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What About Me? Coaching in the Shadows

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Mesmerising. Absolutely fascinating scenes last Monday on the Victoria Derbyshire BBC programme, during which retired MI5 officer Tom Marcus, hooded in black, shed light on his covert experiences throughout an eight year career with the British Security Services. From going undercover as a homeless person tracking deadly terrorist targets, to saving an officer’s life acting as a deranged drunk, in addition to foiling a bomb plot in a Manchester shopping centre you understand how intriguing listening to him was. Attempting to comprehend the work and sacrifice that these people do for their countries around the world, behind the scenes and in the shadows of everyday life – now that is a tough one; one which the large majority of us will fail to ever fully grasp or appreciate.  The most staggering and sad thing about it all? Tom can’t find a job. He resorts to working in a call centre and a burger bar three years on just to pay the bills in an attempt to support his family.

What has this got anything to do with coaching you might ask? In part it links with an interesting chat I had recently with a colleague of mine, during which we spoke about the challenges of getting on the map or career ladder as a coach. As considerable literature suggests (Jones Bailey, Thompson, 2012; Jones and Wallace, 2005; 2006; Wallace and Pocklington, 2002), coaching has drifted away from the traditional ‘coach-led’ approach towards a more balanced relationship between coach and athlete. An approach that places greater emphasis on holistic, as well as sporting development; one which involves coaches ‘steering’ as oppose to controlling hence the recognised concept of orchestration.

Think of the orchestrator on stage during a performance, steering rather than dictating their group throughout the piece. Are all eyes on him/her? I could be wrong, but the majority would probably say not. Their attention would instead be drawn to the various musicians in perfect harmony as they play with precision and grace.

Turning the focus to a sporting context, I can think of many coaches that would be delighted with this – the praise and attention of onlookers to go to their players rather than them; their efforts resulting in a mere physical or verbal pat on the back from parents, colleagues or line managers. Thinking about it, aren’t most of us like this? Don’t we all coach to help our players enjoy sport, improve and achieve success without any real wish for personal accolades? Haven’t we all accepted that the pre-requisite for that success is hours and hours of hard work on and off the field that frequently go unnoticed? Isn’t that internal gratification of bumping into a player five years down the line hearing that you inspired them to carry on playing worth it?

It might well be worth it for some we discussed; that’s all well and good, but how does a young coach who has aspirations to climb the ladder get themselves noticed? How do they find the balance between staying in the shadows as an orchestrator, and getting some recognition for the work they are doing? In some sports it might be consistently winning that gets you noticed….so one might be tempted to forgive those coaches who are results driven even if it defies what coaching is really about. After all don’t most employers ask for something tangible that demonstrates your ability to be successful? We should all know and accept that success doesn’t always equate to on-field results, yet unfortunately it remains embedded in the currency of coaching.

Indeed, in a world where the person who shouts loudest, or who knows the right person often wins (or gets the job) the coaching industry can be a frustrating, lonely and confusing one for coaches looking to further their career. At the higher levels isn’t so difficult as networking circles and media coverage increase, resulting in your name becoming more familiar with the general population of your sport. Even if you are relieved of your post, your mere experience at that higher level will rarely see you go without work for long. It is no wonder we see many coaches taking to social media to publicise their work. Fantastic a platform as the likes of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are, their artificial nature does not decipher between those coaches who are really doing a good job, compared to those who just look like they are.

So how to come out of the coaching shadows whilst staying true to your coaching philosophy?

  1. Document Your Work

You may not want to shout about the work you do, for the fear of coming across as arrogant. There is nothing to stop you though, from sitting down and documenting all of the elements that your coaching encompasses; from the on-the-pitch things to the administrative tasks that consume just as much if not more time than actually coaching! This will make you recognise just how much you do, and if and when the time comes to interview or discuss your environment with someone, you can give a true and honest reflection of what ‘being you’ involves. They say that your work or players’ attitudes are a reflection of your work, and whilst this may ring true, your players can’t speak for you at interview!

  1. Broaden Your Coaching Network

Time is always of the essence and often we as coaches aren’t blessed with lots of it. If you happen to have a day off though, or a spare hour here and there, why not arrange to shadow or observe some other coaches at the higher level? Most of the coaching community are warm, inviting and happy to showcase what they offer and this might help you develop some links personally with other coaches, and indeed with other clubs. Word of mouth spreads quickly and it won’t take long for people to sit up and take notice.

  1. Enhance Your Cultural Experiences

One of the best ways to improve your coaching is by broadening your cultural experiences. Both Eddie Jones and Stuart Lancaster have recently spoken in the Daily Telegraph, about the impact that going abroad has had on their personality, perceptions and general coaching skills. It might be easier said than done, but if you have the opportunity, there may not be a better way to come out of the coaching shadows.

It would be fascinating to hear the thoughts and opinions from any young or aspiring coaches looking to further their careers, or indeed those who have met various challenges along the way in theirs. Head Coaches, Performance Directors and Head of Departments – your insights would also provide a stimulating debate!

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Comments (6)

   
EllyNetball

Thought provoking ... along with some sound advice from Matt Thompson!!!
To facilitate my development over the past couple of years, I've managed to find opportunities to be court-side at a few training sessions led by high profile coaches within the netball world; I can vouch for time well spent; it certainly gave me an insight to that next level and a whole raft of other things to consider. I'm now investigating an opportunity to shadow a Netball SuperLeague coach on a match day and then at a match-analysis session. Although I'm not a high profile coach, I have encouraged other coaches in my area to come to my Academy sessions ... and I urge them to be 'on the floor' listening-in to the questions I pose to the players and the answers and discussions the players have. This makes it much more of a coaching experience as opposed to attending just to capture a few new practices. It also means I can grab a few moments to talk through the practices and coaching tips.
Having read Matt's article, I'm also going to 'document my work' in a so-called normal week. You never know when the output of a task such as this will come in useful ;-)

15/10/16
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Ralph

The sad story of Tom Marcus, a present day James Bond, who’s only mistake, perhaps, in being societies hidden protector is; never work in isolation. Tom I hope wasn’t doing it for his country, that is an inanimate object and probably why he wasn’t rewarded for keeping us coaches safe on the streets of Manchester. I don’t coach for my court, I don’t coach for my pitch, I don’t coach for my field and certainly don’t coach for my sport. When we say, we are competing for our country, it’s not the country, it’s what the country represents and what any country represents are the people and their culture, their personality and ethics.
David Cameron (recently voted third worst PM ever) is still working on his Big Society idea, yet coaches have been doing this forever. One recent L.S.E. study showed, if all U.K. people in the voluntary sector, stopped giving their free time to this country, the entire economy would collapse within a month to levels worse than the great depression.
T cells and B cells are central to the human immune system. B cells and T cells silently operate in the adaptive immune response--the immune system's third and final line of defence.
Perhaps that’s why we only become human, when we are ill?
Only then do we create and do our bucket list. “Documenting your work” is the coaches bucket list.
Why do we wait until a close friend dies before we tell them how much they mean to us?
“broadening your coaching network” is the coaches bonds.
“Enhance your cultural experience” are the coaches doing it for your country.
it seems Einstein is right as usual, "all individuality is an illusion", nothing works in isolation. All the entire Universe’s stable chemicals create bonds that make up elements, that make up everything, including us.
Perhaps that’s why Ian Fleming chose the name James Bond.

Perhaps that’s why Matt Thompson has to spell out what the story has to do with coaching.
This platform isn’t called connect coaches accidentally; 66 views and only 2 comments and only 2 likes. Not a one off, blog after blog, question after question, and yet so few coaches can even be bothered to click the like button, breath-taking!
Lack of courage, apathy, contempt, carelessness, selfishness; all the things I’d have thought don’t belong in coaching?
Well at least we can rely on Marcus and out Tcells do to the work we aren’t prepared to do or give them acknowledgment for. Perhaps we shouldn’t complain that we get no recognition because we give no recognition?
"evil happens, when good people do nothing"
“I am a one in ten, a number on a list, a statistic, a reminder, of a world that doesn’t care.”
UB40

16/10/16
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Ralph

Greed and fear hamper cooperation

Fear of something or some people within the group can cause people within a group to work better together. Everyone benefits when cooperation runs smoothly. However, people often act obstructively or disengage. Why do they do that? Professor of Social Psychology Carsten de Dreu researches this issue using a wide variety of methods, from brain scans to the role of religion.
Fear of being exploited
From winning a complex war to developing a life-saving drug: there are so many things that can only be achieved if people work together in harmony. They can then achieve impressive performances that also benefit the individual. So, why do colleagues or others so often make things difficult for one another? Empirical research carried out by De Dreu has shown that greed and fear are the basic reasons underlying problems with teamwork. 'People are afraid that their contribution will mainly benefit those people who themselves contribute nothing. That's why people hold back and invest in self-protection rather than cooperation.'
Experiments
De Dreu examined the strategies people use to maximise the benefits for themselves and to reduce the risk of being exploited. He conducts experiments where the participants can invest in self-protection or attacks on others, or they can choose to do nothing. When motivated by greed, people seem to invest mainly in self-protection and less in attacks on others. 'Fear is almost always present as a brake on cooperation, but it's more difficult to predict when greed will crop up.' The paradox is that fear among rival groups tends to result in people working better together. 'It seems to happen almost automatically, often without it even being discussed.'
What does our brain look like?
As Professor of Employment and Organisation Psychology at the University of Amsterdam, De Dreu has conducted a lot of research on cooperation within organisations. In Leiden he intends to approach the subject at a higher level of abstraction. 'We know a lot about what makes the best kind of leaders. Now I want to examine what our brain looks like when we are working together. I'm interested in that because cooperating with one another relies on very basic systems that we also use for other tasks, such as child-rearing.'

16/10/16
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Lippy

I would be interested to know if the participants in Professor De Dreu's research are male or female. There is research available that concludes that men overstate their achievements and women understate theirs. As a coach who tends to work independently I find the occasions when I work with and talk with other coaches invaluable. Sometimes it makes me realise how adaptable and effective I can be. Other times it makes me think 'oh I wish i had thought of that!'

16/10/16
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Ralph

what better definition of a coach does anyone need, i'd trust my athletes with you Jane.

16/10/16
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Ralph

Function rather than form
Research has found that when girls view their bodies through a functional lens, they’re more likely to be satisfied with and appreciate their body. They also report feeling more empowered and physically capable.
The physical activity and sporting environments play an important role in redirecting girls’ focus back to body function. Girls who participate in sports and physical activity express higher value for the functional characteristics of the body and are also more satisfied with not just how their bodies look, but also how they function.
Enrolling girls into sports programs or simply encouraging them to be physically active (walking, hiking, rock climbing) is an effective way to re-introduce them to their functional capabilities and allow them to re-discover the amazing instrument they have within their bodies.
But as children go through adolescence, sports participation in sports activities decreases, with girls participating less than boys. This may be explained by the barriers adolescent girls themselves perceive towards sports participation. Girls report feeling self-conscious or uncomfortable about their bodies, a lack of confidence in their physical abilities and feeling unfeminine as reasons to resist participating in sports.
The sexualisation and overt display of the female body through uniform design can also impact girls’ inclination to participate in specific sports. Track and field, swimming, gymnastics are some examples.
Parents and coaches can play an important role to encourage girls' participation in physical activity. First, the body needs to be taken off “display” so that judgements aren’t being based upon appearance.
Second, dialogue needs to be directed toward physical competence, enhancing rather than ridiculing girls physical abilities.
Finally, participation does not always have to be structured – unstructured sports play can offer the same opportunities for skill development than structured environments.
Bree Abbott Researcher, School of Psychology and Exercise Science, Murdoch University

16/10/16
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