Harbours and Stables
Choosing the right amount of coaching support
As coaches, we constantly reflect on the role we play in the development of athletes. We wonder, sometimes, about how this relationship ideally works – what it is that makes a coach useful, or beneficial, to an athlete trying to achieve lofty goals? How much time should an athlete spend with a particular coach?
Not surprisingly, the answer is really “it depends”.
In this post, my goal will be to examine the question of commitment between coach and athlete, and to examine two distinct perspectives on how this relationship might ideally function – specifically in terms of time spent together between coach and athlete. Each case is unique.
In some instances, we share the opinion that “the more, the merrier” – meaning that athletes should be fully enrolled in the curriculum designed by us as coaches, and that over a period of years together this frequent, consistent, exchange between athlete and coach will be able to optimize performance.
But in another vein there is a view that the coaching role is one which provides only occasional feedback – a relationship wherein the athlete comes and goes, depending on need. In this view, teams of coaches support individual players depending on the athletes
In a recent release from the team at Vision 54, they described facing a question from media about which players were “in their stable” for the coming year. With an interesting response, they replied that no players are ever in their “stable”, and that they see their coaching role as that of a harbour rather than a stable.
I was immediately drawn to this metaphor of the harbour for coaching – the idea that players can come and go as they see fit and that they can be sure to find a nice stable place to park themselves whenever they see fit.
In a world of golf coaching which too often seems to want to “own” players, to take vicarious glory in the play of “our” students, and in general which seeks to envelop players in a way which excludes other influences; it was refreshing to read the visions 54 approach which was not at all seeking to claim players as their own – but rather to claim that their harbour is open to all players who either want to stay for a night, for a few weeks, or forever. It is an interesting culture we have which sees someone’s success in athletics as a product of only his most recent coach, rather than all of the coaches who have contributed in some way over the years.
With the growth of sports science support in the coaching of golf, the one-on-one relationship between player and coach is certainly being blurred, if not destroyed. It is no longer rare to meet players who have a team of coaches, and most individual athletes are surrounded by a group of three or four coaches, let alone the administrators behind the scenes.
In so many cases, an athlete moves up what some sports describe and celebrate as the “coaching ladder” – the movement of a player from rung to rung which implies moving from coach to coach as well. Some coaches specialize in younger ages, some at national levels, some for touring pro levels. In each phase, the athlete taps into a specialist in that very phase. In many European countries, the coaching awards are in fact given to the chain of coaches who have supported an athlete, for example if a player wins a major event the credit goes not only to his present coach but to all the coaches who have supported the athlete through the years.
With the Golf Performance Coaches, we like to provide options across the spectrum to our players:
1) Stables: On the one extreme, we work with some players almost exclusively over many years. These are players who are effectively in our “stable” and who benefit from a systematic and comprehensive curriculum which transcends all skills and which approaches skill development in a holistic and long-term fashion. In these cases, the players benefit from a program and from peer-interactions which are harder to achieve in the context of the one on one or occasional meetings.
2) Harbours: On the other hand, we also work with a great number of players who see us only periodically. Some stop in every month for some feedback, some once a year, and everywhere in between. To these players we provide a complement to the work they are doing – in some cases with other coaches, instructors, or sports science experts. For some of the harbour types, our comprehensive programs can be demanding, in terms of time commitment, and so they prefer to stop in every once in a while. Or in some cases their learning style is simply better suited to less frequency and more individual attention.
The harbour types are often a more mature and experienced set of athletes. Conversely, the athletes in our stable are usually from a younger age group and who are at a stage of training that is more suited to frequent attention and feedback.
Because of our belief that skill development requires a systematic approach that spans over many months and years, we do feel that our stable of players benefit the most from what we have to offer. We are extremely proud of the depth and breadth offered by our stable programs. For anyone who has the time and energy to commit, there is no doubt that joining our stable will help you improve your skills and enjoy the game more.
But to the many other players, who for whatever reason can’t commit to our holistic programs, we also provide specific services that can be a perfect complement to the work they are already doing. Some players have capable coaches and instructors who work with them; some players have gone at it on their own. For these players we offer specific services – like fitness support or performance state work – that can be a perfect compliment to the skills they already possess from other places.
We like to think that a little support from us is better than none at all, but that the ideal is to spend as much time with good people who are interested in helping you achieve your goals. In some types this means visiting a bunch of harbours, while in other cases this means settling-in to a comfortable stable. It’s all about finding the environment that best suits you…