Sunday, June 15, 2014

Less is More: Coaching Elite Athletes

I was talking to someone about coaching yesterday and I mentioned something I learned from Jim Pedro, Sr. many years ago, although he said it in a funny, Boston accent.

He was always saying,

"Mo-ah is not always bett-ah."

When asked how much coaching I do of Ronda these days, I was reminded of this remark, because I rarely tell her anything. When I do, I tell her once. She heard me the first time, so if she doesn't do it, then there is no point of telling her again.

Now, this does not apply at all to teaching kids, and not as much to teaching novices, but for elite athletes, there is a good deal of truth to the assertion that less is more.

We were at a camp with dozens of athletes, several of them national competitors. Watching many coaches who were not as effective, they were non-stop telling athletes what grip to get, how to place their feet, what direction and how hard to pull, what technique to try next or quit trying.

Jim probably made 20% of the comments of these other coaches, but when he did talk, the athletes generally listened very closely.

Here is what I noticed:

  • When you are correcting 14 different things an athlete does, it is difficult for him or her to identify which is the most important to focus on.
  • Constantly correcting an athlete can reduce confidence. If my coach tells me I need to fix 14 different things, I must really suck. 
  • When you don't speak up very often, the times you do make suggestions athletes tend to listen. They are more likely to believe you have given some thought to what you are saying, because it doesn't come after 20 more ideas you spouted off the top of your head.
  • Conversely, when you are constantly correcting an athlete, it loses its effectiveness. After a while, you just fade into the background noise.

SO, it seems to be true, less is more. Or, if you live in Boston, mo-ah.


Anonymous said...

Who was your teacher?

Unknown said...

Mrs. DeMars..

You are so correct. I believe that people tend to shut out people who spout off with loquacious tendency no matter what the subject matter.
As my wise grandfather used to say...the mark of an intelligent man is his ability to communicate the most complex ideas in the simplest of terms using the fewest words.
He was born in 1898 in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) and had a third grade formal education.
He spoke slowly with articulation and always in complete sentences.
He never repeated himself and his timing was entrancing.

Mike R.

Unknown said...

Strongly agree, well said sensei!!

Dr. AnnMaria said...

My first judo teacher was Bill Shelton, who taught at the local YMCA. When I was competing internationally, I was at LA Tenri where my main coach was Jimmy Martin. Other coaches there were Blinky (Richard) Elizalde, Steve Seck and Tony Mojica. I also trained with Bill Dye in San Diego and Roy Moore, also in San Diego.