Posted by: Norman Brook | October 19, 2013

Dynamics in Athletics Coaching in South Africa

Norman Brook recently presented at the Western Province Athletics Coaches Workshop held at the Sports Science Institute in Cape Town. The following blog reflects the content of his presentation on the Dynamics in Athletics Coaching in South Africa.

What are the dynamics in Athletics Coaching in South Africa, the social, intellectual, or moral forces that produce activity and change?  Athletics in South Africa clearly has a wealth of good athletes, coaches and support personnel, but it is a commonly spoken view that the sport is lacking coordinated programmes aimed at developing coaches and achieving athletic excellence.

It would appear that the sport is lacking transformational leadership where leaders identify the needed change, create a vision to guide the change through inspiration, and execute the change with the commitment of athletes, coaches and support personnel.

Athletes in all sports fall into the broad categories of participation or performance athletes. Sports federation are concerned with increasing participation or raising performance standards.  This is their core business. “To promote excellence in our sport, and create opportunities for everyone to achieve their personal athletic challenges” is a typical mission statement for a sports federation.

Athletes should be at the centre of all sports federation’s strategic plans, the so called athlete centred approach.  This approach is often expanded to include coach driven and sports science supported.  Competition alignment, club development, team management are aspects that form further outer layers of a strong sports federation strategy.

Of course another important strategic issue for sports federations is social inclusion and diversity. Given South Africa’s history, the promotion of social inclusion and diversity are strategic priorities. At the recent World Athletics Championships there were twenty five athletes representing South Africa of which only five were women and none of whom were black African.  Women comprise 51.4% of the population and 79.2% of the population is black African. It is clear from this that women are under-represented at the elite level especially black African women.

Athlete & Coach Development

In recent years the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC) have developed Long Term Athlete and Long Term Coach Development Models.  These follow similar approaches taken internationally and evidenced in countries with mature sports systems. SASCOC engaged world leading experts in the creation of these models and is now working with sports federations to align these models with specific sports’ athlete and coach development programmes.

Two models that take on board that promoting excellence in our sport, and creating opportunities for everyone to achieve their personal athletic challenges should be athlete centred, coach driven and sports science supported. If athletes are not the first consideration of a sports federation, it begs the question, for what purpose does the federation exist?  It could also be argued that coaching should be at the centre of federation programmes as it coaches that drive the development of athletes.

Figure 1: Long Term Athlete Model with Categories of Coaches Overlaid (4x4 Coach Development Model)

Figure 1: Long Term Athlete Model with Categories of Coaches Overlaid (4×4 Coach Development Model)

SASCOC’s challenge with Long Term Athlete and Long Term Coach Development Models in South Africa is how to implement these at every level when there are limited resources available to fund and manage these programmes.  Other countries who have taken a similar approach have invested considerable resources in implementation, a level of resource which may not be possible in a developing nation with other pressing priorities.

At national and provincial levels sports need dedicated staff to drive both long term athlete and long term coach development programmes. Currently Athletics South Africa would appear to lack both the financial and human resources needed to implement both athlete and coach development strategies.

Long Term Athlete Development Models envisage children developing physical literacy in their early years supported by parents, teachers and children specific coaches. Talented youth is then developed by performance development coaches. Some progress to the highest levels of sport and receive coaching support from High Performance Coaches.  The majority in the sport participate to stay active for life rather than to become elite athletes. This majority also need specialist coaching from Participation Coaches.  Recognising that there are four types of coach is the 4 x 4 Coach Development Model which envisages coaches specialising and progressing in mastery in their specialism.

Figure 2: 4 x 4 Coach Development Model

Figure 2: 4 x 4 Coach Development Model

Athlete Awareness & Responsibility

One of the roles of a coach is to develop athletes with high levels of awareness and self-responsibility.  The athlete is in some ways like an apprentice learning their trade from the coach. Eventually the coach should be able step back and allow the athlete to become the master of their trade.  The following diagram explains the journey athlete and coach go on together. Initially, the athlete has a low level of competence and does not know what they need to do. The coach of beginner athletes spends a great deal of time directing the athletes he coaches. Over time as the athlete develops mastery the coaches role changes to the point when he/she is able to delegate responsibility for performance to the athlete whom by now has developed high levels of competence and can perform their skills without thinking.

Figure 3: How the Coach's Style changes as the Athlete's Competence Develops

Figure 3: How the Coach’s Style changes as the Athlete’s Competence Develops

In developing athletes who can take responsibility for themselves and have high levels of self-awareness, we need to be developing the whole athlete. This means going beyond Physical, Technical, Tactical, and Mental preparation of athletes to include the development of the athlete as a whole person, developing athlete competence, confidence, connection, character and caring, and creativity.

Figure 4: Aspects of Athlete Development.

Figure 4: Aspects of Athlete Development.

The aim of Long Term Athlete Development Plans should be to produce athletes who have the capability of achieving their personal athletic challenges be those at a participation or performance level.  This means they have to be creative, to have applied competence. In other words they can adapt readily to different circumstances and still produce of their best.

In a similar way we need Long Term Coach Development plans to produce coaches who are creative. We do not simply want coaches who coach as they have always coached, but rather coaches who are creative and can develop their coaching methods.  Albert Einstein said “stupidy is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. We need coaches who have applied competence and can adapt to different situations and come up with creative and ethically sound ways of bettering performance.

An example of applied competence in coaching is the concept of reverse periodization. Recognising that some athletes over a period of time will have developed high levels of endurance and need to shift emphasis in training to speed development if they are to improve their performance, some coaches have reversed periodization principles. The traditional model of periodization commences with capacity (volume) and shifts towards power (intensity) whereas the reverse model commences with power and shifts toward capacity.

Figure 5: Coaches need to develop from being Competent to being Capable.

Figure 5: Coaches need to develop from being Competent to being Capable.

World Class Performance

South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee President Gideon Sam said after London 2012 Olympic Games…. “It is quite clear that the world is not waiting for us.”  One of the dynamics in athletics coaching that is moving the world forward is investment in sophisticated high performance and talent systems lead by transformational leaders.

Ross Tucker, a Cape Town based sports scientist with a great interest in athletics, recently talked about a talent symposium and strategy meeting held in London.  He stated “It struck me that the single most impressive factor that explains their current sporting success is the collective intelligence of their people…..the sporting IQ of everyone from the manager and administrator to the coach and journalist, is staggering. It is this hard-earned sporting intellectual capital, with the right people asking the right questions, that drives excellence. It’s this to which we must aspire, and then, perhaps in three generations, we’ll have turned our fortunes around.”

Some nations are investing in high performance, are setting up systems to identify, confirm and support talent enabling it to progress to world class performance. They are investing in transformational leaders who identify the needed change, create a vision to guide the change through inspiration, and execute the change with the commitment of athletes, coaches and support personnel.

Figure 6: High Performance System Identifies, Confirms & Supports Talent through to World Class Podium Level

Figure 6: High Performance System Identifies, Confirms & Supports Talent through to World Class Podium Level

Back in London they are focused on making their investments are doing what they are intended to do and constantly seeking ways of improving their systems, people and performance. Mission 2012 was a detailed monitoring and evaluation system that required sports to think about their high performance plans in three dimensions based around:

  • Athletes – their performance, development, health and well-being
  • System – the places, structures, processes, people and expertise that deliver the programme
  • Climate – the feel, functionality and culture experienced by athletes and staff

Using Mission 2012 sports federations were able to focus on their high performance system, identify critical issues, and bring forward solutions before issues had a significant negative impact on future performance.  They cast a regular and critical eye over how their system was performing and were able to bring additional expertise to bear in finding creative solutions to problems.  It required great honesty and focus to ensure the programme was in tune with the needs of athletes and coaches, only to identify critical issues and solutions.

This approach to planning, monitoring and evaluating high performance illustrates how organised and sophisticated high performance programmes are becoming in other nations. If athletics in South Africa fails to establish implement athlete and coach development programmes, it will fail to realise the full potential of the country’s athletes.

“The world is not waiting for us.”

ENDS

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