Before I get into the Training Philosophy that underpins the design of all programmes that APA coaches write I think we need to spend some time talking about the Mindset that is required of a champion athlete. It’s an old cliche but a bad programme that is followed consistently is probably better than a great programme that never gets done! The point is that consistency is key to achieving success and so developing the mindset of an athlete is a key priority of all APA coaches.
Bill Sweetenham is a world renowned coach who I first heard speak in 2005. At the time he was the National Performance Director for British Swimming (he was in this role from November 2000 to September 2007). If you read read my next post on APA Philosophy 2 you’ll see I give Bill a big mention.
Bill had a number of interesting things to say but relevant to this post was his views on the mindset of winner: Below are some bullet points on what he had to say:
THE ATHLETE has a job to:
1. Train and prepare the fitness of the mind to match the fitness of the body.
Bill always gets a feel for athletes he may potentially invite into his programme by asking them,
>’What are you prepared to do/willing to commit?’
>What are you going to bring to the programme? The programme is going to contribute a lot to you. Are you going to bring a work ethic that is better than the one we have in the programme now?
Bill wants to work with athletes who have a WORK ETHIC in advance of their TALENT level. You can’t win unless you have this!
>Bill says ‘T- it’s the difference between CAN and CAN’T. Negative people never win. You have to be CAN DO people. Positive people always win.
They don’t work hard enough……
The key frustration I have experienced in my coaches who work for me is them feeling like there is an incongruence between the aspirations of the athlete and what they are currently willing to put into their training. Coaches often tell me an athlete needs to work harder; they are ‘supposed’ to be an elite performer. The key is to meet them where they are at and constantly give the child (if a junior) and the parent/coach HONEST feedback on how closely the behaviours and actions of the athlete are aligned with their GOALS. If there is a mismatch for a period of time this usually is addressed by a revision of the goals or a shift in attitude of the player. Something will have to give.
THE COACH has a job to:
1. Convert involvement and participation into commitment.
Bill describes the image of Bacon and eggs. He says the Eggs represent Involvement because the chicken is only involved in the process- they lay the eggs for the meal. But the Bacon represents Commitment because the pig gave up it’s life. Which one are you?
2. Keep athletes out of the Twilight Zone
In Swimming Bill describes the twilight zone (I’m sure it exists in all sports). At one end of the participation level, athletes might do 5 x 1 hour sessions a week. They’ll never make it but they do it for fun and fitness. At the other end there are athletes who do 20-25 hours a week including gym and swimming. These athletes expect a tangible reward for competing. They’re really hungry for winning and even more hungry for the rewards that go with winning.
In Swimming 80% of swimmers are training BETWEEN this 5 and 20 hour week. So they are in a Twilight Zone. They’re doing too much for it to be enjoyable and fun but not enough to get the real benefits from it. So Bill says try and avoid the Twilight Zone!
My experience of working with athletes in all levels of participation tells me that it isn’t always so black and white. Sometimes athletes would like to commit more but can’t afford to. Sometimes parents are unsure whether it is in the interests of their son and daughter to specialise in one sport at such an early age.
Broadly speaking I feel it is important to encourage diversity of activity in children between the ages of 5-12 years
Certainly after this age it is increasing important to narrow the focus towards the sport in which the child wants to excel.
The key point in sports such as Tennis which are highly skill dependant is that the child is given ENOUGH time in the sport at a young age, to acquire fundamental skills of stroke production (serves, ground strokes and speciality shots like volleys and smashes). Now the more ‘Talented’ the athlete the more quickly they may acquire those skills!
My final point to make is:
Do what makes you happy!
If a child is absolutely in love with one sport and that is what they wake up and go to bed dreaming about doing then I don’t have a problem with that. I also don’t have a problem if they wake up tomorrow and decide they don’t want to be David Beckham any more. They want to be Bradley Wiggins!!