Sprinkles, Icing and Cake

In a sporting world where more and more is possible, where more things can be measured and more things can be evaluated, where more pressure is on performance and more money is at stake than ever, how do we prioritise our coaching jobs?

I've argued many times, that time management is a critical part of an expert coach. It is relatively easy to identify things that need to be done, but difficult to work out which of 5 possible options to do based on the amount of time you have available.

One way of making these decisions is determining whether it is a sprinkle, whether it is icing, or whether it is cake. Many things that coaches do clearly fall into these categories, but some are more difficult to categorise. Here are some thoughts:


  • Quality Coaching
  • Strength and Conditioning
  • Skill/Technical training
  • Group culture


  • Group Dynamics
  • Recovery
  • Video review
  • Training Diaries
  • Healthy nutrition
  • Experience *


  • Nutritional supplements
  • Training gear
What do other people think?

(Photo Credit)

* updated 2nd Jan, 2016


  1. I wondered if this might also encourage us to think about our conceptions of what a cake is. Does experience change the bake?

    Thanks for sending me off on a bake-off journey, Alexis.

    1. The bake is the art of coaching. The recipe is important, but the art is in the time you take to let it all come out perfectly.

  2. Where do the following sit:
    - Governance and Reporting. You might have management that do this, but coaches may still have to report to get/justify funding
    - Scouting/Talent ID/Recruiting. If you coach college sports in USA this would be the MOST important thing you do
    - Managing sideways and upwards. If you coached AFL this would be massively important. I'm sure that's what ALastair Clarkson is excellent at

    - Quality coaching is to general. I would argue many of the other things on the list are things QUality Coaching needs to deliver or manage
    - Video may be in Icing. But measurement must be in Cake. to ignore measurement in cake is to say that bookkeeping/accounting isn't the most important thing for a business.

    1. Interesting questions Hugh. I would do the following:

      Governance and Reporting - Sprinkles, the better you do with the cake, the less this matters
      Managing sideways and upwards - Icing, reluctantly. I wish it was sprinkles but it probably isn't.
      Measurement - icing, its important, but it only happens after the core processes are in place

      Scouting/Talent ID/Recruiting - it depends. In professional and college programs this is probably cake, but also, the quality of the athletes don't matter if the core isn't in place. So I'd say Icing.

      Note that I don't think that Icing and Sprinkles are not important - just that their importance should be considered in relation to other important things.

  3. also meant to say, someone like ALastair Clarkson has to be good at managing his assistants, and may spend more time with them than the players

  4. Interesting comparison and very relevant, although I query the sprinkles.
    Whenever I was in the Russian dressing room at the Sydney Olympics, I watched how the team doctor sprinkled some powder in a paper cup, mixed it with water and gave the concoction to each player. Assuming that these were not illegal substances and Russian volleyball has not been involved in any controversies, I thought, how a small amount of "something" could realistically boost a volleyballer's performance, taken a few minutes before a game. My (non-expert) conclusion was, that the effect could only be psychological and therefore, any sort of placebo would have the same effect. WL

    1. Placebos are definitely a sprinkle! They can make a difference, but only if you are already great.

  5. I've had a few people correspond with me offline about this and thought that I'd clarify the post a little, particularly the 'cake' reference.

    Remember, when you are baking this cake, you are trying to make a cake that this the best cake in the world. You have 4/8/12/16 years to make it. Every single bit of the process is important, from the flour to each and every sprinkle.

    The point is, you aren't going to win 'Best Cake' if you spent too much time on the icing and not enough on the cake. If you are striving to be the best, you can't hide a lack of fundamentals with shiny sweet things.


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