Thank you very much for your patience whilst we dealt with matters closer to home this month. For the second time in a little over a year we have been reminded of the importance of our families and also the importance of leading a healthy lifestyle, with both our departed living well into their eighties. Health and fitness are obviously highly prominent in the message we are keen to promote to our athletes, but this has become a timely reminder that, in providing the services we offer, we don’t lose sight of our own well-being.
This is never more relevant than during the busiest month of the year, which for us is always November. As athletes begin to plan for next year, we invest a lot of time in screening potential athletes for their fit into our model of coaching. This process may sound slightly more stringent that at first glance would seem necessary. Although this is as much an opportunity for the athlete to screen us, as it is for us to determine the level of compatibility, our coaching philosophy is built purely around our coaching efficacy.
Much research has been conducted on self-efficacy in teaching which has been shown to be a vital ingredient in teacher effectiveness. Whilst coaches do not share all the characteristics of teachers, much of the function we perform includes elements of instruction, guidance in the development of skills and the provision of feedback, which is consistent with teaching practice. Further still, like a teacher, the coach also acts as a motivator, strategist, administrator and planner to the athlete, to enhance both the learning and the performance of the athlete. Coach education would go one further and suggest that it is the coach’s responsibility to elicit personal growth from the athlete. However, I have always baulked slightly at this because it predisposes that the coach operates in some superior plane to the athlete which, of course, may or may not be the case. I should add, however, that the development of athlete character in aspects associated with the sport is a function of coaching.
The principle study on coaching efficacy, conducted by Feltz et al. (1999), focussed on a programme of reductionism to produce an effective conceptual model of coaching efficacy. Evaluating previous studies on coaching confidence and the more widely known work of Bandura’s conceptualisation of self-efficacy (1977, 1986), they perhaps over-simplified the model. However, in so doing, they were able to identify the coaching specific sources of efficacy information and coaching efficacy dimensions, that combine in a multidimensional model to produce a set of outcomes.
As ever, I have added my own flavour to adapt this conceptual model into a practical model that operates in the real world of coaching. Thus, the sources of coaching efficacy information come in the form of coaching experience and preparation for working with any particular athlete for a specific outcome; the prior history of coach achievement, particularly in similar circumstances; the perceived skill level and performance of the athlete; and the support network the athlete has to achieve their goals.
Primed with the confidence that this information provides the coach, and thus the potential fit the athlete has for any programme of coaching, the coach is able to progress to the dynamics of coaching, or coaching dimensions. The dimension of coaching strategy is the confidence the coach has in preparing both a training and competition strategy that will draw the best out of the athlete. In the multi-event seasons demanded by many triathletes, this is where the skill in combining the science of periodisation with the experience of measuring training load and recovery is paramount.
Technique efficacy is the confidence the coach has in their directional, instructional and diagnostic skills. Again, experience is key here, particularly in utilising diagnostic skills to steer subsequent instruction and/or corrective action. This is why we put so much emphasis on our own development in understanding the key components of the three disciplines we coach, as well as making skill analysis and development sessions available for our athletes, where logistics and cost allow. However, it is a common observation of mine that coaches tend to intervene too quickly and there is a tendency to over-prescribe corrective action based on insufficient knowledge. An often-cited example of this, and one to which I may return in future, is the study of elite gymnast coaches in action and the range of unnecessary feedback they produced for one particular gymnast. Thus, knowing when to intervene is as important as the how.
Motivation efficacy is the confidence coaches have in their ability to positively affect the psychological state of the athlete. This may come in a multitude of forms but is not restricted to the measurable progress that athletes can see in either their performance or their skill level. Providing evidence for this when the athlete is in the midst of a demanding block of training can be a challenge in its own right. Therefore, regular conversations can be key to highlight aspects of data or skill development that may not be readily evident to the athlete.
The fourth dimension, no pun intended, is the controversial one – that of the building of athlete character. I don’t dismiss this as readily as my comment above may suggest, but, as a generalisation, an athlete will develop this if the correct approach to all other aspects of training and racing is taken.
Assuming all the above is in place, and it is a big assumption, then coaching efficacy will be displayed in many aspects of the coach’s behaviour. High efficacy coaches have been shown to display more effective coaching behaviours including positive reinforcement of desirable performance as well as mistake contingent encouragement combined with appropriate technical feedback. Together, these assist in the improvement of athlete performance and thus contribute to athlete satisfaction.
This, therefore, is why we spend a significant period of time in both the screening process and in creating a channel of free flowing communication early in the athlete:coach relationship. Ensuring that our coaching model will provide, or can be adapted to provide the perfect fit, reinforces coach efficacy and thus ultimately leads to athlete efficacy.