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Sarah Collings
Talent and Performance Developing Mindsets

Thanks Coach: A Decade of Self-Reflection on an Athlete's Critical Moments

Self-reflection is a huge part of an athlete's toolbox for improving their performance and understanding their relationships with coaches

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.

Careful reflection on one's practice is critical to becoming an effective coach.

Cote & Gilbert 2009; Nater and Gallimore, 2010

Understanding the impact of others

It is not just the ability to self reflect on performance and training, but on the impact others around you are having on your progression.

While 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 at 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 in 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 coach's 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 the coach became frustrated with my attitude and I received a dressing down from the coach in front of the whole squad for a 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!

Understanding these moments

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, I 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’. 

Related Resources

  • Communication and Coaching

  • How Coaches Can Learn from Psychology to Analyse the Self

  • Self-Analysis and Feedback Questions


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Sarah Collings