Coach the process, not the outcome


When I played high school football, I think that a lot of us had at times focused on the win, or even worse, the season record. We weren’t always focusing on executing our plays.

COACHES: What can you learn from the Olympics that will make you a better coach? The following are some coaching Do’s & Don’ts for getting the best out of your athletes when it counts the most:

To be successful with your racers and to train them to stay calm under pressure (an essential prerequisite for peak performance), you must get out of the habit of coaching the outcome and instead get into the habit of coaching the process.

Coaching the outcome is all about focusing on the importance of the event or race and on winning and/or avoiding losing. “This is a big race guys, a MUST WIN for you this season. I think you’re better than _____ and I know you can win.” Or, “there is nobody good in this race and you should win easily.” When you coach in this manner, you unnecessarily pressure your athletes and distract them from the task at hand. Your outcome focus will physically tighten them up, distract them from the actual event and therefore make them more vulnerable to choking and a bad performance. Athletes always play their best when they have nothing to lose, when they have no expectations. In your pre-race talk, you want to purposely direct their focus away from the outcome.

What’s a “process focus?” It’s when you get your athletes focusing on executing the little things within the performance that insure that they perform well. Specifically, when an athlete has a “process focus,” he/she concentrates on his/her job in the moment, and nothing else. The cyclist focuses on the race as it develops, going hard for every sprint, maintaining concentration throughout, executing solid race tactics and demonstrating mastery at specific times, etc. A process focus is always about one move at a time, one sprint, one attack, one position shift at a time, always in the NOW. Interesting enough, when you coach the process, you will most often find that the outcome that you desire will take care of itself.

As I’ve mentioned numerous times, one of the biggest secrets to coaching success is being able to keep your athletes loose and relaxed under pressure. Overly nervous athletes will never perform to their potential for you, regardless of how well they’ve been coached. Quite the contrary! Tense athletes will miss benchmarks, make silly mistakes and consistently be off. What this means for you is that your pre-race approach to your cyclists must be one that aims at keeping them calm, composed and relaxed. How you do this is up to you, but there are two things you need to keep in mind.
First and foremost, YOU need to be relaxed and composed going into the competition. If you are uptight and anxious about the race, then very soon you will transfer this tension and anxiety to your cyclists. If you stay cool, calm and collected, then it will be far easier for your racers to follow suit. Second, one of the best strategies (concentration-wise) to help your athletes stay relaxed under pressure is to keep them focused on only the things that they can directly control. When you get athletes thinking about or focusing on the “uncontrollable” like the race outcome, the size, strength or prowess of the opponent, the course or track and weather conditions, the rules official, the fans, the consequences of losing, etc., you will send their nervousness up to the ceiling, undermine their confidence and as a result, inadvertently cause them to perform badly. Do your best to keep them away from these “uncontrollables,” concentrating on the things that are in their direct control.

You can be a high powered coach. You can take the race very seriously, want to win and hate losing with a passion. You can be a tremendous hard-ass on your cyclists in practice, continuously demanding excellence from them and refusing to settle for much less. You can be going into the most important race of the season, perhaps of your career. Regardless of all this, when it’s show time, your serious, uptight and tough guy/girl attitude will get your cyclists and team into hot water from a performance standpoint. When its race time, you want your racers loose as a goose, and the very best way to accomplish this is for you to keep it fun for them. Use humor. Take the pressure off of them. Make them laugh. If you want your racers mentally prepared and ready, ask them to take some time on their own to review their plan, warm-up well and keep focused on being relaxed and loose. If you take it too seriously, you will most often find that when the race finally starts, your talented racers will no longer be recognizable. They will be too uptight to perform their best. Competition should not be larger than life. Smile. Relax. Keep the race enjoyable.

By Dr Alan Goldberg

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