Back in prehistoric days, when the dinosaurs roamed the earth and “real” men were “tough,” coaching was all about using fear and intimidation to shape young minds, hearts and bodies. During this heartwarmingly nostalgic time, it was “normal” for a coach to threaten, humiliate and physically and emotionally punish his athletes in order to properly shape and “inspire” them to greatness. Ah yes, the wonders of fear, disrespect and intimidation as high-tech motivational tools! Those young male athletes who didn’t measure up were publicly labeled “soft,” “pansies” and “girls” by their machismo coaches and then relegated to the bench where, it was made publicly known, that their wimpy butts belonged!
This was a grand old time when coaches regularly instilled the fear of God in their players and the very last thing that you ever wanted to do was bring down the wrath of this all-powerful and all-knowing being by messing up! Oh, how I long for this “softer, simpler” time when true coaching was simply a one way street and athletes, their parents and administrators knew their places, that they were better seen and not heard!
But despair not, little bucko! There are still a few too many of these tough, bull-in-a-china-shop coaches out there teaching the old fashion way, helping our younger generation develop some “mental and physical toughness!” Let’s take the case of Coach “A,” an old school swim coach whose exploits recently crossed my desk. Now here’s a man who really understands the “my way or the highway” style of coaching. You can all sleep easier at night knowing that there are plenty of Coach “A’s” out there doing God’s work and preparing our children to be broken in all the strong places!
Coach “A” is the kind of “educator” who believes that true greatness can only be developed by pushing your athletes mercilessly beyond their limits and then, when they fail to rise to the next challenge, openly and loudly demeaning them in front of their peers. “A” likes to catch his swimmers doing things wrong, no matter how small or insignificant the transgression because this, he says, is really how you make young kids better! So he never misses an opportunity to publicly criticize what he sees as an athlete’s ability, talent, work ethic, commitment and/or toughness. And forget about getting positive feedback from Coach “A”. He doesn’t believe in that character-softening BS! Any moron knows that when you regularly give athletes positive feedback and build their self-esteem you cripple and weaken them!
When you have a bad swim, Coach “A” lets it be known that he is displeased with you by ignoring you after your performance. His philosophy is why waste his energy talking to you about what you did well and what you could have done better when his main goal is to motivate you to swim fast no matter what? How could an understanding of what you did wrong and what you need to do next time to correct it possibly help you become better?
What I especially like about Coach “A” is how he challenges his male swimmers to step it up. He pits these guys against some of the female swimmers saying to the boys before the in-practice race, “If you lose to these girls you suck and probably shouldn’t be on this team.” Only a truly great motivator like “A” would understand the complexities and fragility of the adolescent psyche enough to effectively use this powerful coaching technique. And then when one or more of these swimmers in question fail to beat their female counterpart, Coach “A” is right there with his perfectly timed motivational abuse:
“What is your problem loser? You just let a girl beat you! How could you do that? What is wrong with you son? You really shouldn’t even be on this team!” That is usually followed by kicking the offending party out of the pool for the rest of practice. After all, it’s pretty obvious that they went out and lost on purpose and kicking them out will toughen them up!
Yes, Coach “A” gives us all hope that he and others like him can effectively mold our younger generations into tough as nails champions. So what if no one on the team likes or respects him? Who cares if all of his swimmers are totally intimidated by him. Does it really matter if several kids have already quit the sport or transfered to other teams? “They were soft as grapes!” It’s obvious to me that these kids just don’t appreciate the sophistication and sensitivity of his approach. Most likely they’ll all probably thank him later when they’re lucky enough to mature and truly understand all that he’s done for them!
When parents and swimmers complain that no one’s having fun, Coach “A” simply scoffs at this idea. “FUN!? Are you kidding me?! You want fun, go splash in the little kids’ pool. This isn’t about fun! It’s about respecting me and molding champions!”
So let’s just see if we can learn a few valuable lessons from Coach “A’s” fine techniques and his precise use of THE PRINCIPLES OF PEAK PERFORMANCE:
Peak performance in or out of the pool is all about staying focused on yourself, “swimming your own race” or “playing your own game.” Worrying about or focusing on an opponent before or during your performance will insure that you ALWAYS get intimidated, physically uptight and lose your focus of concentration. This is why Coach “A” always reminds his swimmers before their races, “you need to beat “X” and if you don’t…..”
Peak performance can only happen when the athlete is loose and relaxed before and during the performance. This is one of the main secrets to performing to your potential. If you’re too nervous before a competition, your muscles will be too tight for you to do your best. This is why Coach A spends so much time making sure his athletes stay relaxed and calm before their races!
Peak performance can only happen when the athlete is able to keep his/her concentration in the NOW, focused on the moment by moment unfolding of the performance. Worrying about the outcome, losing, messing up or any of the “what if’s” is a FUTURE focus and one of the main causes of performance disrupting nerves and choking. We know that Coach A is a master at getting his athletes concentrating on all of the right things.
Peak performance can only come about when an athlete or team has no worries about making mistakes or failing. You will always perform your best when you are in an environment where you feel total freedom from the negative consequences of failing or messing up. Those coaches who angrily attack their athletes for making mistakes or losing inadvertently teach them the exact opposite. They make their athletes hyperaware of the consequences of screwing up and, in the process, actually set their athletes up for this to happen! We know how well Coach “A” does here!
Peak performance happens when athletes are having FUN! That’s right “A,” FUN! You will never perform to your potential if you’re too serious or scared, NEVER! If you’re not having fun, then you will be too tight physically to play the way that you’re capable of. “Serious” during a competition is a serious problem for your performance! This is why Coach “A” regularly reminds his swimmers to relax and just have fun!
Peak performance can only happen when athletes are CHALLENGED and NOT THREATENED! Challenging athletes communicates to them that you the coach believe in their ability to get the job done. It builds self-esteem and a belief in one’s self. It relaxes the athlete. Threatening athletes with negative consequences for losing or poor play inadvertently communicates to them that you, the coach do NOT trust them or their ability to get the job done. Furthermore, threats kill the athlete’s fun of the experience, spike their anxiety level and distract their concentration away from the performance, where it belongs, to the negative consequences of the threat. We know where Coach “A” falls here, ON HIS FACE!
So as we can see, Coach “A” adheres very closely to these fine principles of peak performance. What makes “A” an even more effective educator is that he is an EXPERT. In his world view, he has all the answers! He has stopped his own learning by completely closing himself off to appropriate feedback from his athletes and their parents. Not only does this make him a bad coach. It makes him rather stupid!