When Do You Need to Win?
I've been reading and thinking a lot about technique lately, and one of the things that seems to get overlooked is the relationship between technical focus and an athlete's progression along a development pathway. This in turn has got me thinking about the different imperatives along that pathway for both coaches and athletes.
The key distinguishing factor is time. High Performance coaching works backwards from the date at which everything must be achieved. Development coaching works forwards from what currently exist and towards what needs to be done in the future.
At the extremes, development coaching has an open timeline, that is, while you obviously work to build the skills of the athlete as fast as possible, in the end the end you can only progress as fast as the athlete learns and we all know some learn faster than others. Conversely, for a high performance coach there is a hard end point at which everything that can be achieved must be achieved. Then plans are made moving backwards from this in order to ensure everything is done.
How does this impact coaching? Well, that's where it gets a bit messy so please indulge me in a scenario:
In volleyball if you are teaching young girls to hit, the way they will want to hit will be to run towards the net with their hands at shoulder height either side of them, stop and wait for the ball, then jump and pat it over the net. For these girls this is a very sensible solution to the 'problem' of hitting. It is because most can't jump high enough to do all the things that elite athletes do while they are in the are. And if they are allowed to keep doing this they will never be able to hit at an elite level themselves. (And this is not even starting to discuss the need for the development of thoracic rotation and scapular stability.)
So - if the coach of these girls is a high performance coach and has to win next week or next month, then it makes no sense to do anything other than practice this effective (at this level) technique, rather than teaching fundamentals for a skill the girls can't actually execute and won't be able to for some time.
And this is why development coaching is so critical for developing athletes.
The reason for this is that it is very clear that the girls team mentioned above does not HAVE to win next week, next month or even next year. What they HAVE to do is to enjoy what they are doing, and learn the building blocks which will achieve success both as an individual and as a team. A great development coach will be able to do this and also to win. A less great development coach will be the one who says, 'I'm sorry I Wendy didn't play today, I just couldn't find a way to get her on the court'.
But like many things, we talk about the extremes of the situation in order to justify our own points of view. The reality is that there is a huge amount of grey area in the middle.
So it comes back to the question, when do you need to win? And that comes back to the reasons the coach is coaching. And that is a completely different blog post.