Creating the right work environment is important, whether you’re an athlete on the pitch or a number cruncher in the back office. Whichever applies, in order for team members to thrive, high performance environments must first be created.
But what make a performance environment in the first place? A few things actually. First, it needs to be an environment which encourages openness and honesty, but on the other hand it should also strive to challenge, stretch and grow team members. Learning and development is an important part of personal growth after all. The support available to an athlete can make the difference between medalling, or not.
But there’s a fine balance to strike.
Because, when it comes to challenge and support, how much is too much and what should we be striving for as sports coaches? In this article, we dissect the subject and look at some of the best practice techniques.
The Benefits of High Performance Environments
In order for athletes to thrive, they need to be in an engaging environment. This needs to promote learning and development, as well as encourage self-progress and challenges. It should also lay the foundations for creating well-rounded individuals, those that are able to embrace responsibility and take accountability for their actions.
If this sounds familiar to your workplace, it’s not a surprise. Management techniques often apply to sports psychology especially in the development of talent. And much like commercial organisations, a sports club or organisation needs to create a culture that works for them, and also their employees.
But there’s a fine balance of push and pull, challenge and support to achieve.
Getting the Right Balance
So, let’s take a moment to consider why challenge and support is important.
On one side of the scale, challenging individuals is what makes them grow. In competitive sport, it’s a common theme with sports coaches. Knowing just how far to push boundaries is very individual to each person, but is part of training and personal development.
On the other side of the scale is support. This is equally as important in finding the right balance, since it offers mentorship and guidance to those still developing their skill set.
Tip the balance too much one way though, and you’ll have an athlete out of its depth, or too risk adverse.
Therefore, in order for teams to grow they need to be pushed, but in order to get there, they’ll need some support to get over the hill.
It’s easy to spot a high performance environment, because there’s certain behaviours that exist, for instance:
- Receptive – Team members are willing to embrace challenges, often doing so with optimism. It’s a noticeable mind-set, where problem solving is seen as a challenge to overcome, not road block in the way.
- Supportive – A place where individual responses to challenges are supported, whatever the approach. These are accepted and understood, in order to provide adequate support.
- Engaged – In order to remain engaged, curveballs and interventions are introduced to disrupt, in a positive way. This helps keep teams engaged and on their toes.
- Collaborative – Understanding the needs of everyathlete is one of the challenges and qualities of sports coaching. However, the ability to challenge and support needs in a bespoke way that is reflective of that individuals’ readiness is a highly collaborative approach.
- Considerate – Not to be overlooked, but individual needs of support should be understood at every level in the business.
Exploring Best Practice
In sports coaching, techniques can be employed to enhance performance and behaviour too. Having a systematic approach will help deliver this, here’s some ways to integrate challenge and support into performance environments.
- When developing challenge and support needs, one must first use systematic case formulation. This means looking at individuals on a case by case basis, understanding that some need more support than others, while others will benefit from more challenge and disruption.
- Good communication is always at the heart of change. Therefore, developing a shared language and understanding is key to this.
- Keeping in mind that training and competition schedules don’t always come at the right time. First and foremost, athlete readiness should be evaluated. If an athlete isn’t ready, it may do them more harm than good competing.
- As a sports coach and mentor, do consider if you have a strict programme with a set of priorities, these might not fit with your individuals own personal needs.
- One of the challenges that most sports coach face is keeping the momentum with athletes. With the demands of high performance environments, it can be a struggle to keep motivation levels and interest up. As a sports psychology resource explains: “To keep practice interesting and exciting,it is important to establish practice goals. Practice goals help athletes challenge themselves during practice.”
- As a final thought, it’s important to give athletes enough space to explore, within boundaries that won’t let them go too far. This can be challenging for some personalities more than other.
If the role of the sports coach is to get the very best out of its athlete or team, then he or she will need to strike the right balance. The delicate swing between helpful and inspiring will differ from athlete to athlete. However, it’s important to do both. Challenging athletes is essential for progress to happen. By the same token however, without support, guidance and best practice in place, it’s impossible for the athlete to exceed a certain standard.
A sports coach should use their expertise and discretion to know when and how to intervene. Creating an engaging training environment and keeping talent interested and engaged is no easy feat, however the pay-off is undoubtedly worth it.