Mental Toughness Digest for Sport & Performance.
“Should I Stay or Should I Go?
By Brian Langsworth (PSY0001339412)
Darling you got to let me know. Should I stay or should I go? If you say that you are mine I'll be there 'til the end of time.So you got to let me know. Should I stay or should I go? The Clash
Chris started his excellent article in last month’s blog on Bernard Tomic with a reference to an ACDC Classic, ‘It’s a Long Way to the Top’. I thought I would continue the rock ‘n’ roll theme with another classic from the same era, ‘Should I stay or should I go?’ by The Clash, to explore further the relationship between coaches and athletes. For example, how does an athlete or a coach, for that matter, know whether to stay or go? When does a coaching relationship reach its ‘use by’ date? How can you tell? What do you do about it? And how do you break-up without anyone getting hurt?
Player-Coach relationships can be like marriages. Indeed, Michael Clarke and Neil De Costa in the cricketing world and Rafa Nadal and uncle Tony in the tennis world come to mind as extraordinarily successful relationships that stood the test of time, lasting over 25 years, longer than most marriages! Rafa and uncle Tony parted ways very amicably earlier this year (only in a professional sense of course – they’re still family after all). On the other hand, the father-son coaching relationship of the Tomics has nearly ended in divorce numerous times it seems! Indeed, from Jim and Mary Pearce and Mike and Andre Agassi to Stefano and Jennifer Capriarti and Damir and Jelena Dokic, tennis has a litany of fractured father-child coaching relationships. But what do you do if you’re the child prodigy of a pushy sports parent?! As The Clash screamed, ‘if I go, there will be trouble…if I stay it will be double!’
As with many marriages, most coach-player relationships have a blissful ‘honeymoon’ period. Indeed, in team sports, replacing a perceived underperforming coach with a new manager, often results in a ‘new manager bounce’ where the team unexpectedly wins for a couple of weeks before, usually, reverting to its old losing ways not long after. After the honeymoon period is over, like any marriage the player and coach need to constantly work on the relationship, to ensure it remains fresh and interesting and not taken for granted. Individual needs and desires need to be met, engagement and enjoyment reinforced, difficult conversations had, capabilities checked and goals and values constantly re-visited and re-assessed.
If you have been a long term reader of Condor’s sporting blog, you’ll note we’ve previously discussed the need for coaches and athletes to constantly evolve, continually update their skills and knowledge to stay ahead of the game. It is no different for us as Performance Psychologists. To keep engagement strong, either as the player or coach, it’s important to explore new techniques, even look outside of one’s sport for ideas. The boxer Conor McGregor practices deep relaxation techniques; a leading track and field coach enrols in acting Improv classes, and piano and language classes in the off-season to bring more innovative approaches to his track sessions; Australian women’s cricket recently sent four leading female coaches on a study tour of America taking in successful corporations and teams, such as Facebook, and the San Francisco Giants to garner new coaching ideas. Sharing the Moore Park Sydney precinct as their sporting home Michael Cheika (Wallabies), John Longmire (Swans), Graham Arnold (Sydney FC), Daryl Gibson (Waratahs), and Trent Robinson (Sydney Roosters) have joined forces in an unlikely alliance to share ideas in a range of areas including player management, strength and conditioning strategies, and resilience and wellbeing approaches. Although judging by recent results it appears that some of the coaches may have benefitted more from this footballing coalition than others!
Inevitably, like any marriage, players and their coaches will have their differences. Indeed some may say it is those differences which will be crucial in challenging the player and coach to improve their performance and capacity to work together successfully, as well as enhancing their capacity to grow as individuals and as a team. That said, as in any marriage, sometimes individual differences may be too great to overcome. Or individual values, such as with Rafa and uncle Tony, may no longer align. Or a player may have lost interest in their sport all together. Or an athlete may have come to the conclusion that the only coach who is going to really understand them is them, such as Sally Pearson, who became her own coach late last year, before hurdling to World Championship gold earlier this month. Or perhaps, there may be a recognition by a coach and/or player that they no longer have the skills and capabilities to take the player to the next level. As discussed in previous blogs, no coach can be all things to all people. It is only through keeping communication channels open at all times, through honesty, clarity and authenticity, that will leave no doubt in both the player and coaches mind the time to stay and the time to go.
Feel free to share your thoughts / comments / questions in the space below.