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November 8, 2011

It's Not All About You, Coach

"And, like many fathers, I’m proud to say that my children know well, “It’s not all about you, Dad," said William Micklem. Photo courtesy of William Micklem.

So how famous is your coach? Are you in awe of him as he arrives in the arena? Does her gold-medal CV precede her and add value to the lesson? Or is it a barrier to learning?

Your coach might be on an even higher level and be a guru! All sorts of connotations here, with the vision of true believers sitting at the feet of their guru, who has become a guru because of a charismatic personality and an “original” way of thinking that is at odds with the guru’s peers. Therefore many of the “gurus” try to give themselves added value by knocking the rest of the training world—even their own students—and preach doom and gloom unless their way is followed.

Demanding Doesn’t Mean Demeaning

Most of us have probably also witnessed the coach who parades his ego to the audience in the gallery instead of giving his students maximum thought and attention. Then there is the coach who derides and disparages her students as a way of showing her superiority and knowledge.

Some of the old school equestrian coaches still get away with this roaring negativity and one-way communication. They are defended by those who say that a few home truths are vital; that the modern student is too wrapped up in cotton wool and protected from the hard-nosed reality of the competition world where failure and defeat are inevitable.

I am not afraid of being demanding as a coach. I can raise my voice with the best of them, but it is a raised voice of enthusiasm and encouragement, a raised voice that says what they need to do, not what they shouldn’t do. And I am a fully signed up member to the philosophy that says you cannot be demanding without also being generous. Let’s not kid ourselves, despite what we see in sports films and hear in the bar, it’s almost impossible to find any research that shows consistent negativity, or a regular pattern of insults, is beneficial to learning and performance in any sport.

However, the reverse strategy of working positively from what is possible; telling a student what you want her to do rather than what she shouldn’t do; keeping a student’s confidence; and being quick to praise determination, effort and progress has been consistently shown to accelerate improvement in performance in comparison with other methods.

Respect Is A Win-Win Situation

The coach has to put his students first and keep a tight hold on his ego. The ironic result of this sense of priorities is that the subsequent success and progress of the students create increased kudos and reflected glory on the coach. So this strategy is actually a win-win situation.

Therefore, I have a dictum for coaches regarding priorities:

Students are the most important visitor to a riding facility. They are not dependent on us; we are dependent on them. We are not doing them a favor by serving them; they are doing us a favor by giving us an opportunity to do so. However, the better we educate ourselves, the better we can educate our students, so lifelong learning remains a lifelong priority for the coach.

This reflects the two sides of the same coaching coin that is called respect. Taking on board the thought that we are dependent on our students shows respect for the student. Equally, the study of our subject also shows respect for the student. From this, the journey to mutual respect is a short one.

It’s Not All About You, Coach

This is why the phrase, “It’s not all about you, Coach” is one of the most powerful phrases in coaching. It may initially be an uncomfortable thought for some coaches to accept. It may even feel like an insult, but as you understand its significance, it soon becomes an integral part of your life as a coach, a liberating coaching second skin. Liberating because you understand that it’s not necessary to put on a performance while you coach, raised up on stage in front of your students and audience. Instead you are on the same level, directing, encouraging, explaining, demonstrating, facilitating and, most importantly, studying, as the students do the performing and learn from their own experience.

In this way the students learn to stand on their own feet and become independent. What more can a coach ask for? Because the sign of a good coach is not how much the coach does for his or her students but how much the students can do for themselves. It is little different from the role of a parent, encouraging and allowing children to make their own decisions and find their own direction. And, like many fathers, I’m proud to say that my children know well, “It’s not all about you, Dad.” 

A Wonderful Example

Lifelong learning for the coach is a thought that some older coaches begin to find tedious or unnecessary, but it is a truism that people learn best from those who are also learning.

By coincidence this week I read what Jimmy Wofford is studying at the moment. What more has Jimmy to learn about horse riding and coaching some may ask? But just look at his recent reading list: Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, Talent Is Overrated by Geoff Colvin, and "The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance" by K. Anders Ericsson, Ralf T. Krampe and Clemens Tesch-Römer! Jimmy is a wonderful example of lifelong learning in practice from a truly world class coach. He puts his students first and epitomizes the truth in the phrase, “It’s not all about you, Coach.”

William is an international coach and educational and motivational speaker. He is a Fellow of the British Horse Society and author of The Complete Horse Riding Manual, the world's top-selling training manual. He found Karen and David O'Connor's three Olympic medalists Biko, Giltedge and Custom Made and breeds event horses, including Karen O'Connor's Olympic horse Mandiba and Zara Phillip's High Kingdom. He is also the inventor of the Micklem Bridle, which is now approved for use in dressage by the FEI. www.WilliamMicklem.com

Georgi Sensing
2 years 37 weeks ago
Coaches demonstrating good sportsmanship
I am just a horse mom giving her opinion from the outside of the ring.  I have seen a few coaches who are all about business.  They are organized, prepared and very much in charge. They can... Read More
equipoize
2 years 37 weeks ago
A HOME RUN of truths in this article
Very well stated - this article brings several Famous trainers to mind - who are Known for degrading their riders - as if tears were needed to water the arena footing!!! It also makes me think of... Read More

Comments

GilmoreHorsemanship
2 years 37 weeks ago

It's not just certain "Gurus"...

"Therefore many of the “gurus” try to give themselves added value by knocking the rest of the training world—even their own students—and preach doom and gloom unless their way is followed." It's not just certain "Gurus" who do that. There are quite a few trainers who take the approach that they can make themselves look better by casting aspersions upon their competition. It's largely case of ego superseding ethics. My "Rules of Ethics", rule #11: "Maintain and base your professional and private relationships on loyalty, mutual respect, courtesy and collaboration. Work with others, not against them."
equipoize
2 years 37 weeks ago

A HOME RUN of truths in this article

Very well stated - this article brings several Famous trainers to mind - who are Known for degrading their riders - as if tears were needed to water the arena footing!!! It also makes me think of many small town trainers who whisper gossip being the backs of the other trainers in town. Trying to tear down the competition. All in all, it is mostly about self confidence. IF a trainer is really sure of their own skills and their riders ability to represent them favorably in the show ring, there is No Need to tear down the competition OR the riders! But still, it is great to put this out there, for some to ruminate on - asking the question "Do I ever do that?". Screaming is NEVER useful, except to be hear because of distance or wind. If the message isn't received at normal speaking tone, making it louder doesn't make it clearer. It is like someone Shouting at a Blind person like they cannot HEAR! I have always appreciated coaches like Walter Zettl who says that if his student doesn't respond to what he is suggesting, it is HIS lack as a coach, not theirs as a rider. And so he will attempt to explain it a DIFFERENT way. One of the greatest compliments I ever get is when a student will say "you keep telling me the same things - but always a little different, and then suddenly One of the ways clicks!" Yes, thank you! That is exactly what I try to do. There are so many ways to explain "get your heels down" - such as lift your toes, stretch your calves back towards the horse's hocks, let your leg relax, feel the back edge of your stirrup, etc. Why just say the same thing over and over - expecting that on the next repetition the student will suddenly manage it? Isn't that the definition of insanity - to do the same thing repeatedly, expecting a different outcome? Thank you for a well thought out and timely blog. Monica Whitmer Sweetwater Ranch and Carriage Company - a Fun Place to learn to ride
Georgi Sensing
2 years 37 weeks ago

Coaches demonstrating good sportsmanship

I am just a horse mom giving her opinion from the outside of the ring.  I have seen a few coaches who are all about business.  They are organized, prepared and very much in charge. They can sometimes be too busy for the one on one.  I have listened to a clinic coach (who won an Olympic medal) beat down a young 13 year old by using examples of what not to do and how she looks like a fat lady with her ankles jiggling in her stirrups,(let me say, he was correct in the statement by delivering a picture that packed a punch) but he had her broken by the end and then he had only her jump w/out stirrups over 3ft fences and said "good" he used her as an example- "chin up".  But yes...we continued and then we came across a believer in the American riding system.  It was based on basic principals and not very complicatated.  What we found was our trainer was well taught.  She had a good work ethic and stuck to her basic principals...over and over.  Good riding is good riding in all equitation, hunters and jumpers. This trainer taught that good sportsmanship is learning how to win with grace and lose with dignity.  That you can encourage your fellow riders by cheering for them that you hope they ride their very best and not to be so self centered.  That you still want the thrill of good competition so treat your fellow riders (be they shared with your coach or someone else's) with respect.  So we worked on it. She didn't send us mixed messages or force horse shows. This trainer became "coach".  We hired her as a regular riding instructor who drove out to our barn for a lesson a week.  She was willing to take on a iittle barn and fit it into her own barns schedule. I can't say we've made her a ton of money but if I could put a value on what she's put into our little barn it would be HUGE!   By the 2nd year and my daughter turning 15, I found that my daughter was equipped with good riding skills.  She understood because she was taught well and challenged to read and train and do it herself. Her trainer brought her to Anne Kursinski for a lesson.   This trainer/coach goes to Bernie Taurig clinics and is now at the George Morris clinic. When the coach stops learning and just spits out high and mighty information then these kids are loosing a good example that we never stop learning!!  So to end my little story... Our little OTTB ended up winning a national competition with a very solid rider(my daughter) and an ever better Coach.  The first thing my daughter did after winning the M & S child jumper finals first round in Sept was to run to her coach- she lept off her horse and they were a team!  Success isn't always measured by a blue ribbon or the public kudos of the world noticing but by what we can do together.  Set a good example coaches because you are training the next generations!!