Whether it’s for an individual, a team or an organisation, there’s one fundamental role that a sports coach can provide – and that’s to grow and develop talent. This can vary from athlete to athlete, depending on what success means to them.
Improving personal performance is an area that all sports coaches will therefore focus on, since measured improvement can be seen in both short, medium and long-term goal setting.
But, could there be something more to performance enhancement than just training?
In this article, we look at the role of purposeful experience and importance of self-reflection on an athlete’s ability to evolve and progress.
The Importance of Performance
Let’s consider for a moment, the importance of performance for athletes. Performance is related to success, it can be as small as improving your timings by seconds, or as significant as going full-time as a professional in your chosen sport.
Improving personal performance requires effective management and strategy in place, along with the right approach and set of behaviours. Goal setting is key to this and requires a high level of discipline and self-regulation, even with a sports coach in tow.
These skills however, are acquired over time. They are often seen in an environment that promotes learning through effective evaluation and some form of self-reflection and planning. In the sections below we look at this in greater detail.
Reflection is a practice often used in sport by sports coaches. This is commonly regarded as learning from our mistakes, or as sports psychologists would have us call it ‘purposeful experience’. This is because we are benefitting directly from first-hand experience which is integral to the foundation of learning.
Sports psychology experts (Knowles, Gilbourne, Cropley and Dugdill, 2014) have described it as a complicated procedure which allows experience to be converted into learning. This is where cognitive processing and knowledge come together with professional experience to create ‘knowledge-in-action’ learning.
A great summary of, reflective practice describes it as “a method of assessing our own thoughts and actions, for the purpose of personal learning and development.”
However, in order to be in the right mindset, athletes must first exercise certain critical behaviours to benefit from reflection.
Some of these include;
- Opportunistic – Knowing that learning experiences can assist our personal development in the long-term, with self-reflection playing an important role in this.
- Articulating a Vision – Those who are attuned to this process can articulate clearly how they choose to reflect and how this helps aid their personal performance and actions. For instance, it can help an athlete accept responsibility for their actions. But in also recognising areas of weakness, talent can work with their sports coach to improve upon it in the future.
- Mindset – A sports coach will help develop an optimum mindset for performance, specific to the needs of each individual athlete. As such, each athlete will be able to clearly articulate this vision and how they plan to put this in to process.
- Under Pressure – Furthermore, athletes will be able to recognise and communicate how they best operate under pressure. This comes with great reflection on oneself and knowledge how one is likely to respond to a situation – a helpful insight to have.
Mastering Purposeful Experience and Reflection
There are a few ways in which a sports coach can work with a team or individual to help promote reflection through purposeful experience. It is usually integrated into an overall strategy, preparing athletes to learn from experience over time.
Used correctly, it can become second nature for personal development. In these circumstances, athletes can help improve personal performance in the process.
But first, here’s a few pointers for using reflection for improving personal performance:
- Reflection needs to be interwoven into an athlete’s psyche and approach to their sport from the very start. But it also needs to be present throughout all levels of the programme. From initially starting out, to developing a career in the sport.
- Reflection is also about learning to accept responsibility for our shortcomings and not placing the blame elsewhere; on the weather or equipment or other team members. This mature approach is essential in order to learn and improve and most important of all – evolve.
- Some level of analysis is required to inform purposeful experiences. This means that reflection methods need to be taught as best practice solutions.
- A plan-to-review process needs to be facilitated and reinforced for a long-term approach
- Prepare for failure; this means learning from areas we have not yet succeeded in. As bittersweet as this is, it’s also an important part of the process.
- But lest we forget; reflective skills need to be taught. This is why a sports coach plays such an important part in improving personal performance. Helping an individual improve the way they learn to reflect is a huge part of this, but it also requires athletes to practice, refine and evolve their approach over time
- As a final consideration, there is no one-size fits all approach when it comes to reflective practice. People reflect in different ways. Some will choose to do this after an event in silence, others may prefer to go back to the ‘scene’ and relive the event in real time. There is no wrong or right way – only what feels right to each individual – go with it!
There are many hats that a sports coach must wear. Mentor and guide is often the most common. To improve personal performance there’s a number of areas one can look at. Self-reflection is arguably one of the most helpful in fine-tuning an individual’s approach.
With time, practice and discipline this can be achieved, through self-reflection based on personal experience. Learning through failure is one such way that we can evolve our skill set and performance.
But this requires a set of specific behaviours and a willingness to be vulnerable, since it requires facing failure head-on. Learning to reflect on our failures and success is an intrinsic part of our own personal evolution and development. And while it can often prove challenging, it is certainly a skill that can be developed alongside a skilled sports coach.