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Thanks Coach: A decade of self reflection on an athlete’s critical moments

By Sarah Collings Coach Education Advisor sports coach UK

“Careful reflection on ones practice is critical to becoming an effective coach” (Cote & Gilbert 2009; Nater and Gallimore, 2010)

Self Reflection as a tool for development is a difficult, yet incredibly powerful method of critiquing your own behaviours and actions. Applicable to life in general, not just to coaching, it takes a particularly strong character to genuinely look backwards in order to look forwards. To understand how your actions can impact upon and make a difference to other people lives should be an integral part of every coaches toolbox.

Recently, I have found out retrospectively, that this should also be a huge part of an athlete’s toolbox. Not in the ability to self reflect on performance and training, but in the impact others around you are having on your progression. Not only this, but whilst it is highly recommended that self reflection takes place quite quickly after the event or situation in question, I hit upon a critical moment during my day to day personal development, where I have looked back in my life to my sporting career, and have finally been able to truly self reflect on events that took place over a decade ago. Finally, and quite shockingly, I feel I understand why my coach behaved certain ways towards me in certain situations.

Whilst reaching that ‘critical moment’ looking back into my past, I was able to clearly identify three different situations, each with different coaches, that up until now I was unable to understand

The Quiet Coach:

The first coaching moment came before a world cup race that followed a period of poor performance. During a pre race discussion, whilst I was portraying some negative vibes and body language, the coach just walked away without comment.

Quite a powerful action to take, and one which probably went against the coaches natural instinct to nurture and discuss and I remember feeling highly offended that he didn’t try to talk me round.

The Frustrated Coach:

The second coaching moment was almost the exact opposite to the previous situation. During the build up to the Commonwealth Games I was exuding extreme confidence in my quest for a medal, almost too confident.

So imagine my surprise when they coach became frustrated with my attitude and I received a dressing down from the coach in front of the whole squad for bad attitude to training and preparation.

The Annoying Coach:

The final moment came during a qualifying race for a major games. I was confident (yet not overly so), nervous (but not too nervous), yet I was also very close to tipping over the edge to anxiety that would have impaired performance.

Yet despite me wanting to prepare in my usual way for a race, the coach never left my side, never allowed me a moment to think. Highly irritating at the time to an athlete preparing for a major final and wanted peace and quiet.

On each of these three occasions, I was fairly angry over the coaches attitude and behaviours towards me, and yet in a moment of deep self reflection, I finally understand why they did what they did. I can identify the motives for their actions, that at the time I considered unreasonable. And the end outcome to each of the situations outlined was always a good one. I not only met, but exceeded expectations. Something again, that until now, hadn’t managed to link to coaching behaviours.

When I reflect upon both my athletic strengths and weaknesses, I can finally see that these coaches were also aware of these during my career, and their considered actions were a direct response to knowing me, and how they perceived I might respond in certain pressure situations.

The knowledge that actually, my coaches did know me, sometimes better than I did, and were able to solicit great performances from an athlete who always had the potential to hit self destruct, has been the moment of self reflection where I finally feel the need to say ‘Thanks Coach’. 


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