Ten weeks ago, my wife and I welcomed into the world a 6lb 10oz little boy. He is just amazing. He has brightened up each and every day of our lives so far (as well as killing any hope of sleeping a full night again!). Every day he wakes he shows us something new and magnificent, and learns so much more about the world. This is our first child so it is all new to me and there is much for me to learn and discover about how babies develop. But so far, I believe there are many parallels to coaching athletes and athlete development.
Not that I didn’t already know, but babies need much nurturing. Babies (and children) constantly need someone there for them to care, reassure and protect them while they are growing and learning about the world around them. This has parallels to what athletes need from their coach. Some athletes need more nurturing than others. Depending on the age of the athlete, this may determine the level or type of nurturing which is required by the coach (or the type of nurturing which the coach is happy/comfortable to provide). With the athletes I coach, some need more reassurance and affirmation than the others. I generally try to ‘play’ to athlete’s personality styles and provide a sense of nurturing specific to each of them. Whether that be having an extended chat or phonecall after practice, exchanging a few text messages about their recent form, to giving them books/articles to read or sending them YouTube links to watch. I try to do my best to work out the best type of nurturing for each athlete.
As I have come to realise, babies need a very strict routine throughout the day, BUT especially as they are preparing for bedtime – bath, sleepsuit, cuddles, feed, cuddles, rocking chair, music, hopefully sleep!). In this case, the routine lets the baby know they are getting ready to go to sleep for the night and is something which can be replicated each night to achieve the same the outcome. Athletes are very similar in the fact that they need a routine to rely on through both practice and competition. A previous coach of mine gave us a very solid warmup protocol which not only prepared us for the session or meet but kept us on task and time to be ready. It allows the athlete to just focus on the sequence of the warmup rather than over-analysing the task before them. The methodical and repetitious nature of a warmup allows the athlete to prepare themselves for competition each time head out for battle.
Our little man is 10 weeks old and what a life he lives… Awake for 2 hours; sleep for 1 hour (ahh for some more sleep!). Each day he is literally getting bigger and growing in every way… His body, his hair, his finger nails, his stomach! everything is getting bigger. Babies need so much sleep and rest as their system is in a dynamic state of overdrive where everything is geared for constant development and growth. Rest and recovery is key for athletes and sometimes undervalued by both coaches and athletes. As most coaches know; athletes improve when they are NOT at training… They improve when they are in bed at night. Sleep is one of the most crucial factors to achieving elite performance and where the body’s endocrine and neural systems work their magic. Along with sleep, a Deload week periodised into the cycle, whether forced or planned, allows the parasympathetic nervous system to take back the reigns and send the body back towards a state of homeostasis.
Babies learn at an incredible rate. At this stage of their development they are constantly learning new things, building a dense forest of dendrites for the brain. Only just this week, my wife and I have seen our little boy develop the kinaesthetic awareness to roll over from his stomach onto his back. We haven’t had to teach him or demonstrate how to do this; it is instinctual at this stage of his development for him to do this. The same as when they begin to crawl. As I know from being a teacher, students (and athletes) learn skills and tasks at different rates, and through different modalities. Some athletes need a skill to be cued over and over again for it to become habitual, whereas others will need the cue a few times and it will be set. Learning styles is also something which needs to be considered as some athletes rely heavily on visual demonstrations and cues whereas others need a complementary verbal explanation of the task. As the coach (and teacher) we need to find out what works best for each individual athlete to allow them to each progress at their fastest possible rate.
Even though babies cannot talk, they can certainly perceive stress and the associated body language which accompanies it. Like any parent, after an extensive and fruitless period of time trying to get your child to sleep, your cortisol levels are rising and your muscles are becoming tense and tight. It is hard to have a calm demeanour and positive body language when nothing is going right; and I feel babies can detect this; and in my short time as a parent, becoming even more negative has not helped one bit. Body language is so important in coaching as often your athletes look to you for comfort. You need to be the person who displays body language which compliments the occasion without getting too down on a poor performance nor going too overboard with the spoils of competition (although I have done this). I believe a more balanced take on body language is the way to go.
Tone of Voice
Like most parents with a baby, although sometimes very early, we are always very happy to see our son first thing in the morning. Whatever the phraseology, we are always very positive so he knows we are delighted to see him each morning. This generally puts a very big smile on his face (and ours). The tone of voice used when coaching generally sets the tone of the session. If the athlete group is a little quiet or tired from previous sessions, it most likely rests on the coach to get the group going by being more vocal and theatrical (not my strong point). I have never been a fan of, nor try to replicate a negative tone of voice while coaching; it never got the best out of me and I don’t believe it does of others. Your use of voice (and not using your voice) is one of your biggest weapons as a coach; you need to use it in a positive (and sometimes assertive) way to elicit strong performance outcomes.
So there you go, 10 weeks in and learning and reflecting about coaching because of the little guy!