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Talent Transfer

nick ruddock Aug 31, 2017

In my last blog a couple of weeks ago I discussed seeking, retaining and correctly positioning talent within the clubs. Now I want to come on to a subject which will likely split the audience. Transferring talent.

The blog is not intended to encourage ‘poaching’, but in the contrary, to strengthen the link between clubs and their coaches, and offer a solution to coaches who are need of support and mentoring with athletes they may be ‘out of their depth’ with. It is written in the context of elite/high performance gymnastics,

I’ll cut to the chase with a question ...

If you have an athlete whose potential exceeds your competence as a coach, should you facilitate, or at least give the opportunity to the athlete (and their parents) to transfer to another environment to ensure they fulfil their performance potential?

I think so.

If your philosophy as a coach is truly ‘athlete centred’ then you will want to do everything in your power to ensure that the athlete reaches their potential. Even if that means fulfilling that potential elsewhere.

If your philosophy is ‘coach centred’ then you may immediately be thinking of the repercussions to yourself as a coach and what an athlete of this calibre can do for you and your career.

I understand the dilemma, really I do. How can coaches progress themselves if they’re not working with an athlete who has the potential to reach a high performance level? But my counter argument is that a young athlete may only have ‘one shot’, and as coaches we have many. This is particularly relevant for young gymnasts who have such a short window of opportunity to demonstrate their competence and build solid foundations for a prosperous future ahead.

Once you’ve been through the process of working with high performance athletes and you realise how many incredible, life changing experiences and lessons they get, you realise the enormity of the stakes to them either ‘making it’, or not ‘making it.’

It’s a huge responsibility as a coach. We literally hold the keys to their future.

It’s not just about a few medals. It’s about life experience. It’s about travel. Team work. Goals. Friendship. Self belief. Opportunity, and so much more.

To prevent a young athlete, indeed anyone from the opportunity of experiencing all of these things because of a coach centred (ego driven) philosophy would be a travesty.

But I really do understand the argument against picking up the phone to a higher performing club to seek a better environment.

What would the other parents think?
What about the other athletes?
I’d miss her!
How can I progress as a coach?
She might make a national squad and i’ve never been in one of those environments before!

It is also counter productive within the British system (and many others) to have a monopoly of only a handful of clubs producing high level athletes.

So here’s what I think …

We need to be better, much better at collaborating as coaches between clubs and supporting one another.

I believe the solution (or at least possible intervention) to encourage athlete transitions is to incentivise their coaches with high performance coach education support and mentorship.

Let’s look at the two following scenario’s:

Scenario 1 – The current ‘common’ situation
Coach Sarah has an athlete called Millie. Mille is currently 9 years old. She has won her first national level competition and shows great potential for the future. It is Sarah’s first national champion (she should be really proud of this accomplishment!) but she has no track record of previous results at this level or above. In fact, she has had many athletes attempt to reach this level in the past, but without succeeding. She’s stuck, with no mentorship, personal development plan or experiential learning as an indicator to better future results.

Sarah continues to ‘be the best she knows how to be’ and tries hard to keep Millie at a high level for her age, but in time her lack of preparation and poor habits exceeds her potential, and by age 11 she begins to plateau and eventually declines in performance. She continues within the sport, but despite gaining a lot from her gymnastics, fails to reach anywhere close to her performance potential.

In tandem, Sarah has not developed much as a coach either, and will therefore only replicate the same results with the next athlete of Millie’s abilities. This process is repeated over and over again for the entirety of Sarah’s coaching career.

Scenario 2 – A better solution?

Sarah recognises that Millie has extraordinary ability. Sarah also has the self awareness and consciousness to know that she doesn’t yet have the expertise to ensure she reaches her potential. She is eager to ensure that Millie does fulfil her potential, and following consultation with her parents, contacts a few high performance clubs to facilitate her transfer to a higher performing environment.
The new club (or even better if this was facilitated by the NGB!) in question has an education and mentorship program in place for Sarah as an incentive to transferring Millie to their club. She get’s regular ‘coaching’ from the coaches, gets to watch Millie train (and help out too) and gets 1:1 mentoring to help improve her own skills as a coach. She still feels part of Millie’s journey and gets to work with her often alongside her new coaches. On the next occasion that an athlete of Millie’s ability walks into Sarah’s club, she’s better equipped with the expertise and support to competently coach them.

Scenario 2 really serves the best of both worlds. Both coach and athlete have a better shot of fulfilling their potential, by being supported and coached by experienced people. It takes humility and vulnerability to admit that we may not be the right coach to a particularly athlete, but that’s OK. Both are essential qualities for high performing coaches.

So which forward thinking club will be the first to adopt such a mentoring and coaching program, incentivising and providing support for club coaches who want to ‘up their game’ and do the best thing for the athletes they coach?

And which coaches will have the self awareness and vulnerability to facilitate such a move?

You may be thinking that it’s easier to employ another coach who DOES have the experience to ensure the athlete reaches their potential on ‘home turf’, and that’s a great solution, providing a) the club has the money b) there is a good enough coach who can fit the role, plus re-locate, plus fit in to the program and c) the leadership/current coaches are ‘happy’ to accommodate a new coach within the program with greater accountability than them (won’t work if there is much ego involved.)

And through experience, ticking all 3 of those boxes is tough, very tough.

Just think about the impact that such an incentive program could have on international results if the talent was working with the right coaches? And just think about the impact it would have on the lives of the athletes that got to fulfil their potential.

I’ve written this following extensive experience working within clubs all over the world, and seeing the abundance of talent that exists. The problem is not finding talent, it’s nurturing it, and ensuring it’s in the right place.

‘For a flower to grow, you need the right soil as well as the right seed.’

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