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nick ruddock Jan 19, 2018

Ego, ‘a person’s sense of self-esteem or self-importance.’

Competitive sport can brew the perfect storm for coaches and their ego’s. The truth of the matter is, we ALL have an ego. We wouldn’t be much good in competitive sport without one. But what is important is that we keep it ‘in check.’

We must remember that as coaches, our priority is to serve the needs of the athlete before addressing our own. Leading by example also sends a powerful message to those who we work with. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve seen athletes adopt the same characteristics and belief systems as their coach, and that isn’t a good thing if those beliefs are not conducive to both performance, and more importantly, the skills and characteristics the athlete will require once they step outside of the sport into the ‘real world.’

Being driven by ego is one such behaviour.

To be entirely transparent, let me be the first to point out that I have demonstrated most of the behaviours listed below at some stage in my career, and some others too.

At times of weakness, I still do.

I can admit it, and i’m aware of it. That’s why I’m a great person to write this post.

I believe that having awareness of our ego’s and how it can drive our behaviours and decisions is a very important part of high performance coaching, but unfortunately many coaches never take the time to understand and manage theirs, resulting in an entire career of mistakes, poor relationships or lack of fulfilment from their craft. It could also lead to sending the wrong signals out to those around you.

If it is a necessity to satisfy your ego in order to be happy, then you will never be happy. There is always something to threaten an ego.

So here is a non exhaustive list of coaching scenario’s where ego may be evident and driving decision making, many of which are listed from personal experience. How many can you resonate with?

1. Asking a gymnast to perform advanced elements and skills they are ill-prepared for when in the company of other coaches (showing off skills.) This is particularly notable when the said elements aren’t even on the programme.
2. Demonstrating an attitude known as ‘god complex,’ when a coach behaves like they are able to fix any problem, with any athlete.
3. Refusing to amend the composition of a routine that you got wrong as it will be evident that you made a mistake.
4. Not investing time and energy in reflective practice, a task undertook to find valuable lessons from previous performance and experiences, to make better informed decisions in the future. (Coaches who don’t believe they are ever in the wrong will always evade reflective practice, and therefore avoid accountability and responsibility for errors. They take part in forming a blame culture that points the finger towards others as it is far less threatening to deflect blame.)
5. Using feedback as a way of demonstrating your technical knowledge to others around you, as opposed to giving the athlete what they actually need (which is usually only a few words!)
6. Not entering kids into a competition as you are afraid they will make you look bad on the competition floor.
7. Telling other coaches all the reasons why your athletes aren’t going to have a good competition before they even begin, to make you feel better if that actually happens.
8. Interrupting speakers in talks, or presentations in order to suppress them, as the attention of the audience onto the speaker makes you feel less significant, or because doubting and critiquing the speaker makes you feel superior as you are demonstrating your knowledge to the audience.
9. Spreading toxic gossip and stories about others in an attempt to influence what others think about them (typically because they threaten your own self worth.)
10. Telling your gymnast off in front of others to show that you are aware that their performance was sub-standard and isn’t a reflection of your acceptable standards (training or competition.)
11. Speaking poorly about other people’s athletes who have beaten yours as it makes you feel better.
12. Disregarding advice from others, or even worse, not even listening to the advice of others.
13. Making excuses for the reason that your athletes have been beaten, rather than taking the valuable lesson(s) that could be learnt and striving to be better.
14. Protecting kids from deliberately tough training and competition conditions and situations as it may not be perceived correctly by others (even though perception and reality are two different things and the public have no idea what your strategy is.) For example – if you put your athlete into a pressurised competition scenario, such as significantly reducing their warm up in order to give them valuable experience, despite increasing their chances of falling.
15. Dampening others’ accomplishments by condemning, comparing or criticising them.
16. ‘Hating’ on other peoples’ social media content in an effort to elevate your own self worth and look superior to their audience (which isn’t actually the case!)
17. Not asking questions when in a learning opportunity for fear of other people judging you.
18. Failing to ask for help from respective experts such as Doctors and Physiotherapists, instead trying to play the role of everybody to maintain control and accountability.
19. Deflecting blame towards others for failings, but accepting the successes.
20. Being a different person when in a more public environment eg) competition arena.

Now I’m sure like me, you can resonate with either demonstrating some of those behaviours in the past, or by witnessing/seeing that behaviour in others.

For some, sadly, these are daily actions, and these people will continue to behave like this without an ounce of self reflection as they don’t feel that any of their behaviours could be improved.

Let’s not confuse that with having confidence and conviction in one’s beliefs and mission.

So what leads us to behave like this?

A combination of low emotional intelligence and a strong serving of fear.

Fear is a great motivator, but not always a positive one. It can push us to do all sorts of irrational things.

So what are we afraid of?

Usually lacking friends, recognition, kudos (an ever increasing problem with social media) money, respect or followers.

We rarely fear having an abundance of something, it’s usually about not having enough, even down to not having enough battery on our phones!

Couple this fear with a low EQ (emotional intelligence) and we start to behave irrationally.

Rational thinking suggests that all the scenario’s listed above are of course bad practice, but our emotional thoughts can easily override rational thinking, particularly if untrained. We are emotional creatures, and just like our muscles, our mind needs specific training and daily habits to ensure it is managed and optimised for peak performance.

Coaching is a privilege, and a huge responsibility also. In order to continue to move the sport forwards, we need to remember what’s MOST important about our roles. That is of course the athlete.

That means giving them the opportunities they deserve.
That means representing them positively.
That means capitalising on learning opportunities to better them.
That means being consistent in our behaviour, irrespective of the audience or environment.
That means not shaming others.
That means investing in ourselves to better serve our athletes and others that we can positively influence.

Ego clouds judgement, slowing us down in our pursuit of excellence.

Here are some quick tips regarding this topic:
1. Spend frequent time in self reflection, raising awareness of your ego, and the kind of scenarios that it becomes evident to others.
2. Understand your motives and purpose of ‘why’ you coach.
3. Become more emotionally intelligent.
4. Put your athletes first.
5. Care less about what others say about you (unless it’s fully justified and they are trying to help!)
6. Avoid Criticising, Complaining, Condemning and Comparing others.
7. Become comfortable with who you are. First you need to find out who that is!
8. Never be afraid to admit when you were or are wrong.
9. Don’t live in your past, better your future.

I’ve read a lot of material and literature about ego/self awareness in recent years, here’s a few recommended reads:
1. Ego Is The Enemy – Ryan Holiday
2. The Ego Trick – Julian Baggini
3. Detox Your Ego – Steven Sylvester


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