I'm assisting the USA Wrestling's National Coaches Education Program by providing some feedback on their coaching certification content.
Parents and athletes, here's a good take home statistic I learned during this process.
There are 2,500,000 volunteer coaches in the United States alone, and less than 250,000 receive any formal training. Put another way, there is more than a 90% chance your coach hasn't even taken a first aid or CPR class, let alone been taught how to coach! Read that last sentence again. It's frightening!
It's fantastic that organizations like USA wrestling are implementing required education for their certified coaches. But for those of you not in wrestling, maybe you shouldn't be relying solely on your coach to become your best... I encourage you to contact me to see how my education and experience can help in your specific situation.
When we think of sports performance, we sometimes just think of the athlete. But coaches and organizations need to consider how to develop clear guidelines and policies for communicating with their athletes. This article helps to explain some best practices for doing so at the international level.
In this article written for non-profit organization Reaching Your Dream Foundation, I discuss this topic. The full article can be read here.
Some time ago, I had the opportunity to speak with two athletes at a tournament. Their comments struck me. One competitor played at an elite-level and could certainly compete with some of the best in the country. We’ll call her Sally. The other was a lower-level player who was still quite new to the sport and competition. It was her first major tournament. Let’s call her Heather.
Sally entered a very competitive division in which she was comfortably the number one seed. But she didn’t enter the most difficult division available even though she would have been somewhere in the middle of the pack in terms of seeding. I asked her why she didn’t enter the higher division. “I only play in divisions I can win,” she responded.
Meanwhile Heather was in the same tournament but playing in a division that placed her near the very bottom of the seeds. There were lower skill divisions that she would have been more likely to win, so I asked her why she had entered a higher division. “A gold medal is not the primary reason that I’m here,” she responded. “I’m here to learn and improve.”
If you’ve been reading my blog you’ll have read my article on ego orientation I wrote a few weeks ago. These two examples clearly highlight the differences between ego orientation (Sally) and task orientation (Heather).
Task oriented athletes are almost the complete opposite of ego oriented athletes. They can be identified by:
The Moderating Continuum
It’s important to recognize that rarely are athletes all ego or all task. Instead, think of the analogy of a ruler. On one side is ego and on the other side is task. We all fall somewhere on that ruler, but most of us fit somewhere around the middle.
The two examples I presented suggest that Sally is very ego oriented and Heather is very task oriented. However, I would guess that Sally has to be a little task orientated in order to become as good as she is. Heather probably has to be somewhat ego orientated or she may not compete at all. We all typically have both, but more often than not, we tend to have more of one than the other.
Where Does Ego and Task Orientation Come From?
The Goal Orientation (i.e., task or ego) of Sally and Heather stems from a variety of experiences combined with their core personality traits. However, much of this orientation will be developed through childhood and influenced by significant people in their lives (e.g., parents, coaches, and friends) but also by the sporting situations they are exposed to.
Even small comments from significant people in our lives can teach ego or orientation. “You have a higher ranking and shouldn’t have any problems beating him” focuses on comparisons between the two athletes and fosters ego orientation. Compare that to “Remember to control what you can control and keep working hard for each point.” The focus has switched to task orientation, which is much more controllable.
Parents are often at fault for reinforcing ego orientation in their athletes. “Did you win?” is the first question often asked. What if the athlete had performed to the best of their ability but lost to a superior player or team? Shouldn’t that be praised? Instead, in an ego oriented climate that doesn’t matter. Success is only determined by winning.
“How did you play?” is a much more effective question at reinforcing task orientation. The focus then becomes on controllable skills and behaviors. Effort, technique, and progress become the focal points. Winning? That’s great but personal improvement is the overall goal. Winning is a natural byproduct of continued personal improvement. All of legendary coach John Wooden’s books back me up on this one.
Which Athlete Do I Want To Coach?
Most of you will suggest that I want to coach the task oriented Heather in my original scenario. And you’d be right. But I’d also want to coach Sally, because they’re both capable of improvement, which is what I’m all about. Without any intervention, which one is most likely to become their GOAT and achieve their true potential? My money would be on Heather, and although Heather probably didn't get a gold medal at this tournament, but I suspect it won't be long before she's be taking home silverware, and probably for a long time to come.
Contact me to learn more about how task orientation can be reinforced in athletes (of any age and skill level!) and what steps sports organizations can take to foster task orientation in their staff and players.
Sports are an integral part of daily life for many people, and unfortunately many parents, athletes, and coaches lack the knowledge and skills necessary to ensure the best outcome for all. That’s partly why I started GOAT Sports Performance: to help where help is needed. Here’s a good example from a situation that I heard just this morning.
Not knowing who I was or what I did for a living, my dental hygienist started talking about her daughter’s 5-6 year old T-ball game last night (I had asked her what her favorite day of the week was and it went from there). Apparently, one player on her daughter’s team is quite selfish, and has no problem in fielding for the entire team (it’s a co-ed team where boys and girls are combined). She told me that for the entire season, whenever the opposing team made a hit, this player leaves his position and chases the ball. It doesn’t matter who should be making the play, he runs over and takes the ball away from his teammate to try and make the play.
You can imagine the frustration in this mom’s voice as she talked about how this one player is a ball hog, doesn’t know his role, and stops the rest of the team from learning and playing. “My daughter had an opportunity to get an out and this boy ran over, took the ball from right in front of her and denied her the out. She was really frustrated on the way home. It’s really aggravating for all of us, because our kids aren’t getting the chance to play!”
So who is at fault here? The players for not communicating? The volunteer coach for continuing to allow this to happen? The parents of this one child for not noticing his selfishness and doing something about it? Who says his parents don’t encourage it? Maybe it’s the other parents who should say something?
Here’s a major problem in this scenario. No one knows what to do about it. The players are just kids learning to play the sport and just want to have fun. The coach is a volunteer who didn’t sign up for this kind of situation, and the parents of the team don’t want to make it an issue with anyone. It’s a messy situation that ends up leaving everyone except one player unhappy. Chances are this team will not stick together, players will lose interest in the sport, and the coach doesn’t volunteer again.
The number one reason kids quit sports is because it is no longer fun. Don’t let that happen to your child or team! If necessary, work with someone to improve communication, establish roles, and foster an inclusive environment. For more specific information on how I can help please look through my website or contact me directly.
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