Know the person before the player

‘It’s all in the mind’ is a phrase commonly used in sport. Whether by armchair experts, commentators, or actual players.

Take Petra Kvitova, winner of Wimbledon 2014.  After her win, she was quoted as saying “In sport, it is important to have good technique, but the difference between success and failure is often in the mind.”

It’s easy to understand the significance of the mental side in individual sports; what about team sports?

One glance at the four corners model of learning used by the FA reinforces how important the mental side is in team sports: two of the four corners cover the mental side – tactical and psychological (the others being physical and technical).

Where does all of this get us to? The fact that it’s absolutely vital to understand the person behind the player. What makes them tick? What motivates them? How are they likely to behave in certain situations? Do they like routine and structure? Do they want to figure things out for themselves, or are they happy following set formats and procedures?

What about their emotional intelligence? How good are they at controlling their emotions to maximise their performance?  As a team member, how good are they at perceiving the emotions of their team members? How successful are they likely to be at building relationships with their team members?

A coach can work some of this out about their athlete over a long period of time. Easier on a one-on-one basis than with a group of players. Even so, it makes an awful lot of sense to short-cut this process, using profiling and assessment tools that can give strong indications of behaviours, and help the coach understand what makes their players tick. And then comes the important point - training and development can then be structured and tailored accordingly.

What about the tactical side? A coach is in a much more powerful position if he or she understands the ability of their players to process information, and also the best way to do so.  Some will take on board and process instructions swiftly. Others may take more time, and may need to have the instructions reinforced a few times. Some may find it easier to picture the implementation of the tactics in a visual way; others in a verbal way.

For any coach, or indeed any leader (as you know we feel strongly that leading equates very strongly with teaching), having this knowledge can only help the ultimate goal: maximising the potential of the athlete and the team.