Thoughts and Reflections on the 2015-2016 Year

Well another year of full time coaching has concluded. This past weekend I had athletes competing at the National Legion Champs and the Eastern Canadian Espoir Champs. A solid end to the season and thankfully leaves me feeling more positive than last year in regards to my performance as a coach. In baseball terms I’ll say that I am somewhere between 3rd base and home plate. Not quite the finish I was expecting (ie. a home run or the ever elusive grand slam) but a solid effort that I can hold my head up high.

It is at this time of the year when things tend to slow down remarkably. For most of the year it feels like I am in the deep end of the pool just trying to keep my head above water and then July and August come and the floor rises and it is somewhere around the ankles. This is the calm before the storm and I try to maximize it for all its worth. Reading, itineraries, plans, programs, plotting, scheming, presentations, guides, reports, and much more are all on the table. Get as much done. Fill the file folders with as much as possible so that it is done and then will only require small amendments later on.

And while a large chunk of that is all general administrative duties related to my roles as head coach for UNB, Team NB CSG in 2017, coaching director for ANB I can’t help but hit pause on it all to reflect on this past year as a coach.

I keep a rough tally of notable athlete accomplishments each year and this years looks as follows:
– At the NBIAA high school champs athletes won 6 Gold – 5 Silver – 3 Bronze
– For the UNB program athletes won the UNB XC Female MVP award, UNB Track Male MVP award, UNB Track Female Rookie of the Year Award, UNB VREDS Female Rookie of the Year Award, and the AUS Female Rookie of the Year Award.
– 3 Athletes were named to the provincial Legion Team
– 5 ANB provincial records were broke – youth girls 100m hurdles, midget boys 100m hurdles, junior, U23, and Senior women’s 400m hurdles. One thing I wonder though is how to record the fact that the senior 400 hurdles was then broken by a different athlete. So while she did break the record this summer she doesn’t hold it any more.
– Multiple event PB’s for more than 80% of the group
– No major injuries for anyone in the group. Won’t count my broken ankle either 😉

So…what does it all mean? I have no idea. Did I do a good job of coaching this year? I guess if the goal is to help guide the athletes to improvements in objective results in a happy and healthy state I would feel comfortable saying it was mission accomplishment. Hearing from parents the impact that I have had and the positive impact that the group has had on their son/daughter definitely is positive and is ultimately what my coaching at the present is about – positively impacting young adults and using athletics as a tool to help guide them and set them up for future successes into adulthood.

However, if I reframe the question to did athletes that I coach achieve the maximum performance level that they could have this year for their given developmental stage? Probably not. In this case I think I had a maximal impact on 3-5 of them who were maximized given the constraints that we had to work within while the rest of them where in the average to above average levels. This is where I get frustrated with myself. I feel partially responsible for their performance or lack of performance. And I know it isn’t just me and the individual athlete must take on a ton of responsibility for their performance but my leadership role as their coach provides me with the opportunity to make decisions that impact their performance and even though they make hundreds of more decisions in a week that are far more impactful or detrimental on their performance that mine this is the tough part. Work sheets, quotes, book recommendations, audio files, videos, and a large amount to personal discussion is in my tool box to try and stack the deck in my favour in regards to impacting the athletes. Do they read, listen, and do everything that I lay out for them – definitely not! Sucks but I know that and I am not naive to think they do. But this is my way of learning also. What tools have the biggest impact? What tools are actually used? What tools can I manipulate to have an even greater impact? And this is where experience matters. Bruce Lee said, “Do you fear the man who has practiced 1 kick 10,000 times or the man who has practice 10,000 kicks 1 time?” Well this is where coaching experience has its biggest impact. You are able to determine with greater accuracy which tools to use, how to use them more effectively, and who to use that specific tool with.

But through this process I feel like I am also learning to be more critical and able to see the answers with more clarity. For instance with one of my athletes she had a good summer. She won some medals, broke some provisional records, and place quite high at nationals. She also displayed and understands her race model for the event. However, what I feel my failure is/was is that I (maybe we) emphasized the first half of the race too much and neglected the specific physical requirements to achieve a higher level of overall performance that we had hoped for. Now, this does very quickly aid us in that it clarifies the developmental requirements for the next year. It is outlines the physical, technical, tactical, and psychological areas that we need to prioritize. This is because we have stabilized and have confident that the first half will be there when we return next year and that the relearning process will be quicker and more efficient ie. there will be fewer lessons to learn outright and more time can be spent refining the skills as they have already been developed.

So my/our failures also leads into optimism and confidence the in the future. The strengths that have been developed will stay and become even stronger with less work required allowing for an increased amount of time to develop the present weaknesses, which will hopefully result in an increase in objective performance level. And this analysis and process of reflection is what inspires, encourages, and excites me as a coach. It is the fact that the next challenge is built off of the previous. It will be new. It will have a past but it will be a new learning stimulus to be tackled. The questions and mysteries that we (athlete and coach) need to solve are based on all of our skill sets, experiences, and capacities and that is what coaching is about. Asking the right questions and developing plans through a problem solving process leading towards a constant process of revising the plans, asking and reviewing the questions, and continuing to problem solve.

Phew…I think that is what I was hoping to cover today. I feel much better now and that I have cleared some mental space that was thinking about this. I head back to Vancouver for school at the end of the month to start the second (and final) year of the masters program. This year I have learned so much both about the coaching profession but also about myself. I know I don’t have all the answers but I do feel that I have developed a greater understanding of the processes required to find and search out answers. Answers that might be correct for one athlete but incorrect for another. Answers that might fit for me but not for a colleague. Answers that might be correct now but not later. Answers that might be incorrect now but correct later. Answers that might have been answered previously or might not have ever been answered. Regardless of all of that I am excited for this next year of school although I have no idea what research topics/questions I want to look into. Seriously, after all that crap about questions and answers is there any doubt that I confused or don’t know what specific question to ask that will guide a large part of my studies for the next year.

But time to end it there. Enjoy the Olympics all. May the 2016-2017 year be everything that the 2015-2016 was and more. Cheers