Coaching & Development, Performance | Mar 27, 2020
Dave Slemen and Anna Edwards, from Elite Performance Partners, reflect on a day of learning and insight that set out both the skills and the mindset needed to be a successful coach.

“Not even a virus can stop us learning” – Michael Caulfield

From the moment the inaugural Virtual Leaders Meet: Coach Development began this week, it was clear that, while we weren’t all in the same room, we were in the same boat.

By Dave Slemen and Anna Edwards

Unlike Gen Z brilliantly brought to life in the final talk of the day by Jonnie Noakes, Director of Teaching & Learning at Eton College, as we sat at our computer screens around the globe we couldn’t be assumed to be ‘tech savvy’, let alone ‘tech innate’, instead participating in the shared learning experience that is the sudden need to get to grips with video technology, on our own.

This secret fear was dealt with swiftly and well by the hosts at the Leaders Performance Institute via their upfront recognition that there would be mistakes; their guidance on how to use our home tech at the start of each session; and their infectious patience when the inevitable glitches occurred.

Figuring it out, together

That collective vulnerability was somehow felt across the 700 or so unseen participants through the questions, tweets and comments sent during the conference.

A sense of not knowing the answers and of figuring it out, together. Vulnerability is one of the key qualities we look for in the best leaders and ran as a content theme throughout the day.

Kick-started by Jamie Robinson, Head of Professional Game Development at the FA, as he described the complexity of coaching individuals in a team setting, this premise was picked up by Steve Borthwick, incoming Head Coach of Leicester Tigers, in his subsequent talk on the ‘Art of Skills-based Coaching’. Despite different backgrounds and experiences, the two speakers danced around a common theme in which both stressed the importance of context, and of understanding the necessary dichotomy between working with players as individuals and recognising theirs are team sports, and that ultimately it is the team that needs to perform.

Vulnerability is one of the key qualities we look for in the best leaders

As part of this, Jamie highlighted not just the importance of delivery, but of aligning that delivery to the bigger picture; of understanding how to both be present on the ground while appreciating the higher purpose – and creating your stance to enable you to embrace both.  Treating people as individuals whilst also involving them in a broader story was equally part of the guidance given by Jonnie, as he suggested how we might best handle Gen Z. His advice is to help them learn by doing, teach them to collaborate and ensure clear goals and development stages are set gave us faith that at least some of the skills that will be required of coaches working with future generations are already in play – and aligned with the thoughts of Lucero Tagle, the People & Organisation Development Lead at Google, on developing people to reach agreed milestones, thereby creating succession planning.

‘The more I coach, the more I know, the more I have to learn’

Much of Steve’s talk took the form of reflection on his own journey and the need to keep growing – and learning – yourself if you are to coach well, as his quote above attests.  Growth also set the scene for Lucero’s presentation on ‘Nurturing Googlers’ telling us that people are a priority, and that within this her focus ‘is in the grow space’. This resonated strongly with us at Elite Performance Partners. One of the values we look for is curiosity, and being more interested in what you don’t know than what you do, something echoed by Steve, who proposed that great coaches aren’t there simply to impart their knowledge as this soon runs out: rather they need to learn from the players too, and create an environment in which all can develop and coach each other, moving on as the game does and players improve.

Having been lucky enough to get to know Steve recently, it was clear that the humility he showed in making these points is a result of the amount of time he takes to consider his own experiences, extracting the learnings and knowing he doesn’t have all the answers. In doing so, he epitomises the self-awareness Lucero highlighted as a path to reaching full potential.  Steve recognises that the moment you think you’ve made it is the moment you start to stand still. This too jumped out to us from our experience in interviewing coaches of different levels and across sports. Those who stand out in these conversations are the ones who know the principles that lie beneath their coaching and character and what they stand for, but without the hubris of certainty in an uncertain world.

Be more interested in what you don’t know than what you do

While many have strong opinions, in the best these are lightly held and receptive to feedback – they don’t feel like they have cracked it no matter what the outside world thinks, bringing us back to that all-important vulnerability.

In recounting his journey, Steve asked a great question of us, his unseen audience, which we will be continuing to think about over the coming weeks. How do you learn from your mistakes? How do you reflect?

Learning by doing

For the FA, conferences and events such as this only represent 10% of the learning within their coach development programmes. But what an important 10% it is, especially during uncertain times.

James Shone, an educational speaker and Founder of charity ‘I Can and I Am’, which tours schools helping Gen Z build their resilience, reminds us that in adversity we need to look ‘upwards, forwards and outwards’ to find our answers. This is something we heard, directly or otherwise, from all four speakers as they spoke of sharing and remaining open-minded.

The moment you think you’ve made it is the moment you start to stand still

We were also told of the importance of learning by doing, something the team at Leaders certainly did with regards to the technology which became increasingly seamless throughout the day. They had also clearly pre-empted Steve’s advice to ‘understand the context of that day, that week… that moment in their life’ giving us just the right amount of content to feel we’d had the conference we signed up for, albeit delivered in a very different setting.

What does the modern coach need to know?

We tackle this question in our latest Performance Special Report. Download Coachmaker: What the Modern Coach Needs to Know, which features sports organisations as diverse as Ulster Rugby, the Geelong Cats, Minnesota Timberwolves and US Special Operations discussing personal development, creating performance environments, recruitment and using data in smarter ways.

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