The margin for error and difference between failure and success, is never more apparent than in the world of sport. As a sport, it’s something we’re acutely aware of. In a world where millimetres and nano-seconds can mean the difference between scooping gold and coming last, we need to examine every detail of performance to maximise strengths.
This is especially true in team sports, where the sum of all parts count. Working on an individual’s core strengths is therefore paramount for success.
As the theory goes, to deliver to the highest level, a sports coach needs to embrace uniqueness and optimise strengths in every player. Let’s examine this in more detail.
How is Uniqueness a Strength
In sport, it is often unique qualities that set athletes apart from competitors, and gives them a unique edge. Michael Jordan was able to jump higher than any other player in the court; Diego Maradona was noted for his fierce left-foot and risk taking on the field.
From early times, differences have helped define a player’s strength and character. Take 1930s tennis player Don Budge for instance. An extract from his book explains: “the single biggest strength in his game was his majestic backhand…. the first of its kind.”
Strong management and experienced sports coaches will value the importance of embracing uniqueness. This is knowing when to optimise a unique quality rather than shrug it off as weakness. As any good leader knows, it takes strength of character to be yourself – a quality we should celebrate not abominate.
We are not all machines, or made to perform the same way. Sometimes, it takes a leftfield approach to change or challenge the game. Almost always improving it for the better.
The Benefits of Diversity
To better understand this, let’s take look at the benefits of a diverse team for a moment.
Athletes with a unique set of skills or talents are part of the rich tapestry that make up different personalities in a team. In the workplace, companies have been striving for greater diversity; more women in certain ‘male dominated’ fields, more ethnic diversity and a greater breadth of age groups. Why? Because research has shown that a diverse culture is good for business. It can lead to greater innovation as well as financial performance. It brings more views to the table, encourages people to challenge the status quo and gives us richer experiences.
Apply this to the business of sport, and you can start to see the benefits of embracing uniqueness.
Optimising Athlete Strengths
A skilled sports coach will be able to identify and nurture talent. Central to this is demonstrating the right behaviours in getting the best out of their team or individual. This includes five core behaviours in performance psychology:
- The Right Balance; As much time is given to growing strengths as to addressing weaknesses. This means accepting an athlete for all they can bring to the table, and making the most of their assets. Not only does this help to grow confidence, but it also breaks down barriers and encourages individuality. Always important to lead from the top, this attitude and approach will help to grow an accepting culture, promoting openness and collaboration.
- Reward Risk Taking: A sports coach should help encourage risk taking. We know from research that this helps to grow a team and individuals, as well as set new standards. Part of this is encouraging athletes to play to their strengths – even at the risk of making mistakes. And in doing so, we should be rewarding athletes for their efforts and contribution. Putting yourself on the line and risk taking is a selfless act.
- Embracing Uniqueness: As we’ve touched on quite a lot, embracing uniqueness is key to growing confident athletes. Those in charge should always demonstrate their sensibility when it comes to accepting athletes on their abilities, by understanding the unique contribution each player brings. This needs to be the mindset not just of the sports coach, but of the wider team involved; from nutrition’s to physiotherapists, board members to crew.
- Curiosity: Sports coaching is about teaching, and fundamental to this is creating a thirst for knowledge. This comes from a place of curiosity – something we should encourage in all students. Being especially curious about one’s competitive edge is something we should nurture and promote in the plight of personal development.
- Strengths: During challenging times, it’s typical to look for reasons to blame. And yet we must do the opposite. Instead, we must focus on our super-strengths and how these can give us a unique position. Resilience is a strength in itself, but it can only be built from managing setbacks – more about this in the articles to come.
Promoting Uniqueness in the Workplace
To utilise an athlete’s skills and unique assets, it takes more than just a sports coach to be on board. It needs to be a joined-up approach from a company. So how can this be achieved?
- Spotlight Profiling – Using interventions we can learn to understand and embrace unique strengths of individuals. However, this needs to be part of a bigger systematic psychological approach, as sports psychology so often reminds us.
- The Right Approach – Sports coaches can learn to incorporate individual strengths into a context based approach.
- Room for Manoeuvre – We shouldn’t forget the importance of flexibility, for ourselves and athletes involved.
- Appreciating Differences – As mentioned earlier, it’s important to know the difference between strengths and talent, versus unnecessary risk taking. It’s a fine art, and balance to achieve, and yet we must look to controlled versus constrained in the process.
Different backgrounds, personalities and strengths are vital for a healthy mix in any dynamic. Learning to utilise our own strengths is our first task. The second is understanding and accepting others.
Embracing uniqueness comes from a place of self-confidence and belief in the talent around us. If we can demonstrate this, then athletes will have even greater belief in their own abilities. A sports coach needs to find a way to embrace uniqueness and optimise strengths in every player as a core requirement in performance management.