Coaching, leadership, Performance psychology, Sports Psychology

Aligning Development for Players and Programs

(Note: A version of this article appeared in the November/December publication of Tennis Pro)

Whether you’re a player, a coach or you direct a major program, there is a simple method to assess alignment—to see if all the parts are heading in the same direction. The method is simple in theory, but hard in practice. Hard because it requires an enormous amount of honesty, vision, commitment to quality, and a willingness to adapt. Over the years I have often observed that individuals in certain settings, programs or teams do not improve despite having clear goals. Sometimes, as is the case in high school and college teams, entire teams do not improve during the season. On a larger scale, some programs fail to evolve despite the investment of effort and resources. Why is this so?

There are many factors underlying the stunted development of a player, team or program, but most of these reasons follow a common theme: misalignment. While a systems or program analysis is costly in time, energy, and resources, a simple and informative way of examining alignment is to consider three major factors: people, process, and product. How a system functions, whether it is a single player, a team or program of hundred players, reveals the value and investment in each of these factors. More importantly, how these three factors relate to each other reveals beliefs and expectations of what truly matters—the motivation for choices and actions over time.

Looking at people, process and product within a system, either a horizontal or vertical picture emerges:

process alignment graphic

Figure 1. Horizontal: People, process and product heading in the same direction, integrated and valued.

hierarchy in system graphic

 

Figure 2. Vertical: One part of the system may be valued more; system is not integrated.

Most misaligned programs or systems appear in the horizontal form (Figure 2). A hierarchy exists that is implicit beneath the explicit vision, mission, and core values. The outward message or motto may be “All in” but the meta-message is something different. As a player or coach, if you step back and reflect on experience, on some level you understand where you are in the hierarchy. Again, this scrutiny requires a great helping of honesty to admit there may be a misalignment between beliefs and actions.

The misaligned program typically puts the product or outcome above all else—because it is measurable. That outcome may be the number of college players produced. Or there might be a secondary outcome beneath the advertised goal, such as income and profit or recruiting. None of these outcomes are inherently bad and they do matter. But if the product comes without regard for the process and the people, then trouble is on the horizon.

What might this type of misalignment look like? Here is a sample tennis program (and can represent any organized system):

  • A few players receive the most coaching and attention on the “top” courts, while the rest of the players flounder on the outer courts.
  • Players receive the same instruction without emphasis on their unique talents and abilities.
  • Personal player goals (if they are even created and documented) are slanted towards outcome with little or no emphasis on process.
  • Little regard is given to the process of practice. Players do the same training or some variation every practice (The what is the same but the how and why are not emphasized).
  • Lesson plans are either missing, minimal, or general and without differentiation for individuals.
  • The focus is more on recruiting top players to the program then developing the ones already present.
  • The 80/20 principle (more like 95/5) applies and the lack of progress of majority who do not produce is explained away by competition or personal deficits.
  • Programmatically there is an emphasis on managing rather than leading.

Notice that Figure 1 has an arrow that aligns people, process, and product towards a specific vision. No such arrow is possible in misalignment (Figure 2.). Instead, the product is the arrow and the measure.

A system is designed to achieve the results it gets—intentional or not. So, how can misalignment be addressed?

  • Players can make an honest assessment of their goals, skills, knowledge, and attitude. Are there process and outcome goals in place to address all these aspects? Ask if the environment supports this plan. Take a step back and notice if there is misalignment, if product is the center of attention. Consider If process matters, if people matter. Can you describe how you improved in a practice session (intentional practice) or do you just describe what you did in the practice session?
  • Coaches can make an honest assessment of goals, skills, knowledge, and attitude. What type of relationship do you have with the players you coach? Are you aware and encouraging of their personal plans? Do you stress process and quality? Do you have a way of measuring and focusing on intentional practice? Do you consider, above all, the value of getting a little better each day (process)?
  • Directors can make an honest assessment of the people, process, and products of the program. Where is the emphasis focused? Is one of these factors valued more? Is there a process in place to evaluate quality and the standards of the program? Do individuals meet their personal goals? Is there a process in place to help players develop in all realms? Do players and coaches enjoy coming to work?

Putting it all together, each of the factors relate to each other and this informs the alignment process. First, people (players) matter and inform programmatic goals for without them you have nothing. A player’s basic motivation comes from a sense of freedom, connection, and competence. In an aligned program (for individuals, teams, and programs) these boxes are all checked.

Second, process produces product. Poor processes lead to a lack of desired results. Process pays attention not only to what’s important, but also the how and why of choices and actions. Product is an outcome (in the future) and process is everything else (how we invest time and effort the present). If individuals, teams, or programs are not improving, they are going backwards in context for nothing stands still. Process is the place to look for misalignment and the source of greatest leverage.

Finally, this is not a one-shot deal. The image below is a model for development and the arrow is pointing somewhere into the future.

process alignment graphic

That point in time can be as near or as far as you choose, but movement and change will happen. Development brings new challenges and new opportunities. And it’s much easier manage these when the most important factors are aligned to a specific vision.

 

If you would like more structure to take your mental approach to the next level, consider picking up a copy of my new sports psychology workbook: Above the Field of Play. Or to learn about other sports psychology services pricing (including an assessment of your present mental approach), visit my website at DrJohnPanepinto.com.

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Coaching, leadership, Performance psychology, Sports Psychology

The Dark Side of Coaching

In this post I would like to take a wide lens to coaching and some embedded assumptions about power, systems, and leadership. While it is not mentioned much or part of the dialogue of sports talk shows, people, players, and coaches are at different developmental levels. This is reflected in beliefs, styles, relationships and theories about team and player development. Sometimes it is explained away as “personality.”

Years ago, a controversy surrounding a legendary basketball coach (and personality) brought these different perspectives and beliefs in full view. Presented in many forms of media as if for a jury, both sides of the argument received attention regarding the coach’s questionable behavior. One had to take a leap to discern the coach’s motivation as the situation was offered “objectively.” Some former players saw the coach as a flat-out bully. Others saw his hard-nosed, win at all cost, profane and degrading treatment of players as “that’s just coach.” No big deal.

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Can both be true? Absolutely, just as it is easily justified in a certain light—or darkness. That is the wide frame of developmental levels. And over the years we witness similar stories—sometimes with not-so famous coaches, GM’s or team doctors, but it’s simply a variation on a theme. Most recently a chapter is being written in the National Hockey League, one that is quite disturbing when leadership is considered. But with a wider lens, one that accounts for principles of growth and stewardship, something different than the “that’s what I know, that’s the way it is, the way it’s always been” emerges.

There is a certain authoritarian approach that looks at players as pawns to be manipulated. The conditions include an imbalance of power and negation of the player as a complete human being. The player is their number, uniform, role, skill-set. “It’s a business.” This approach does not back away from fear and humiliation. It comes from a place of demanding respect… But…

At a certain level, respect can’t be demanded. It must be earned in a reciprocal manner—in a relationship. The principal behind the different levels of being is that you can’t give what you haven’t received. So, coaches who were coached in a fear-driven and belittling manner bring this forward to their new role. And players who were brought up in authoritarian homes in fear of punishment find it matter of course for coaches to punish, degrade, and direct from fear.

What this approach misses is the reality of how difficult it is to do anything complex and precise from a place of fear (hence the term “choke”). It is difficult to build chemistry when players are pitted against each other. Vision and purpose are blurred by intimidation and chaos. Motivation from fight or flight is short-lived, draining, and meant to engage a serious and imminent threat to life. Athletes in most sports do not fair well in such a state of stress, arousal and tunnel-vision. Even athletes (such as boxers and MMA fighters) where impairment or even death loom maintain a centered alertness that allows them to process and adapt.

All emotions come from a personal source and require awareness and insight. While these emotions exist in relationship to the greater surround, on a deep level they are very personal. Anger, the most powerful and volatile, requires a good deal of up-front work. Its message is private: I don’t like what is happening. The internal feeling is not a passport to violate, destroy, humiliate, intimidate or deceive because things are not going the way you wish. This is immaturity in adult clothes though its wrath is far from childlike.

While this may seem preachy or judgmental, the truth is we, in the name of safety, are always sizing things up. Just as the athlete you coach is seeing if you are for real. If you are going to facilitate growth, teamwork, and the conditions that must be present before you can even start to contemplate success in any form—the first things are personal and principled in nature. You have to be worthy and trustworthy before you can build trust and worth.

In your heart, what would you want for your son? Your daughter? Demanding, yes. Abusive, no. While the John Woodens and Tony Dungys are few and far between, we should stop making excuses and finally commit to what brings out the best in all. Because it matters.

 

If you would like more structure to take your mental approach to the next level, consider picking up a copy of my new sports psychology workbook: Above the Field of Play. Or to learn about other sports psychology services pricing (including an assessment of your present mental approach), visit my website at DrJohnPanepinto.com.

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(photo credit: Carolina Pimenta, unsplash.com)

 

 

Coaching, leadership, Performance psychology, Sports Psychology

The Evolution of Coaching (Part 3)

The concept of levels is rarely discussed openly, but we experience it often. In the physical domain, the recreational player would experience levels competing with Roger Federer or Tiger Woods; the middle school track star racing Usain Bolt over 100 meters.

In these situations, it is easy to see the difference in levels. But it is not only physical. People perceive, think, and use language at different levels. The lower level cannot hear what the higher level is saying, because of the difference in complexity. And when we look at this gap, we witness the arc of vertical growth.

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Coaching is no different. Adding skills and knowledge is horizontal growth. Developing the self is a vertical task, one that increasingly changes and clarifies the relationship between the individual and the environment. By growing and knowing more deeply we see ourselves more clearly—but also with this wider lens we see others and the environment more clearly. In horizontal development, content increases. In vertical growth the context widens and deepens.

Importantly, each stage (see previous posts) brings new capacities. The Self-Centered Coach who evolves to the level of Culture-Centered for the first time sees the two-way street of reciprocity as well as another’s point of view. This means in coaching one can truly treat others as they want to be treated. There is a give and take based in mutual understanding, and the relationship is felt internally not just as something “out there.”

Evolving from Culture-Centered to Value-Centered, coaches can differentiate themselves from the group culture and what is held as tradition or the “right way” to do things. Value-Centered Coaches self-author, meaning they have a connection to the culture but do not hold it as the ultimate identity (being part of the group). They can hold the institution (sports and business culture) as just a part of what they have learned and how they coach. Value-centered coaches have their own point of view of how things work and can use a variety of sources to make coaching decisions.

A new capacity arises in vertical growth from Value-Centered to Principle-Centered, as now coaches can transform their sense of self as part of a system of systems. Coaches at this stage can hold identity, ideology and sense of self as adaptable and flexible based on underlying principles. Self-awareness has heightened to a level of being which allows one to witness the parts and the whole—and the relationships between. Integration is a key principle at this stage and a widened lens allows for greater vision and innovation.

The fundamental capacity of emotional intelligence is self-awareness. As coaches play an enormous role in the growth of others, self-awareness and the integration of developmental abilities (context, process, wisdom) are vital to the success in the role. As coaches see themselves more clearly, they have a greater ability to serve the growth and actualization of the potential of those in their charge.

 

If you would like more structure to take your mental approach to the next level, consider picking up a copy of my new sports psychology workbook: Above the Field of Play. Or to learn about other sports psychology services pricing (including an assessment of your present mental approach), visit my website at DrJohnPanepinto.com.

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Coaching, leadership, Performance psychology, Sports Psychology

The Evolution of Coaching (Part 2)

As mentioned in the previous post, the evolution of a Coach’s way of knowing and making sense of experience passes through specific stages. Truthfully, development is dynamic, and these stages simply help us to understand how we experience our sense of self, other and the environment.

Before we describe these “types” of coaches, here are these simplified four stages of adult development from least to most complex:

  1. Self-Centered
  2. Culture-Centered
  3. Value-Centered
  4. Principle-Centered

Regardless of the role (coach, friend, parent, etc.) how we construct meaning and interact with the environment comes from who we are—our present way of constructing and knowing. Let’s take a brief look at each of these stages:

The Self-Centered Coach: Coaches in this stage of development are centered on their own needs. They understand that others have needs but can only think from one point of view. While these coaches can be knowledgeable and effective, others are seen as either helping or hindering their progress towards their personal goals. An actual quote from a coach in this stage at a team meeting which included players’ parents: “I don’t lose.” These coaches focus on externals and internally lack a sense of shared reality.

The Culture-Centered Coach: In this stage, coaches identify with whatever the organization values, and what they have learned about coaching from mentors and other authoritative sources. These coaches are loyal to players and programs, and conform to the rules (both implicit and explicit) that define the organizational culture. These coaches identify with the role and cannot separate their sense of self from the relationships to and within the organization. These coaches are their relationships.

The Value-Centered Coach: For the first time, coaches developed to this stage are self-aware and self-defining. They are able to hold the needs of the players, the programs, and their own needs in mind at the same time in order to make sense of experience. In other words, these coaches have relationships because they can separate their identity from players, programs, and culture. While, at times, their actions may look similar to the previous stages, the difference is that they are consciously choosing from the values underlying the choice. These coaches can think in terms of systems. They can act counter to the culture if it makes sense to them.

Principle-Centered Coaches: At this point in development, coaches function from universal principles. They can think in a system of systems, and one of these systems is their sense of self. This level of awareness matters because these coaches can transform and adapt their self to the role based on the underlying principle. In a way they are “self-less” because the self transforms to serve a larger cause.

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These stages are on the arc of human development, but at some point for adults growth is optional. Interestingly, nearly 60% of the adult population has not developed cognitively and social-emotionally to the stage described here as Value-Centered. While approximately 6-7% are in transition to the stage outlined as Principle-Centered, less than 1% fully reach this level of consciousness (and these adults are typically aged 40 or older). From this, we can suppose that many coaches are in the first two developmental stages of Self-Centered or Culture-Centered.

 While this is extremely important, rarely is the vertical aspect of development talked about or considered in coaching. Why and why is it important?

We take a closer look in the next post.

If you would like more structure to take your mental approach to the next level, consider picking up a copy of my new sports psychology workbook: Above the Field of Play. Or to learn about other sports psychology services pricing (including an assessment of your present mental approach), visit my website at DrJohnPanepinto.com.

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Coaching, leadership, Performance psychology, Sports Psychology

The Evolution of Coaching

The relationship of coach to player or team is one that has evolved thanks to many leaders in the field drawing on information from other disciplines, such as psychology and leadership. For example, the concept of transactional and transformational coaching draws from the literature on leadership—and for good reason. The role and power differential between players and coaches is obvious, but often secondary in nature except for in the hearts and private thoughts of those within the relationship.

While coaches assume many roles at the core of these various responsibilities is teaching. Within and underlying this broad term of “teaching” are many layers of skills, knowledge, and qualities, yet the driving force of coaching and teaching is understanding: To understand oneself, players, systems, and the integration within the process of moving towards a vision.

Self-awareness is the primary source for this understanding for it makes us conscious of what we know as well as revealing the edges of our ignorance. Research in Emotional Intelligence as well as wisdom literature (“Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power.” — Lao Tzu) points to self-awareness as the core competency.

But what is this “self” that we are aware of?

This awareness of self is the place of greatest leverage and the space where we meet different coaching philosophies. One can hear and see the philosophical differences of legendary coaches John Wooden and Bobby Knight—both Hall of Famers with very different deliveries. We sense the differing points of view right down to little league or junior tennis and the continuum of yellers and screamers versus quiet discipleship.

Evolution in the role of coaching is a process and it offers evidence of its stages—no different than any identity theory for the progression is a private one—one of the self.

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In an article written for Tennis Pro in 2016 (The Development of Self in Coaching) I outlined developmental stages related to the current level of a coach’s awareness. For simplicity, these four stages of adult development can be described as (from least to most complex):

  1. Self-centered
  2. Culture-Centered
  3. Value-centered
  4. Principle-Centered

While this is a complex topic, it helps to understand how the “self” evolves for it is the center from which we teach and coach. How you make meaning and how you make sense of experience is a construction, it is the self, and this process is the lens you “see” through each moment.

This developmental process is rarely considered, nor is there an intentional structure in place for helping coaches evolve. Much like continuing education in any profession, knowledge and skills are offered with the hope of helping coaches become better at their craft. On some level, this is like the carpenter stopping at Ace hardware for a new hammer. And as Psychologist Abraham Maslow once said: “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.”

This type of development is horizontal, one of breadth but lacking depth which is an introspective process. Also, learning new skills or capturing more tools does not necessarily lead to development.

On the surface, the four coaches above presented above can look and sound the same. They can all be good people and have a solid knowledge of their sport. They can all have a winning record. But the lens they look through is very different. And this difference influences the quality of the relationship with players, teams, the sport…and self.

Next time we look at each of these coaches and their way of knowing and making sense of experience.

If you would like more structure to take your mental approach to the next level, consider picking up a copy of my new sports psychology workbook: Above the Field of Play. Or to learn about other sports psychology services pricing (including an assessment of your present mental approach), visit my website at DrJohnPanepinto.com.

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Photo credit: Angelina Litven (unsplash.com)

leadership, Performance psychology, Sports Psychology

The Pull of Motivation

Most have considered their personal notion of great human achievements. And I am certain there are clusters of agreement around specific events. Depending on interests and culture, groups can sit around the circle and recall with wide-eyed wonder the greatness of an experience or event. Today I would like to offer one for consideration: Alex Honnold’s free solo climb of El Capitan in Yosemite.

In June of 2017, Honnold made the nearly 3000-foot ascent in just under 4 hours—without a rope. No safety nets, just him and what climbers consider the most daunting face of granite on earth. This feat, captured in the documentary, Free Solo, is something to behold. Just hearing about it is not enough. To see some aspect of the climb makes the jaw drop and the inevitable “Why?” sighs from an open mouth.

But this is the pivot point of motivation. The question of, “Why?” There are only a few deep sources of motivation as it is fundamental to life. To live without some sense of principled motivation is to embrace entropy, a slow death spiral, or to place the digestive system at the pinnacle of effort. The pure moments described as flow or peak experiences are the essence of the feeling of “being alive.”

Honnold’s ascent, to me, represents a string of perfect moments in flow, a linked crescendo of peak experiences. How many and how long? It’s impossible to quantify, for in these experiences time disappears. The climber and the climb become one, as do granite and flesh.

green pine trees in front of a rock mountain
Photo by André Cook on Pexels.com

The documentary, Free Solo, comes at the event from a few angles to dig into Honnold’s persona and create cinematic tension, an arc to an amazing story. This is where we go above the field of play, in this case over a half-mile of steep granite. The backdrop of Honnold’s life, family, friendships, and his significant other makes for a good story, but in no way touches the “why?” Honnold attempts to explain the pull of motivation of such a momentous task, but it remains for the most part indescribable.

It doesn’t matter that on film Honnold comes across a quirky, at times insensitive (even to fear and death), awkward in love and relating, and a host of other adjectives that, also, do not matter. For the true depth of his motivation remains unplumbed by what is recorded on film. Only he knows the “feel”, the emotion that motivates for he is the first and the only. This probing into character will not reveal the essence of Honnold’s motivation or ability. Unfortunately it is a sign of the times that we seek simple formulas for excellence, and attempt to codify a process that is complex and becomes a part of the fabric of one’s being…

***

It’s no secret that one of the stars of the event, the documentary, and the personal quest is Death. And it hovers ever so close, on some level, a feel quite like the curiosity of passing the scene of a gruesome accident. Death is imminent and present in every move along the climb, and in every nub, nook and cranny of El Capitan. And for those (which is over 7+ billion and counting) who do not have Honnold’s sublime gift, Death would be the last acknowledgement before the credits roll…

Motivation’s pull is an agreement with a vision, one that comes from deep within, at first formless just as the infinite from which we come. Over time, the vision takes form, but it is the feel that gives rise to power. Like opposite poles of a magnet the pull is real, and its ample force is felt in trying to deny the connection. Honnold’s ascent seems fueled by such a pull. A thing of art and beauty, wonderfully defying odds and logic—for his logic was a personal one.

But, we all can feel the pull on some level, in some space. And that is the point of aspirations and of being alive. To give birth, to raise a child. To comfort a friend. To bury a loved one with grace when your heart is broken. To love another fully and completely. To do good work. To play. To forgive flaws and trespasses. To get up off the floor one more time. To play a sublime melody and a melody sublimely. To listen with a beginner’s mind…

All of these could make someone somewhere sigh, Why? How? For Honnold, I imagine it was El Capitan whispering in his ear, Why? How? All the while offering subtle clues along the razor’s edge that is being and non-being. For a little under 4 hours he reminded us what it means to be fully committed to a vision, and that being fully alive acknowledges the brackets of time, markers we submit to in moments of clarity, despair, and awe.

leadership, Performance psychology, Self-help, Sports Psychology

Does Playing Sports Develop Character (Part Two)

Looking at the other side of the equation—playing sports may not be a vehicle for self-development. Why? There are many reasons, but I will speak to a few common ones:

  1. The player(s) never truly owns the experience
  2. The end is more important than the means
  3. A fixed mindset

In the first case, the driving need is one of approval. The individual lacks the autonomy to make their own decisions and the biggest payoff, most likely, is being in the good standing of another. The spectrum of how much freedom the individual surrenders is related to the power possessed by the one who actually calls the shots. While we may witness some success in such an authoritarian dynamic, the player does not own enough of themselves and their experience to develop an integrated and differentiated sense of self—the very stuff of character.

In the second case, the product or end-goal is the only thing that matters. Win at all costs, it’s a dog eat dog world, nice guys finish last, only the fittest survive… This is a very black and white perspective and it is hard to develop a sense of character when you see everyone as someone who can take something from you. As we have said many times in this venue, in competition you have nothing at the start and earn everything as you go. In any league or competition, only one gets the first-place trophy. While the ultimate prize is one of the goals, there must be other compelling reasons to play—the greatest being the opportunity and enjoyment of improving at what you love to do.

tournament brackets

The final case has to do with identity. One with a fixed mindset identifies with static qualities. This is the opposite of character which is developed over time and features many mistakes and re-aligning along the way.  According to Carol Dweck, a competitor with a fixed mindset avoids challenges, ignores negative feedback, sees talent as static and effort as fruitless, gives up easily, and is threatened by the success of others. This person identifies with a very rigid sense of success and does not seize the opportunity afforded in the process of overcoming challenges.

While there are different perspectives, one that focuses solely on competence and accomplishment and ignores the development of character seems limiting. After all, who you are at the core will be who you are in all your other roles. And there is no conflict between fierce competitiveness and fairness, intensity and sportsmanship, toughness and respect. Interestingly, those who look to be the best understand they need the best of others to help them get there. This goes back to the true meaning of the word compete: to strive together. For everything, at some level exists in a relationship. And you can’t develop competence without the consistent challenge provided by the best efforts in others.

 

If you would like more structure to take your mental approach to the next level, consider picking up a copy of my new sports psychology workbook: Above the Field of Play. Or to learn about other sports psychology services pricing (including an assessment of your present mental approach), visit my website at DrJohnPanepinto.com.

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