Meditations on a year of talking about the intersection of coaching and psychology, from the perspective of the coach.
I’m fortunate to have spent 2022 working one-on-one with head coaches across professional and college sports, all around the world.
It’s not something I’ve done by design, necessarily. Rather, it came about by virtue of writing The Tough Stuff and having coaches reach out to me to support them with their own performance.
This unique coaching position has given me a first-person view into elite soccer, basketball, ice hockey, field hockey, rugby, rugby league, netball, and rowing, all at the same time.
What I’ve come to learn is that, regardless of sport, head coaches are grappling with largely the same challenges.
If it’s NIL and transfer portal in college sports, the underlying issue is the same as player power and money-hungry agents in pro sports. If it’s the intense media glare in pro sports, it’s the intense parenting glare in grassroots.
Same issues, different manifestations.
Most of the struggles head coaches face, though, are ones of personal development. The coach education system is — to be kind — a colossal failure, and the lack of meaningful ongoing support around head coaches means they don’t get to learn and develop on the job.
This quote from Premier League head coach Eddie Howe stood out to me:
"I'd been through a period of 12 years at Bournemouth where you're working, reacting, planning, preparing...but you're not investing in yourself. I hadn’t really learned anything, so I had to take a year out to go and learn the game again, and learn about myself."
Coaches shouldn’t have to take time out of the game in order to learn and develop. This is unacceptable, as far as I’m concerned.
The coaches I've observed who appear most confident and in-command are the ones who've managed to build personal development into their systems of work. Working on themselves isn't something they do, it's who they are, and their resource allocation (even in-season) reflects that.
Embedded development allows coaches’ best traits to come out more often. One that stands out to me is instinct. Outsiders obsess over their gameplans and their leadership styles, but what truly stands out about the great ones is their intuition.
When you observe the world’s best coaches from close range, they all have a remarkable gut feel and sense for what to do. If they’re stuck it’s often because they’ve lost touch with their natural instincts. (Ironically, this is the same for players).
This is where working with Alex to sharpen my High-Performance Knowledge Work framework has proven beneficial. Alex has an encyclopedic knowledge of current performance research (the likes of which I’ve only seen from Adam Grant) and he has been producing exceptional articles while holding down a high-profile job and learning to be a dad. Just being in his orbit makes me a better coach.
Writing this newsletter about the intersection of psychology and coaching has helped underpin the HPKW framework and rapidly accelerated the development of the coaches I’m working with.
Helping high-performing coaches to shun more work in favour of better work is the guiding principle, because we know that better work for coaches includes the ability to protect your time and mental resources.
Mental resources are the currency of coaching.
Recently, two-time AFL premiership captain Mark Bickley asked me a question about the biggest misconception in coaching. He wanted to know what I saw as the biggest gulf from what people think, to what is actually happening.
Here’s my response:
“That head coaches are performing anywhere close to their potential. It’s exciting to think about the performance gains we can unlock by getting this right.”
While coaching has many worrying trends, like the mass exodus and the rampant abuse cases, we also stand on the precipice of something extraordinary.
As coaching and psychology come closer together, we have the ability to unlock and unleash the true potential of our head coaches.
Many are giddy at the thought of what brain training can do for the performance of their favourite athletes, but I am pumped for what mental skills can do to heighten the performance of my favourite coaches.
While we scrounge around for a new squat technique to try to uncover a 0.01 percent improvement in an athlete, I believe there is multiple percentage points worth of talent sitting dormant within our head coaches.
This is the space that Unfair Advantage will continue to play in 2023 — unlocking the unrealized potential sitting within coaches. We have some exciting developments to announce in the near future that will expand our offering, and build out important infrastructure for coaches to continue to create their own competitive edge.
One last thought:
If you’re a head coach, 2023 should be the year you should get yourself a coach. Not a mentor — a coach. Someone to work with you every week on your performance and craft.
The best coaches in the world already have someone dedicated to accelerating their performance, and they are using coaching to create their own unfair advantage.
It is a misconception that accomplished or experienced coaches don’t require coaching to get better. Steve Jobs had a coach. Pep Guardiola has a coach. Adele has a coach.
Head coaches getting coaching is the world’s most obvious unfair advantage.
PS: You can read Alex’s review here.