Coaching for Performance – GROWing Human Potential

July 2, 2012 | By

Coaching for Performance.The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines the verb to coach as to “tutor, train, give hints to, prime with facts.” This does not help us much, for those things can be done in many ways, some of which bear no relationship to coaching. Coaching is as much about the way these things are done as about what is done. Coaching delivers results in large measure because of the supportive relationship between the coach and the coachee, and the means and style of communication used. The coachee does acquire the facts, not from the coach but from within himself, stimulated by the coach. Of course, the objective of improving performance is paramount, but how that is best achieved is what is in question.

The concept of coaching originated in sport, and for some reason we have tennis coaches but ski instructors. Both for the most part, in my experience, are instructors. In recent years tennis instruction has become somewhat less dogmatic and technique based, but it still has a very long way to go. Ski instruction has moved too, but less by choice than by circumstances. Snow boarding, and variations on that theme, was “owned” by young people who taught themselves in part because few traditional skiing adults could do it. Aside from that, young people today have had enough of being told by adults and they are remarkably adept at picking up new physical skills. Shorter carver skis are also far easier to learn on, so ski schools have had to adapt their methods to suit the client rather than themselves.

The Inner Game

The teaching of tennis, skiing, and golf was tackled over two decades ago by Harvard educationalist and tennis expert Timothy Gallwey, who threw down the gauntlet with a book entitled The Inner Game of Tennis, quickly followed by Inner Skiing and The Inner Game of Golf. The word “inner” was used to indicate the player’s internal state or, to use Gallwey’s words, “the opponent within one’s own head is more formidable than the one the other side of the net.” Anyone who has had one of those days on the court when you can’t do anything right will recognize what he is referring to. Gallwey went on to claim that if a coach can help a player to remove or reduce the internal obstacles to his performance, an unexpected natural ability to learn and to perform will occur without the need for much technical input from the coach.

At the time his books first appeared, few coaches, instructors, or pros could believe his ideas, let alone embrace them, although players devoured them eagerly in bestsellerlist quantities. The professionals’ ground of being was under threat. They thought that Gallwey was trying to turn the teaching of sport on its head and that he was undermining their egos, their authority and the principles in which they had invested so much. In a way hè was, but their fear exaggerated their fantasies about his intentions. He was not threatening them with redundancy, merely proposing that they would be more effective if they changed their approach.

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