Get Your ‘A’ Game Together
Lets start at the very beginning… and so the song goes. But the lyrics to the ‘Do-Re-Mi’ song hold a secret to the undercover world of sporting performance which lies right at the beginning of the Alphabet. 3 words starting with ‘A’ are fundamental to achieving great things as an athlete, and underpin the key elements that coaches, and players, should embody into their training and match day performances.
Ability can be describes as having the physical, technical and/or psychological skills to perform a certain task. From a complete beginner to an International or Elite performer, a persons ability will be judged along a continuum. The competencies that the perfumer is deemed to possess across a range of different parameters will determine their suitability to progress and develop further. Of course, not all abilities are present, or develop at the same time or rate. Physical abilities can sometimes require the passage of time – having the fundamental skills to play rugby well (to pass, kick, tackle etc) does not automatically mean that a 15 year old should play for their national side. Time is required to mature physically. Alternatively, female gymnasts often peak very young as they require the flexibility and suppleness to perform acts of contortion with their bodies on an apparatus.
A continuum also exists for ‘attitude’ – the commitment, psychological state or mood/disposition of a person towards a perceived situation. Coaches tend to polarise players in terms of labelling an athlete’s attitude. normal, they either have a good or a bad attitude. Few athletes are described as having an ‘okay’ attitude. Of course a person’s attitude is contextual and all situations presented will require each individual to reflection their feelings towards each situation. Circumstance preceding, or even following a certain situation may drastically alter the attitude of someone towards that situation. And a person’s attitude can be heavily influenced by nurture and through peer-pressure.
Quite often a determining factor in an athletes progress towards the elite end of the spectrum comes from their application – their work rate, focus, stickiness to perform at the required standard for the duration of the event. Teachers and coaches will demand that students and athletes ‘apply’ themselves to the task at hand and to get the task complete to the best of the person’s abilities. And it is here that we start to see the inter-twinging of the three ‘A’s we’ve spoken about.
THE MATURING PERFORMER
Early-adopters to many sports are often lost as they mature and develop from childhood to adulthood. These performers quickly develop the set of skills necessary to operate at a very high level compared to their peers. This can happen due to a mixture of nature and nurture and is very apparent in field sports. The young player who can run past everyone to score a try or the fast dribbling, hard-shooting midfielder who seems to win every tackle, score at will and all while playing in goal. However all is not rosy for these early adopters. The fast ‘ability’ gains may create a monster further down the line.
With the early success comes respect and praise from team-mates, coaches and supporters alike. ‘Player of the Season’ trophies adorn the mantlepiece. this may last a number of years as the lynchpin of the team goes about his or her business driving the team on to greater heights until the star begins to fade a little. Suddenly the other players begin to grow. Now they have come to know the skills opponents use and can cope with technical trickery or physical dominance. They’ve learned from watching the stronger players performa and have developed coping strategies through exposure; and herein lies the problem.
As these ‘laggard’ athletes begin to use their enhanced skill-sets and work hard to improve, they now start to see the fruits of their labour. Praise for them comes in the form of ‘most-improved’ player or seeing success through application begin to pay dividends. Their attitude to stick with it now matches their new abilities – they’ve applied themselves and the outcomes are clear to all. The early-adopter is now left seeing their success rate begin to fall but they’ve developed no real coping mechanisms.
A MEASURE OF SUCCESS
At this point we now see to very different perspectives in these two athletes or players. One has a rising profile, everything is improving linked to their good attitude and a high level of application. The declining profile of the other athlete is not one that is easily reversed. For them there was no need to have any coping mechanisms. Success came fast, success came easy. They didn’t have to apply themselves and nobody was mentioning their attitude as they were the best player on the pitch. Coaching bias has to take a certain amount of responsibility. Coaches should recognise the foibles of the highly skilled players and ensure that they remain grounded – working hard to keep improving and remaining grounded to their environment.
Experience tells coaches that they would,or should, almost always choose a player with a lesser ability and high levels of application and attitude when looking to develop players. Players with high levels of attitude and application will eventually trump the higher ability player, especially when they have leaned the coping mechanisms to nullify the ‘abilities’!