Bruce spent many years working at Microsoft leading high performing teams. You can explore many of his ideas regarding leadership and other topics via the links to his blogs, which can found at the end of this article.
During recent years Bruce has also coached rowing teams in his local school. He places great emphasis on the importance of using the appropriate coaching techniques to get the best from a team. Here is an extract from a recent email I got from him outlining the school’s achievements.
Last night was a real high point in my coaching career (I have also coached youth basketball in West Africa) as the school effectively marked its achievement as the 2010 ‘Head Season’ top rowing school in Great Britain. We have just completed two days of National Championship competition and at the end Borlase (our school) gained the highest medal count and ‘medal points’ across both days. The official trophy for top performing girl’s squad went to Borlase.
In this article Bruce explores ‘the art of timing’ when coaching.
There is a time and place for everything, including fine coaching. One of the things I have noticed about coaching is that helpful support and words of wisdom have different relevance and impacts depending on their timing. Not the timing of delivery like ‘comic timing’.
But at what stage of preparation the coaching is taking place? Consideration of the ‘context’ is not new to leadership and ‘situational leadership’ models are quite prevalent and useful. This coaching ‘tip’ is a variant of ‘situational leadership’ principle. But the stages are aligned to the development of the individual, rather than the development of the project.
I observe a lot of coaches who do not pay heed to this timing consideration. In their minds, a useful instruction given in pre-season training camp is just as valid at the starting line moments before the pistol.
But good coaching takes time to embed itself. Certain attributes of performance can be affected in short order while others require longer times frames. Furthermore, the frame of mind of the performer is dramatically different between the earliest outset of training to moments before the performance.
1) Years, months and weeks prior focus on Development.
Most ongoing training and preparation, often under the tutelage and guidance of a coach, is focused on ‘developing’ overall ability. This ‘ability’ comes into two primary pieces with sport especially: a) fitness; b) technique.
Fitness requires a sequence of pushing the body to its limits and letting it recover which in itself will take a couple of days even for a fit person in their prime. The improvement from that cycle will be a small sliver in the overall enhancement sought. So it needs to be done over and over again. Over weeks, months and years.
And then there is the technique. Even a sport as simple and basic as the 100 yard dash – one person running in a straight line – the event has been deconstructed into a number of specialised skills to optimise performance at the most elite levels.
Sports like rowing, gymnastics and swimming introduce hugely sophisticated and critical technique skills that are essential to success. And the only way to hone these is the punch line to the famous joke about: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” Practice, practice, practice.
2) Days prior focus on Readiness.
Once the competition is days away, little material impact can be made to fitness or technique. If the thousands of hours of training haven’t done their job to date, then a few crash courses of preparation will have minimal impact. On the contrary, pushing too hard in a short space of time introduces the risk of injury and screwing up already sound technique.
This consideration was raised in last week’s Sunday Times Magazine article ‘Diva of the Downs’ on opera singer Danielle de Niese: “I have read that Katherine Jenkins doesn’t talk for three days before a performance and uses sign language. ‘I will speak, but I won’t sing before a performance. If you were to practice too much unsupervised you might get a few degrees off the perfect sound that you want to have. And then that becomes another thing you need to undo.’”
Sometimes you will hear about super elite athletes making adjustments to technique at the eleventh hour. I would argue that they are not really ‘refining’ technique, just ‘selecting’ it.
These exceptional athletes have refined their techniques and control so completely over the years, that they can just as easily do one way as another. But most athletes, like school children and recreational amateurs, are not performing at that level and these assertions are most relevant to them.
What does become critical in the ‘days’-prior preparation window is the physical ‘readiness’. Essentially, this readiness is diet, rest and warm-up. Dieticians work with high performing athletes to optimise their overall return on training, but what you have eaten and rested in recent days has a massive impact on what the body and mind is ready to do on the day. And the optimum diet for ongoing development is not the optimum diet for getting the body ready for a burst of peak performance.
3) Hours prior focus on Attitude.
It is the day of the competition. Hours to go … maybe minutes. If you can’t much boost technique or fitness in the recent days, then you certainly can’t in the final moments. Even with the most inspiring words (and if you have super inspiring words which hone someone’s technique by their mere mention, then why have you waited this long to share them?). You can’t affect the body’s metabolism beyond some basic fueling (carb loading) and hydrating.
So what can you affect? Mental attitude. Namely: positivity and focus. The mind is a much more volatile than physical fitness, autonomic muscle memory or metabolism. Years, months and days of effort to make one ‘happy’, for example, can be dashed in a moment with some sad thought.
One can certainly practice the art of concentration and focus; the performer still needs to summon up the honed skills on the day. This is the time to share that special compliment, positive statement, positive image that does summon up the positive energy and self-belief for the athlete or performer.
Bruce’s Blogs. Here are the links to his blogs. Well worth visiting.
http://dynamicwork.co.uk – "Getting leaner and greener with IT."
http://maldivescomplete.com – complete guide/blog on Maldives resorts