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Cards on the Table - The Importance of Gathering Knowledge

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cards on a table

Now I do love a game of Poker!

I started playing roughly about the same time I started to coach. I guess it was part of an overall expansion programme for someone with a body that was no longer ‘young’.

I’ve never played for high stakes, have never been anywhere near good enough to turn pro and lost a few quid early on. However, I have improved by making a significant (and costly) number of mistakes. I’m now seeing a little bit of ‘Return on Investment’, (Poker talk for ‘winning’). To be clear, last month’s ROI was just enough to buy the coffee perched on the edge of this Café table, but winning is winning.

So what place does this have on a forum designed to discuss coaching? Where can my lessons learned from a card game link to examples of how we can improve ourselves and our athletes? Stay with me while I run through a Poker Hand.

We all get dealt the cards. We look at what we have and work out instantly if they are statistically strong. The hand might be talented. It might just be one that we’ve always enjoyed persevering with and it’s worked out before. It might be total rubbish. Statistically, any hand can win but a low ranking hand has little chance of succeeding. Bloody minded players, especially those that consider themselves the best on the table often have a habit of sticking with these hands, believing their superior skill/knowledge/experience will see them through. I like playing against these guys.

Now, think about those hands as your latest idea or plan. Your new session plan might be the pair of Aces, perfect before you’ve even started to play them (but still beatable). The Pair of Tens you might hold have worked for you before, they might work out again, albeit the opposition is different today. You could give that three and eight (not even suited) a shot and might get lucky, especially as you know that you’re the best player today and could win with anything. Like our coaching ideas, all three of them have the capacity to work, through luck, judgement or timing but how do we maximise the chances of our idea working out.


We know what we know. We have our idea in our hands but there is so much more information around that table. We know all about our idea. Experience tells us where it is strong but what if we could collect everybody else’s ideas and thoughts before we make up our own minds? If there are six players at the table, then there might be five other ideas out there, all of which can only enhance your own.


Poker players know that position is everything. If you’re the last to ‘act’, then you already have some information regarding everybody else’s plans. Some show strength by raising or weakness by folding. Perhaps a passing interest by calling a bet to see what happens next. If you’re last to act, you have the luxury of gathering all that information before making your decision. Your cards represent your idea. With patience, you’ve had the chance to listen to everybody else’s input before you make your mind up. Some have raised you with a better idea, some have nothing more to add and some are interested in letting you go further and let you act first. You’ve run your idea past all these other people first and are in a much better position to work out the strength of your plan? Why on earth would you jump straight in without learning what everybody else might be able to add?


The cards looked good. You’ve listened to everybody’s bets and now your initial plan isn’t quite as good as you thought it might be. A heavy bet from your right shows that the player has some strength in his hand (or at least thinks he has). In the past, I might have played him because I know I’m better than he is at this game. I’ve statistically lost through this bad decision but it’s not all bad as I’ve now learned from that behaviour and mistake. Nowadays, I’d fold my cards, sit back and let it play out while I watch and see if his plans are interesting. I might even adopt some of his style of play and see if it works for me later.

Also, in most Poker formats, more cards will be dealt in the middle of the hand, after you’ve already formulated a plan. Conditions change and your original idea, already improved by listening to others is now challenged by new parameters. Your idea was great up to now but how is it impacted by this sudden change and maybe you need to review your plan……….?  When coaching, late weather changes, player call-offs and the area of play may all be changed at the last minute. Are our ideas adaptable and can we afford to be too stubborn and not adapt and evolve our plans?

When I’m having a coaching chat with colleagues, I’ve got ideas in my head of sessions I’m going to run with. I describe them and draw them out with how and why I’m going to run the session. A colleague takes the pencil, sketches an idea which is way better than my original. I’ve now got two choices, stubbornly stick to my plan or now, having received some further info from someone with a stronger ‘hand’, I can fold my original idea and start a new hand because I’ve now improved it. I know I’ve coached many sessions that have been improved by talking them over first. I also know I’ve won plenty of chips after I learned to listen.




So now we’re understanding the power of gathering information but what if our original idea is a good one. What if we’re holding the Aces?  Statistically likely to win so we have to go with them but we know they’re also beatable. They remain a very good idea. Just how good the idea is can still depend on the information we can gather from the rest of the group. Remember the massive advantage of being last to speak? If we listen to our surroundings, we can choose what information to take on to STRENGTHEN a strong idea or plan. Some players may fold, no better ideas there and you know that with each fold (or reluctance to offer input) then your idea gathers strength and validity. Somebody may bet and the pot gets bigger. They’ve added value to your idea with some of their own additions. Your rewards are getting bigger as the pot grows again with further knowledge. That session plan of yours has adapted with their input. They’ve given you an idea for progression to make it even better. If you’d put all your chips in on your idea in the first place, you’d have scared everybody off and only won a very small reward. With patience and respect for your peers, you now have an even better plan. You’re glad you listened now before piling ‘all-in’ without gathering info? Don’t forget to thank them for their input. It makes you a better coach. (Or in Poker, it buys the coffee!)


OK, so this is a little off track but hopefully you get my thinking. Hopefully your comments will add to it and make me think differently. Whilst Poker is often seen as a game of deception and bluffing, the better players on the table know the value of gathering information and knowledge. Hearing people out makes you a better decision maker, although ultimately those decisions are yours. The more we share our thoughts and ideas between each other, the more we can help develop and improve our game.

Where the Poker analogy falls down is that ultimately, in Tournament Poker, there can only be one winner. This will be the player who used his eyes and ears the most, rather than fixating on his own cards and blinkered plans. In coaching, if we listen, watch and share, then surely everybody gets to cash in at the end?

Thanks for reading


(By name, not nature. My Poker isn’t that great!)

If you enjoyed this you can find all my other ConnectedCoaches blogs here.

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