When was the last time you changed your mind?

Is changing your mind a negative thing?


When was the last time you changed your mind?

I’m not talking about what you wanted for breakfast, or what TV show you wanted to watch. I mean when was the last time you changed your perspective on a topic?

One thing I’ve realised recently is that I’ve changed my mind on a few things related to coaching. While some might view this as “inconsistent” or “flip-flopping”, I view this as a positive indicator of my growth and progression as a coach. When I was a fresh, know-it-all graduate, I was a fierce advocate of deep squats and Olympic lifting. Since then I’ve softened on my perspective on both of these topics. If the athlete isn’t going to be the next world-class weightlifter, is it really imperative that they squat ass to grass? After all, isn’t the desired outcome simply stronger legs? And witnessing the layoff a rugby player had after fracturing a scaphoid performing a clean (prior to me coaching him!) has made me question the risk-reward ratio of Olympic lifting in this context.

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Why do I think this is good to have changed my opinions? Here’s a couple of reasons:

  1. Overcoming Confirmation bias.

The oxford dictionary defines confirmation bias as “The tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories.” In the scenario of coaching, this might be a bias towards certain coaching philosophies, methods or drills being superior. The idea being that you cherry-pick evidence to suit your bias. The fact that my mind has been open to consider that I may have been wrong on a topic, suggests that I’ve managed to overcome confirmation bias to some degree. This is  key factor in being an effective coach – to use the best methods available, not the ones that fit in with your pre-conceived bias.

2. Assimilating Experience

Clearly, I’ve assimilated some of the experiences I’ve had to cause me to question what is the optimal approach. Rather than relying on the idealism of “theory”, I’ve dealt with real-world situations that require greater levels of adaptability and problem-solving. This has expanded my thought process and skillset, rather than staying within my limited philosophical utopia. A great quote I heard on this topic was “Have you had 20 years of experience, or the same year of experience 20 times?”. Are you actually learning or just repeating the same errors?

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3. Leaving Comfort Zones

When you realise that you may have been incorrect on a topic, or it isn’t appropriate in a particular context, this pushes you out of your comfort zone. In the internet age, there are plenty of keyboard warriors, in their ivory towers, spouting their black and white opinions based on possibly little to no experience in your particular context. It’s comfortable to be in the right and to inform everyone else they are incorrect. However, it’s uncomfortable to think “What now?”. Or to admit to an athlete or coach that you simply don’t know the answer. But that discomfort forces you to go away and research and learn some alternative methods you may not have previously considered.

4. Growth

In my opinion, you are either growing or your dying, either moving forward or backward. If you aren’t constantly learning as a coach, you are slowly becoming obsolete. As such, we should be asking ourselves questions, reflecting on our practice regularly and pondering how we can improve our technical knowledge, communication, organisation or interpersonal relationships.

So, once again, I’ll ask you the question, “When was the last time you changed your mind?” If you aren’t sure, maybe it’s time to start asking some difficult questions!

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The 4 abilities for successful coaching

What are the most important characteristics for successful, long term coaching?

I’ve been reflecting recently over a number of weeks, intermittently, about what abilities are important both in coaching athletes, as well as in day to day life itself. The list below is what I’ve settled on at this point in time. I wouldn’t say this is set in stone or exhaustive, but at this point in my coaching journey these are the ones that stand out for me.

  1. Likeability

This might seem a strange one to put at the top of the list. Surely, “knowledge” or understanding of the sport should be the priority right – wrong. Every day I see incredibly knowledgeable coaches who SHOULD be able to secure great jobs, or create buy in with athletes and coaches. Ever been in a conversation where someone says, “I can’t believe they got that role?” or “How did he land that?”. Often it isn’t a coaches  knowledge that lets them down, it is their likeability. This isn’t to say they aren’t nice people, but what I notice is that coaches who “over-science” and want to explain every physiological mechanism, rarely have great coach-athlete relationships. They lack the social skills.  Let me explain this a little further…

I’ve seen very basic, low level programmes produce great results with athletes. In contrast, I’ve seen incredibly well thought out, science based programmes fail to produce results. What is the reason? Buy in from athletes and coaches. Very often the thing that will dictate your success as a coach is the presence or lack of buy in from athletes/coaches. As S&C coaches, we love the science underpinning our coaching, however we have to remember that very often human beings make decisions based on emotion and then later use logic to rationalise our emotional decisions. This is the reason advertising works – it creates a desire which may be illogically in a financial sense, but we rationalise why we need that new car/iPhone etc. to ourselves after the fact. So athletes/coaches are far more likely to help you, or follow the programme if they have a good relationship with you.

Remember, no matter how good you are as a coach, if the key people don’t like you (athletes, technical coach, physios etc.) you won’t be there long. You don’t have to be loved 24/7 but you need to have good working relationships. Relationships are key. Here is a key example of how NOT to create good relationships/buy in:

It’s cringy but “they don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

2. Adaptability

Following on from above, you need to be adaptable. If you are set on something: a particular working schedule, an exact exercise being performed or certain working conditions, you are likely headed for a battle. This may undermine your “Likeability”.

I have heard two of the best S&C coaches in the world independently use the phrase, “Kill them with kindness”. I think they might be on to something. You may need to be adaptable in:

  • working conditions
  • sessions timings/hours
  • drill/exercise selection
  • training methods
  • working outside of your job spec to help others get their tasks done

In my day to day role rarely a day goes by when there isn’t some sort of adaptation required to an exercise program due to change of venue, injury, or in one case – someone forgetting their lifting shoes! I’ve actually begun to really enjoy challenging myself to think of how we can still get something productive done, working around the barrier.

“Adapt and overcome“, is a phrase I’ve found myself thinking regularly in recent months. A key part of this is picking your battles. Is it really worth insisting an athlete completes a certain exercise they hate, if it causes disruption to your relationship, or the group atmosphere in the session. Remember, if you are in a multi-disciplinary team, ultimately you are all in it together, with the same ultimate goal. Be smart – sometimes you may have to lose a battle to win the war.

3. Durability

Sport is ruthless. The higher up the performance ladder you go, the more ruthless it becomes on your time, energy, relationships and potentially your health/body! This may mean getting your own exercise done at awkward times, or protecting time with the family etc. Again, if you don’t do these things you won’t be in the game for long, or your relationships, body and health will start to break down. If you want to keep coaching into the future take the time to invest in your durability!

Additionally, you need to be durable to shrug off unwarranted criticism from various angles (parents, other coaches, media etc.) and keep working away in the background to get the job done. Mostly you won’t get recognition for your work, particularly when working with youth athletes – accept this now. Don’t be fragile about it. Get back on your feet and get back to work on the job!

4. Ability to learn

You might have expected this to be the first on the list. Certainly some might put it there, really, its a given.  At the end of the day, pretty much everything other coaches know can be learnt, whether its through books, workshops, podcasts or conferences. I once heard Keir Weham Flatt say “Who you know gets you a job, but what you know keeps you there”. There’s definitely some truth to that. You are either moving forward or backward. Even if your standing still, people will be moving going ahead of you. Read books and journals, listen to podcasts, attend conferences and workshops – if you learn 1 new thing, then it was worthwhile. Don’t just stay inside the arena of your sport – look into leadership, business, self development and coaches of other sports too! You don’t know what nuggets of gold you’ll find!


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Strength and Conditioning for Youth Athletes Workshop Slides

On Monday the 24th of July Athletic Evolution delivered a 2 hours workshop on “Strength and Conditioning for Youth Athletes” on behalf of Edinburgh Community Sports Hubs. Please feel free to download the presentation slides:

Strength and Conditioning for Youth Athletes Powerpoint Slides

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Ask the Expert – Shane Fitzgibbon

Shane is an international speaker on youth physical training, the 2015 International Youth Conditioning Association Coach of the Year and former World Champion in Tae Kwon Do!

1)Give us a bit of background on yourself… (sporting career, qualifications, coaching experience)?

I started out as a Taekwon-Do instructor, opening my school in Galway, in the West of Ireland in 1993. As a member of the Irish National Squad, I was an avid competitor. Wanting to maximise my fitness and also ensure longevity, I began sourcing sport science and training manuals, which wasn’t as easy in the 90’s, as it is now. This sparked a real interest in smart training and nutrition which I carried with me throughout my competitive years. Having a B.Sc. in General Science and having qualified as a Fitness Instructor (EQF Level 3) was helpful in decimating the textbooks I was sourcing.
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Participation awards – what’s the point?

“You take the blue pill—the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill—you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember: all I’m offering is the truth. Nothing more.” – Morpheus

Recently, I came across a Facebook post from a friend of mine, lamenting their child’s school sports day and the lack of traditional competitive events. It’s no secret that our educational systems and sporting events are leaning more and more towards the trend of handing out “participation” awards to all children involved. Our schools have moved away from traditional grade classifications and less harshly worded feedback – But is this a positive or negative thing?
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7 Keys to Being a Great Coach – June Book Review

Do yourself a favour…buy this book. You won’t regret it!

This month I came across possibly the best book on coaching I’ve ever read!

7 keys

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Interview on “Growing Up Strong” Podcast

Recently I was interviewed for the “Growing Up Strong” Podcast, a podcast dedicated to the development of young athletes, hosted by Sam Joyce. You might remember Sam from our most recent “Ask the Expert” interview. In this episode. We discuss a range of topics including strength programmes, periods of accelerated growth and the effects working with athletes part-time.

You can listen to the interview here: http://growingupstrong.podbean.com/