Once every four years, Canada’s leading Olympic and Paralympic coaches convene at the Coaching Enhancement Program – Canadian High Performance Coach Summit.
From 23-25 April 2019, Equestrian Canada’s Para-Dressage High Performance Program Technical Leader, Clive Milkins, attended the 2019 Summit in Montebello, QC, for what would turn out to be a two-day journey of reflection and self-discovery.
Read about the top five lessons Clive learned below!
When I first embarked on a coaching career, I would often attend these high performance coaching conferences and hear myself thinking the same thing: “I work with horses, what am I going to gain from attending a multi-sport symposium? Horses are very different from a pair of Speedos or a hockey stick, and no one will understand me.” And then the curious adult in me said, “That’s the point, Clive, you might just learn something because you can’t talk about horses; you have to listen about humans, because that’s who you are coaching. It’s not always about the technical skills on training horses.”
Now, I always apply the same framework:
- I am here to listen and learn, and I can’t do that if I’m talking.
- Even if I don’t speak out loud, I must find at least one question to ask during each session. It keeps me attentive and open minded.
I pin a note on the door of my hotel room so every time I leave the room, I see these words: “Be curious, be inspired, be challenged, be engaged.”
And so, these are my takeaways from the two days of the 2019 Canadian High Performance Coach Summit.
1. Look after, respect and honour myself.
A coach should generate an environment where long-term peak performance is allowed to develop and be achieved. We can’t do that if we are drained, burnt out or tired. Give me time to enjoy the learning and evolution. Good coaching starts intrinsically; a commitment and promise to ourselves to strive to keep improving not only technical skills, but the soft emotional skills that make us human. Humans only connect and trust long-term with honesty, truth, and integrity. A coach needs time off to reflect, review, and renew, time to think and enjoy other parts of their lives.
Humans are hard-wired to defend themselves either by flight or fight, and so we protect ourselves by taking more notice of criticism, words and experiences that damage us. It’s self-protection for future events. A consistent, trustworthy performance thrives from a base of psychological safety. Psychological safety should be internal and intrinsic - a calm, confident place that allows us to question ourselves kindly. It is a space where a coach or athlete can speak their own truth and deliver their own performance without the fear of losing status in the eyes of the people around them. This space enables curiosity, creativity, risk-taking, and confidence.
A coach should not be all about facilities and perceived success. Should a coach be measured by their own success as a rider, or measured on the success of other riders and horses they have trained?
2. As a coach you have to be a psychologist, albeit an amateur one.
You will need help, so ask for it. Needing another set of skills on the ground is an honest admittance and a strength that enables us to learn.
3. What does winning look like to you?
Do you want to win as a coach? How are you going to achieve that? What do I, as a team coach, expect from you? How does that relate to winning?
Winning matters, but there is always a price to pay. It is all about the process of developing athletes to be better today than they were yesterday. Most of us are not presented with a world-class combination, and, if we were, how would we improve them? What is the key piece of advice (not instruction) that will make the biggest difference?
4. As a coach, discuss the way forward by using the ABCD rule: Agree, Build, Challenge and Clarify, Develop Deeper.
Have an open discussion with each client, create a safe space where everyone feels valued and AGREE where you are and what the plan should be. Each athlete should be driving their own training - coaches should advise and guide, yet the athlete should be responsible. Agreement is the best foundation to start improving. BUILD on the foundation, strengthen it and then CHALLENGE gently in order to improve and CLARIFY the way forward. Then, DELVE DEEPER in order to DEVELOP the themes and training.
5. Top coaches are humble, recognize they have doubts and can fail, and so create an environment where they can be honest and ask for advice.
They constantly review their own actions, reflect on what went well and what needs improving, and finally renew their actions. They improve and replenish their own mental and technical skills.
Actions matter, and yet there should be an invitation to lead by example and add value to an athlete’s life.
So two days, and not a horse or technical skill in sight. And yet, I had a thought-provoking, self-evaluating 48 hours where I had to be honest and face my fears and realities of what will make me better. Many, many thanks must go to Equestrian Canada for allowing me to attend this course, and to the Coaching Enhancement Program for putting on such a personally challenging and productive event.
“Success is a peace of mind attained only through self-satisfaction and knowing that you have made the effort to do the best of what you are capable.” – John Wooden
Text courtesy Equestrian Canada