Thursday, March 8, 2012

More Guest Posts:

I want to diversify more and get more coaches and athletes involved in this blog, so stay tuned for more interesting contributions in the next month or so.

John Mcleod is a coach with NYAC whom I have grown to know well over the past few seasons. John is another young coach trying to make his way through the "Old Boys Club". As you can see in his contribution to this site; John has a very good understanding of what success takes. John joins the blog with this reflection on success written just after the Christmas holidays.

The following is a post about what athlete’s value and how they are influenced. This is all speculation on my part but hopefully informative nonetheless.

Over the holidays I had ample free time to do whatever I wanted. I could have watched a movie, gone to the gym or pool whenever I wanted or read a book. For the majority of the holidays I did just that, but I also started my ASCA level 1 international coach course. I came upon a small article within the coaching book concerning Motivation as a Key for Learning and it was entitled Extrinsic versus intrinsic. The basic summary of the section in question is what drives an athlete to perform and it answers that with extrinsic and intrinsic rewards. An example being a medal is extrinsic and the satisfaction of accomplishment being an intrinsic. It tells the swim coach to guide an athlete towards seeking out their own intrinsic rewards and holding them in higher regard than an extrinsic reward. These made a world of sense to me and made me realize we, as adults, naturally do this (for the most part) but children need to be taught this. So I decided to elaborate on this.

First you need to define your Intrinsic and Extrinsic rewards. By definition, anything intrinsic is of or relating to the essential nature of a thing; inherent. Simply put, it defines you and who you are. For example: The grades you get in school are an extrinsic reward of the hard work, dedication and ultimately time you invested in your class. The feeling of relief, satisfaction and pride is your intrinsic reward for receiving that grade. Ask yourself this: which feeling do you want more of? Yes, getting a good grade is a great feeling and counts towards applications of schools, but ultimately it ends there. The sense of pride and satisfaction carries you even farther and ultimately helps you out in other aspects of life such as your athletics, career and family.

I wanted to focus on athletics because frankly it’s where I am most comfortable and have the greatest experience guiding people. It’s easiest for me to figure out my intrinsic/extrinsic rewards with my swimmers. I asked several coaches and my own swimmers what they value (what kind of reward) they look for in athletics, here were some answers

Winning a ribbon/medal
A coach congratulating you
Achieving a time standard
Winning a scholarship/bursary

Being proud of an accomplishment
Developing a love of the sport
Wanting to return for more work
Feeling loyal to a teammate or team

I originally wanted to make this article about the guiding influences (school, parents, athletics, friends) and how you shift your value in them towards your own family and career but I’m going to save that for another time. The point of this article was two-fold:
1. Sort out your priorities and think about why you compete/train
2. Plan out some new realistic goals and develop a new passion for this sport

Swimming is an amazing sport, like a lot of endurance sports such as X country skiing it involves a lot of endurance work but also like athletics and basketball there are short-speed bursts of power and strength. I believe that swimming is one of the best well-rounded sports in terms of the requirements to be successful in it. You need technical skill, a well-balanced schedule for the immense training demands and countless other needs. I read a quote in the Michael Phelps biography and it went along the lines of this

I loved to play any sport, football, lacrosse, track, you name it and I tried it. Inevitably, whenever my friends found out I was a swimmer they laughed and said anybody could swim. I always invited them to my workouts but none of them ever showed up. I guarantee you I could finish a football workout or a hockey practice, maybe just barely but I could do it. I guarantee it if you stuck a hockey player or a football player in my pool that none of them would even finish my warm up

The point of this article should be clear. You guys (swimmers) are already very skilled and adept and have achieved a lot in your life already. Has what you already achieved really what you originally set out to achieve. Is what you wrote on your goal sheets last year or the year before really what you wanted this year? Hopefully the answer isn’t yes and I can impart a little more advice.

The article in the coaching book talked about the shift from an intrinsic reward to an extrinsic reward. The coach needs to teach the athlete how to make that shift, easy enough, right? I doubt it honestly, every swimmer is different and every coach is different in their own respects. Coaches aren’t like managers at big chains or stores. We don’t have a clear and concise expectation for us. Generally speaking our expectations for coaches are as vague as oversee training of x,y or z group to as specific as have an emergency action plan in place. It’s very broad if you think about it. And the same goes for a swimmer.

Swimmers in their early teens naturally seek out extrinsic rewards. I can’t explain the psychology here or any facts but in my observation, they naturally want approval from their peers, parents and coaches. This is healthy; it clears the air, allows open conversation and relates experiences with other athletes. MY job as a coach, to shift them towards these intrinsic rewards can be accomplished in many ways. The best way to do this is to manage emotions in training and at competitions. I help them set out clear and possible goals and then set out a plan to achieve these goals. I ask them how they’re day is going and get to know them on a personal level because that it is where the subtlest but most profound changes take place.

Don’t get me wrong, extrinsic rewards are not useless, they are a great reminder of an accomplishment, but ultimately how you feel inside and what you take pride in will define you more as a person. What do you think was more rewarding for Michael Phelps? Those 8 gold medals he won in 17 days during the 2008 Olympics or the sense of accomplishment and realization of all the hard work and sacrifice getting him up there. Those 8 gold medals will hold less and less meaning as he gets older but that sense of accomplishment and pride will stay as a strong and meaningful reminder for the rest of his life. He can use that in whatever career he chooses and in any aspect of his life he chooses.

What you feel inside and how you treat these feelings ultimately will define you, your results or achievements are just reminders of this.