Jan's Blog: A view from France II

Anyone serious in sports coaching professions would probably find common ground when discussing the extent of one’s ability to influence and impact on entrusted athletes. A textbook scenario, documenting the complexity of passing wisdom to the athletes is when the coach provides instructions and believes that it has landed on listening ears - quite wrong. It could be the case that unless it had been somehow lost in translation! Then, how do you find out that the message got across?

Experienced coaches know; repeat, repeat, repeat and never stop reminding. It can be a very tiring, draining and sometimes you feel like banging your head against a wall. That may partially explain why many coaches, after years in the business, become less approachable, even thick skinned or have had enough and hit the road to the sunset.

Parallels could be drawn with technical skill training. Achieving mastery in any technical skill requires thousands of repetitions, endless drills and continues application. Repetitive training, no matter how frequent, however is not the ultimate answer to success. Athletes need to sustain significant levels of concentration in the process of learning a new skill, continually doing it in drills to the point where muscle memory is created. That is seriously hard work, impossible without motivation, vision and medal winning ambitions. It is the stage of an athlete’s development which enables blisteringly fast and highly precise deployment of technical skills in a competition situation under pressure.

Sadly, neither is this the definitive answer to successful performance. Effective execution of technical skills requires mental strength, optimal emotional balance, control of performance anxiety and expectations. An athlete’s ability to maintain cognitive functions of the brain during the pressurised competition stages can be a winning quality. The opposite is loss of emotional control, succumbing to fears of failing, incapacity to deal with self-doubts which cause diminishing front lobe and higher layers of the brain functions.

Properly structured and thorough training of technical skills aims to achieve mastery, but equally importantly, also constructs layers of solid foundations in the athlete’s mental armoury ready to deal with the stresses of world class performance and confidence in your own strengths. Imagine an elevator firmly stationed at the 10th floor, an analogy of an athlete’s well balanced mental state allowing performance of the technical skills at top international standard. As the competition pressure increases, the elevator stops resisting gravitation and begins a fast decent through the floors, breaking the safety layers in each of them until it either stops thanks to solid foundations or falls all the way down. If the training of technical skills was for whatever reason compromised or an athlete did not concentrate consistently in the learning process, the elevator has the energy to hit the basement - what is actually the rudimentary Amygdala brain triggering the ‘flight or fight’ response. An athlete in such a state of mind is unable to perform up to expected standard and would be unlikely reach their maximum potential.

We are now establishing and implementing an optimal training programme for the remaining 2 – 3 weeks prior to the peak championships of the season and it is always a challenge. Skill development versus physical training, individual athlete needs and mental preparations. A lot to take into account, consultations, decisions to be made and communicated. I feel the coaching and support teams have come together to enjoy constructive working relationships, careful optimism and occasional banter. Needless to say, we have agreed that we are ‘horrible people’, no further evidence necessary. Our athletes are training well, we are starting the third week of the final preparations in good spirits.

JB, Font-Romeu, 5 August 2017   

If you've missed any of Jan's other blogs this year, you can read them here:

  • Reflections on the 2017 season to dateJan gives his views on the first half of 2017, including reflections from the World Cup season.
  • Minsk and beyond: Our Performance Director reflects on the Senior European Championships and discusses the environment in a high performance sport system.
  • A view from France: Jan talks about when to analyse a competition and how friends and families can best support their athletes during a competition.

Posted in News on Aug 07, 2017