Posts Tagged ‘coaching’

Are All Coaches Created Equal? How to Find the Right Coach for You

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

In today’s world of professional coaching – has the industry crossed the line into some sort of more socially and market-driven McMind Coaching, or is it possible to still indulge in some mental fine dining?

With coaching now playing such a major role in people’s emotional and professional lives, coaches are springing up all over the place quickly filling void in demand and giving clients an extensive choice in both targeted and more generic coaching programmes.

So it raises a question around value: are all coaches made equal? Are some coaches more effective than others at getting you to where you want to be? Do some coaches really earn those hefty fees based on results or is it all smoke and mirrors?

Being a former athlete, having a coach is no new thing to me. In fact, in my experience, it is the only way to sustainably succeed at anything. I have had many different coaches throughout my life for each milestone I was aiming for. Each coach had a very specific sphere of influence at the time, so the selection process is important to me to ensure I got the right person for the job – it’s all about efficiency you see.

I have seen some pretty phenomenal coaches who have what can only be described as the magic touch and truly do transform lives consistently.  Similarly I have seen some shockers too who can only be described as the second hand car salesmen of the mental game.

Now, sitting on the other side as a professional coach myself I am very aware of just how important this service really is, how it can support and guide an individual to emotional contentment; an organisation to hum like a finely tuned engine; and a corporate giant to truly understand it’s purpose… of course I am bias.

So how do you separate the talent from the weekend warriors, the professionals from the amateurs and the long-stayers from the opportunists.  Lets face it – it is your mental wellbeing after all.

There are a couple of key things to think about before embarking on a coaching programme with anyone irrespective of what they say they can do for you.

Before searching for a coach, first identify what it is you want coaching on. Is it business, life, career, phobias, relationships, sport, health, habits, motivation – if you can think of it there is a coach out there who targets it!

Once you have identified which area of your life you require coaching, the next step is to identify the type of coach who will get the best result for you! Are you just in need of an ear, someone to listen to you whilst you work through your own issues with reason and deduction or do you need to be challenged, tasked and held accountable by someone who has your bigger picture in mind?

Do you want a coach that comes to you, you go to them in a clinic-type environment, a coffee chat coach, a phone or skype coach?

All forms of coaching have positives and negatives associated to their approaches and all vary in relation to their intensity too.

For example if you are the kind of person who finds they avoid situations then maybe a phone/skype coach wouldn’t be your first option as it can be very easy to hang up or not pick up in the first place! So select a coach that will fit within your lifestyle and behaviours.

Questions should be asked of the potential coach too. Some coaches are more ‘process’ based, some are more conversational and work well in certain situations over others. The good ones can switch between both.

Selecting a coach that both understands you and your needs and has the skill-set that will give you the best chance of obtaining your outcome should be your priority.

Over the years I have seen many different approaches by coaching companies to stand out and attract clients – and as they say horses for courses – some have been flash and elaborate and others have been understated and intimate. The bottom line is it needs to work for you as you need to feel comfortable enough to open up and share yourself with the coach.

Research your coach as you would research a brain surgeon! Ask people for their experiences and recommendations, read about them, get to know them, call them up and ask them questions – if they are professional then they will happily give you the information you seek – and if it doesn’t feel right keep looking and asking.

So don’t be afraid to ask your potential coach some seriously probing questions about their approach, strategies and successes – because if they are one of the good coaches then they will be asking you some pretty serious questions too.

A coach selects a client as much as a client selects a coach!

Performance Strategies to Combat Fear

Monday, April 25th, 2011

Learn How To Overcome The Invisible Pull of Irrational Behaviour

Performance FearIn male gymnastics, the horizontal bar is a singular steel tube typically 10-11 feet (3-3.4 metres) off the ground and 3cm in diameter. Male gymnasts swing around the bar conducting many one and two hand combinational movements, directional changes and release and catches before a multiple somersault and/or twisting dismount.

It is a spectacular event to both watch and take part in. It is also one of the more dangerous apparatus too as a fall at best is quite painful and has occasionally been fatal.

As someone who excelled at this complex discipline over and above the other five apparatus in this sport, I made my name as a dynamic and innovative High Bar (Horizontal Bar) worker.

Back in the 80s my routines consisted of some complicated one and two handed release and catch moves and a very intricate and unique one arm sequence before my multiple somersault dismount – for it’s time a radical and difficult routine by International standards.

Not being a very tall gymnast, the High Bar always appeared so incredibly high to me. This was both daunting and advantageous at the same time. It gave me more time to fit in complex somersaults and my small stature made the biomechanics of the moves more efficient… on the other hand I also had further to fall! A big disadvantage when things didn’t go to plan.

Our disciplined team trained hard and it was all about dominating on competition day.

I can still remember the feelings as I nervously waited for the judges to give me the nod to commence my routine. As I paced up and down in anticipation, I felt the butterflies in my stomach more so on High Bar than any other apparatus but this seemed to give me an edge.

I had earned the reputation as being a tenacious competitor and one who was reliable during tough times, however we had one of Great Britain’s tallest gymnasts in our club, Alan Hay, so the bar was often placed on extension blocks to increase it’s height by another 10-12 inches. This was something I found particularly unnerving on competition days (…interestingly, it was not an issue during training?). At the time, I believed my nerves came from my fear of what may happen to me if I fell or injured myself, I had certainly experienced my fair share of injuries as a Gymnast during my training over the years.

I can vividly remember one particular competition day when I was the last to compete… the atmosphere was electric! The competition had been fiercely close and the expectations placed on me from my peers, my coach, my parents and the audience were overwhelming.

I had trained my high bar routine hundreds of times without mistake and it was my specialty – a ‘good’ routine from me was all that was required for our team to win – yet I was scared, more scared than any other time or competition before.

The fear I was feeling was consuming my every thought! It was uncontrollable and all I wanted was to find a way out, to run away and not have to do the routine at all.

The pressure was too intense, the bar had grown to 20 feet tall (at least in my mind anyway) and I was sure I hadn’t done enough preparation.

‘Just one more practice run,’ I thought, ‘One more training session was needed – surely if I explained it to the judges they would understand! They would allow me a little more preparation time – I mean they had taken so long doing their thing a little ‘me’ time was only fair, right?’

As every moment ticked by, I was creating multiple scenarios in my mind…

The longer the judges took to be ready for me

The more unready I became for them

The more possibilities of failure I could imagine…

The more damage to my body I could think of…

And the more ways my parents, my peers, my coach and the audience could voice their disappointment in me

…Aaaahhhh! It was all too much.

For many years after I thought of that competition and the wild thoughts that had been dominating my mind – maybe it was the danger of the sport that made me fearful that day… maybe I hadn’t prepared enough… or maybe I just wasn’t as brave as I had initially thought I was?

Whatever mind malfunction had caused the mental meltdown for me that day – it had left a lasting imprint and impacted greatly on my performance as I missed both my release and catch moves and fell on my landing.

We came second.

It was many years later when as a performance coach I began looking at managing emotional states in other athletes that I realised what exactly had gone on in my head all those years earlier. What I thought of as pure, debilitating FEAR was in fact not fear at all – well, not fear in it’s purest form anyway. It was an irrational anxiety I had personally created in my mind around the self-manufactured, fictional outcomes that would probably never eventuate.

It was a set of worst case scenarios, strung together to create a catastrophic outcome that had little or no rational basis. I had created a horror movie in my mind that I believed to be completely true. Not only did I believe it – I convinced myself it was inevitable. I had trained and competed that routine countless times without catastrophe, without incident and without injury… yet, my IMAGINATION had built an outcome that stopped me dead in my tracks… because I allowed it.

So if I was not FEARFUL of hurting myself – as there was no credible foundation to that basis – what was affecting me? What I was doing was allowing my very vivid and creative imagination to fool my reality, to be out of control, fueled by my ‘heightened emotions’ which, in turn clouded my rational judgment process. Together these two became unstoppable in my systematic personal destruction of my own self-confidence.

Essentially, I believed my own virtual world or doom.

I have seen this same self-destructive pattern affect athletes in every imaginable situation and sport. From world class platform divers to competitive school chess, Formula One racing to lawn bowls, Olympic Ski Jumping to Synchronised Swimming. irrespective of the perceived or actual physical threat level, the perception of imagination and emotionally fueled fear was the same and just as debilitating.

When we explore the science of this situation, when we are faced with physical or psychological threat we become fearful and our ‘Fight or Flight’ mechanism kicks in to preserve our life. Our brain fires into action, our thalamus, sensory cortex, hippocampus, amygdala and hypothalamus all kick into gear, hardwired to protect us from harm. When activated, a sequence of nerve cells fire off and chemicals like adrenalin, norepinephrine and hydrocortisone are deployed into our bloodstream – charging into action like the cavalry.

These chemicals, once deployed, cause our body to undergo a series of very dramatic changes, our respiratory rate increases, blood is moved away from our digestive tract and directed into our muscles and limbs, giving extra energy and fuel for running and fighting. Our awareness heightens, our sight sharpens, our impulses quicken, our perception of pain decreases and we become prepared physically and psychologically for action.

Clearly a ‘controlled’ amount of these physical, psychological and neurological responses would have enhanced my performance greatly that day and on any other day. A heightened sensory awareness without the debilitating emotional drain would have optimised my performance.

Yet I had allowed my imagination to consume me and my senses, my imagination was far greater than my actual physical FEAR so dominated my energy, my clarity and my emotions. My fictional scenario had won the day causing me to succumb to uncontrollable nerves and loss of focus.

So how do we overcome our powerful imagination and emotionally charged responses in favour of a more controlled heightened sense of awareness during performance?

Step One:  Dis-Association

Performance Strategies

Learn to look and assess an action pragmatically and with a degree of dis-association, teach our minds to remove all emotional baggage associated to that action or outcome and look at it for what it is, what it has achieved, what needs improvement and what it can do as an end-step outcome.

Understanding a move, a sequence or a performance as a single action and something that is replicable. So we put it into perspective – removing the emotional charge.

Of course during major events our emotions do increase anyway, however starting from a lower point enables us to control them more.

If you watch tennis and in particular Roger Federer, he plays with a great deal of disassociation, almost appearing disinterested – this allows him to assess a play and choose to replicate it, correct it or remove it without getting emotionally attached to the past action.

Step Two:  Use Your Imagination For Good Not Evil

Visualise the action, the outcome, how it should be performed and lower any anxiety associated to the skill or the event.

Visualisation creates the SAME neural paths with the SAME intensity as actual performance. This allows us to remove the ‘unknown’ factor – lowering anxiety.

Step Three:  Train As Though It Is A Competition

Desensitise your emotions to being judged or the perceived importance of THAT one performance. Use specific words, phrases – add rhythmical chants and affirmations to reinforce continuity.

These three key skills can make the difference between a successful performance and one you wish you could forget.