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Fri 19th Aug 2022
A goals based approach to coaching
Posted by: mattmolloy
Posted on: Tuesday 16th February 2016

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After a very popular article on "Why should I allow my child to do competitive sport?" (CLICK HERE for that one), Matt Molloy is back. Having made a conscious decision to step back from his own personal performance goals, his passion these days is directed towards swim coaching.

While his own objectives have changed, he still has goals - and a drive to apply that goals based approach to his new passion, applying a goals based approach to coaching. Another great piece here, which I think you can learn from whether as a coach or an athlete.

Applying a goals based approach to coaching

In my last piece I alluded to the life skills and long term benefits that can be derived from being involved with competitive sport as a child. One of those skills I listed was goal setting. Looking back to when I left school, I vividly recall mapping out my career goals in much the same way that I was doing at the time with my swimming goals. Similarly, I remember adopting that approach when I started my business and again when I turned my sights to triathlon as a competitor. It's therefore not entirely surprising that the approach to my renewed involvement as a swim coach is very much goals based.

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to."
"I don't much care where."
“Then it doesn't matter which way you go.”

Lewis Carroll - Alice in Wonderland

A sensible place to start when considering any endeavour is to address the question of what it is you want to achieve. Most people, given an unfettered choice and unconstrained, elect to do things that make them feel happy or provide enjoyment. To that end, it makes sense not only to consider whether the end goal you have in mind is likely to provide enjoyment, but also whether the pursuit of the end goal is something which you will enjoy doing. Having researched what is involved and what the end goal entails can assist you to decide whether you are really committed to something or whether it was just a whim or something which appealed until you realised exactly what would be involved. I know for me it took some time before I decided that I wanted to get involved with coaching swimming again and it certainly wasn't a decision that was taken lightly.

Related Article - Why should I allow my child to do competitive sport?

Once you have investigated and researched what needs to be done in order to achieve the end goal, the next step is ascertaining what and who is needed to achieve it and in what order. So questions like, do I have the necessary skills, time, funding or support to do what is required to progress towards the end goal? If not, can I acquire them? If not immediately, then when and how? For example, if your goal is to coach an athlete to achieve a particular result or outcome, do I have (or can I get) access to the athlete or environment that will enable me to achieve that goal? If not, what do I need to do to be able to work with those athletes or in that environment? Who do I need to talk to? Whose help do I need?

Time and time again I see what I loosely refer to as the “Team factor” come into play as part of a goals based approach to achieving a desired outcome. As a coach, even a coach of a single athlete, you are part of a team. Membership could be just two people – you and your athlete - or much more. Think of a full time athlete and their needs – parent/partner/family, physio, nutritionist, manager, lead coach, specialist coaches e.g. strength & conditioning or technique/event/task coaches, psychologist, doctor, massage therapist etc. Then think of a team/club environment and specialists within that club – e.g. in swimming we may have coaches who excel in specific events (distance, stroke), or with particular athletes. Some are great with young/pre or post pubescent athletes, youths, young adults etc. others might be great with girls, others with boys. Some coaches work well with different personalities – the extrovert vs. the introvert, nervous/anxious - the athlete who always performs well in training, but gets “stage fright” or the one who appears to coast in training, but always performs when it matters. Whilst, on a practical level, you may have to fulfil all or many of the different roles identified, it may be that your ultimate goal may be best achieved and/or achieved more effectively if you have a larger team working together. If that is the case, then you think about how you can either create that team or be part of a team that can help you achieve your end goal.

Related Article - Matt Molloy: Different Perspective

When I think of teams, I often look at what happens in professional football clubs, especially in terms of who is leading the club and the environment the manager/coaches work in. So, who is actually calling the shots and who is in control. Few would argue with the perception that Sir Alex Ferguson had a huge presence at Manchester United and was seen as “the leader”, even though he was not the owner. In contrast, at Chelsea, my perception is that the leader is very much the owner, Roman Abramovich, and the manager is a subordinate role, easily dispensed with. As a coach in a club environment, even though you may not be the “owner” or “leader” of that club, you need to think carefully about whether the environment is suitable for you to achieve your goals and, if not, whether it is something you can influence positively or whether you need to create or search out an alternative environment/team that is more compatible with achieving your goal. In my view, the most successful coaches are those that have a good handle on what constitutes a positive environment, what their strengths and weaknesses are and are not too proud to employ or work with those who have either superior skills or knowledge and/or whose characteristics are better suited to a particular role.

Another relevant factor when adopting a goals based approach is time. How long will it take me to achieve my goal? Or, how long am I prepared to devote myself to the pursuit of my goal? Again, research is required. When setting out a time line, plan or strategy to achieve your goal, it's good to think through the stepping stones and sequence of what you need to do to get there. Can certain activities be carried out in parallel or concurrently? For example, can I obtain professional qualifications at the same time as gaining experience, or do I need to obtain a qualification or obtain child safeguarding checks/sign off before I can work in an environment and increase my knowledge? What about financial constraints, either personal or of the organisation that you want to work in? Do you need to raise funds, or can you work on a voluntary basis in order build up your experience and/or in order to demonstrate your ability to a potential employer/club, athlete or group of athletes?

A typical trait of successful coaches is that they are often the ones who are prepared to go above and beyond what is required and/or they are obliged to do in pursuit of their goal. To me this trait underlines the importance of not losing sight of what you are trying to achieve as a coach and the need to maintain the energy and passion for the end goal when obstacles invariably appear or doubters raise their concerns. If the team (of which the athlete is a central part), sees you going the extra mile then that is more likely to have a positive effect. Similarly, if you treat your team with respect, you are more likely to have them working with you in pursuit of your goal. Which leads me onto my final point - if you need a team to help you achieve your goal, then it helps if they know what that goal is…as someone once said “it's good to talk”.

Matt Molloy,
Support Coach & Academy lead – Enfield Swim Squad

@EnfieldSwimSq | @AhoySavaloy

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