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Greater self-awareness key to making a greater impact as a coach

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Who am I

The benefits of building a close connection with your participants cannot be overstated. But often overlooked is that, to develop a productive relationship with others, it is vital to have a deep connection with yourself. This blog explores the concept of self-awareness and how it underpins effective coaching. 

  • Learning more about yourself is a vital first step in creating and maintaining an effective development environment.
  • It will help you maximise your potential and create the right climate of possibilities for your participants.
  • To build greater self-awareness, coaches should ask themselves ‘why questions’. These stop us from making assumptions and creates opportunities for positive change.
  • To elicit a deeper understanding of who you are, stop trying to be the person you think people want you to be.
  • There are lots of resources and pieces of equipment to help you with your coaching, but the best tool you have as a coach is you. 

Coaches are in the habit of putting everyone else’s interests first. 

And what’s wrong with that, you may ask? 

Every coach, from the start of their coaching journey, is reminded on a regular basis of the importance of getting inside the minds of their participants. 

Get to know the person as well as the performer, the mantra goes, which involves identifying each individual’s motivations and aspirations in order to understand what it is that drives them to want to come back to sessions week in, week out? 

However, to help ‘everyone’ become the best that they can be, the most effective first step is to put ‘I’ before ‘e’. 

Because coaches who do not take the time to understand themselves – their own motivations and aspirations – are often failing to bring the best version of themselves to every session. 

Exploring what makes you, YOU was a key element of the four UK Coaching Female Connectivity Events held in February. 

Coaches working at the regional and national stages of the talent pathway who attended the day-long sessions – hosted by UK Coaching Development Lead Officer (Talent and Performance) and ConnectedCoaches Community Champion  Chris Chapman – were encouraged to ‘explore their awareness of self’. 

Through a series of coaching conversations and interactive tasks, coaches traced the key people and key moments in their life which have shaped their ideals, values, desires and beliefs – and which in turn have gone on to shape their coaching approach and philosophies. 

Do your ‘self’ a favour 

I attended the session in Nottingham, which, as billed, saw coaches come together in a club-like setting to share ideas, raise challenges and explore solutions to help them develop their coaching practice. 

Part coach development event, part psychotherapy session and part philosophy seminar, coaches were asked to question elements of their coaching behaviour they take for granted. 

I put the same questions to you now. 

  • When was the last time you thought deeply about why you coach and how you coach? The goal-posts may have moved since the start of your coaching journey.
  • When was the last time you reflected on the way you deliver your coaching practice?
  • How do you regulate and manage yourself, and other people, in order to get the best out of people?
  • Are you clear in your own mind what your coaching philosophy is? 

It is easy to lose sight of your goals. Upon careful contemplation, you may conclude that, actually, your coaching methods are in closer alignment with your governing body’s approach or club’s values than they are your own. 

Or, upon reflection, maybe you have lost sight of those qualities you hold so dear due, perhaps, to an increasingly heavy workload or from deviating between different coaching environments over time. 

The connectivity event was a thought-provoking exercise that offered useful guidance on how to turn such personal reflections into positive action. 

The focus of the afternoon session switched to creating and maintaining an effective talent development environment to ensure you and your athletes thrive. 

But the link between the morning and afternoon sittings was clear: Learning more about yourself is a vital first step in making positive change happen. 

Looking after number one 

I wanted to share a few analogies from the day to persuade you of the importance of using self-awareness and self-reflection to stimulate changes in your coaching behaviour. 

I liked Chris’s oxygen mask metaphor that illustrates how you must help yourself first in order to help everyone else. 

‘When you are on the airplane and the air stewards talk about putting the air masks on, they tell you to put yours on first [the consequences would be dire if you didn’t, as you would pass out with a sudden drop of air pressure and be no help to anyone]. 

‘As coaches we tend to spend all our time looking after our athletes. What we don’t spend our time doing is looking after ourselves first, asking how can I be better? 

‘There are lots of resources and pieces of equipment to help you with your coaching, but the best tool you have as a coach is you. And because you as an individual have the single biggest influence on your athlete, you need to make sure you are maximising your potential and creating the right climate of possibilities for your athlete.’ 

Chris (pictured below addressing learners in Nottingham) suggested that, during the process of building greater self-awareness, coaches should ask themselves ‘why questions’. These, he says, stop us from making assumptions and create an opportunity for positive change. 

  • Am I playing to my strengths?
  • Am I controlling the learning environment too much?
  • Am I giving adequate feedback?
  • Am I in control of my group’s behaviour?
  • Do I communicate to my athletes’ support network?
  • If someone looked at my coaching practice would they see aligned and coherent practice (words and actions match up)? 

Chris Chapman

A hot ‘tip’ 

For creativity to emerge, we must step out of our comfort zone. Again, that goes for coaches as well as performers. 

Chris explained, courtesy of a simple chair analogy, the concept of ‘creative desperation’ – the idea that our best ideas often come when we put ourselves under pressure, stepping out of our safe space. 

‘A chair is designed to be comfortable and stable. On four legs, it is quite difficult and hard to move. But tip it up onto one leg and all of a sudden you can move it quite easily,’ he began. 

‘As coaches, often we get used to things and want things to be solid and stable. The challenge for coaches then is to tip yourself onto one leg. 

‘Yes it will feel uncomfortable being in that position. But what it enables you to do is change your thinking and afterwards you can always put yourself back down and become stable again. 

‘For example, communicating with large groups of people may make you feel uneasy. But having the courage to have a difficult conversation with a group might be the difference between moving a problem forward or not moving it at all. If you don’t at least have a go you will never find out. It might not be as bad as your mind led you to believe.’ 

Can you think of any behaviours you would like to promote in yourself to help you be more successful in your particular coaching environment? Try tipping the chair onto one leg and finding out where it takes you? 

Is it your default thinking, for example, to delve straight into the technical and tactical when it comes to your session planning? Might your coaching benefit from being more holistic in your thinking and approach? 

Chris ChapmanLearners in Nottingham test Chris's learning methodologies by connecting and swapping ideas 

Magical mystery ride 

Coaches should not view their ongoing professional development as a series of puzzles, with right or wrong answers that have to be solved in a set time for progress to be achieved. 

‘Puzzles require logic to solve them,’ explained Chris. ‘You know the edges, the corners, how many pieces there are. It is a case of working out what goes where.

‘A puzzle is about getting it done. A mystery, meanwhile, has no structure; you have to work it out for yourself. You might not always solve it but you can have fun trying.’ 

We have learned of the importance of helping ourselves in order to help others, and of embracing vulnerability and learning not to catastrophise what might happen when dispossessed of the element of control. 

This third analogy suggests that different people will find different solutions to the dilemmas they encounter on their coaching journey. Sure, seeking out alternative ways of doing things might lead to a few dead ends along the way, but that’s exactly how it should be. Coaching is about enjoying the magical mystery ride, in other words. Don’t fear it, have fun with the thrills and spills. 

‘Think of Sherlock Holmes mysteries,’ said Chris. ‘Often there is some misdirection. You go down one path trying to form a connection and it suddenly twists another way.’ 

Who are ya? Who are ya? 

In summary, you know yourself better than anyone. The question is, when was the last time you checked in with yourself to bring yourself up to date with who you are? 

If you don’t give self-awareness a go, you will never know how much of a difference it could make to your coaching. 

‘Our perception can be altered by those around us and that’s important to recognise,’ said Chris. ‘To elicit a deeper understanding of who you are, you must stop being the person you think people want you to be.’ 

If you want to make great strides in your coaching, strive for greater self-awareness and remember that, while knowing your participants is crucial, so is knowing yourself.

Or in the immortal words of ABBA, Knowing Me, Knowing You, it’s the best thing you can do to become a more effective coach.

Further reading:

Johari’s window as a tool for understanding self-awareness

Inside story: The value of self-awareness as a tool for improvement

The Power of Why


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