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  • Writer's pictureHugh Lawrence

It's the putting right that counts

A well-known New Zealand electronics retailer of the 1980s, the late Alan Martin, had a strap-line on TV adverts in which he appeared, "If it's not right, we'll put it right and it's the putting right that counts". I always thought he would have been a useful contributor to coaching conferences. He understood the importance idea of a personal commitment to service and actually putting things right. Anyway most of my younger athletes have never heard of Alan Martin!

A very large part of coaching is technical or skill correction, or a change in conditioning practice, or new ways to think. The question is, where do we start. Athletes mostly arrive with preconceived ideas about how something should be executed. When you are coaching the elite - how they execute a skill is what made them successful. Some achieve international team status by imperfect means. That creates two challenges. First, international competition is a massive leap in standard when compared to national competition.

One of my athletes came back from her first international event saying words to the effect, "I completely underestimated how tough it would be". Substitute 'fast' for 'tough' or 'intense' or 'non-stop' - athletes have different ways of describing the experience. First question is whether the athlete's technical competence can adapt to that 'intensity'. Second, if not, how willing is the athlete to adapt or modify technique to cope better with the greater demands of international competition. Third, there's a judgement call for the coach on whether the athlete's potential is more or less likely to be realised by a change.

That said, doing less of the wrong thing is not the same as doing the right thing. Your judgement is about what can be classified as "wrong". Right and wrong are not absolute. While the mechanics of great execution are largely well known, it's the ability to execute the right thing in the right way at the right time that sets our best athletes apart. That's mostly about their judgement and ability to play in the moment. A cornerstone of my coaching, however, is to ask "How much better could you be?" and "How much better do you want to be?" It's the balance of answers to both questions that clear the way ahead for a plan of action.

One (and not the only) element in my value to an athlete is if I can help to improve technical, tactical, physical and mental delivery. There's always something we can make better. Judging the balance of change(s), gaining the athlete's belief in the need and value of change and then performance are the art and science of coaching. Not easy this putting right - but it's the coaches commitment to service.

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