use this information to diagnose and treat the illness. The same can be said of coaching. It is not enough to “treat the symptoms” without also working to “cure the illness.” You can’t expect to fix a narrow entry in backstroke without addressing the underlying rotation issue.

3. “It is far easier to give good information in the beginning than to break a bad habit once it has formed.”
This is another idea that seems so obvious in hindsight but is so often overlooked in day-to-day life. Any coach who has worked with a swimmer who came to them from another program (club transfers, high school to college, college to postgrad, etc.) will know the frustration of trying to change a habit that has already been established. Let’s be honest, any human who has ever set out to change one of their own habits (diet, exercise, nail biting, etc.) will understand how difficult this process can be. It is far easier to teach good technique from the beginning than it is to change technique down the road. While you certainly can “teach an old dog new tricks,” it will always be easier to start training them as a puppy.