Monday, September 20, 2010

Self - Awareness

As I tweeted the other day (@sportatitsbest), I’ve only just started Andre Agassi’s autobiography Open, and I’ve already found a reference to what I believe is an extremely key skill that all athletes need to develop if they want to reach the top.  Of course I’m talking about today’s topic, self-awareness.  Here’s the quote:

“Butterflies are funny.  Some days they make you run to the toilet…  Other days they make you laugh, and long for the fight…  Figuring out your butterflies, deciphering what they say about the status of your mind and body, is the first step to making them work for you.”
Hope you enjoy the post.

These days, most national teams in Canada operate under the Integrated Support Team (or IST) model.  Right from the Own The Podium website,

“IST’s are the Sport Sciences, Sports Medicine and other team management professionals that support coaches and athletes/teams. ISTs typically include a physiologist, sport psychologist, biomechanist/performance technologist, nutritionist, physical therapists/athletic therapist, and a physician.  The goal of a IST is to ensure that Canadian athletes are healthy, fit and psychologically ready for optimal performance.”
IST’s are great for bringing everyone around an athlete on to the same page with respect to any aspect of their development.  People from every discipline come together and a lot of great information is shared and it can be very insightful and helpful to have so many perspectives sitting around the same table.

However, when I competed prior to 2006, we didn’t have IST’s and in fact one year we didn’t even have a coach.  We had a very good team leader, which I personally found very valuable, and we had good medical support, but in terms of an on-ice technical coach, we just couldn’t find someone to fit the bill after the previous coach left for other opportunities.  The surprising thing was that it was actually a very successful year overall, and for me personally it happened to be my best ever.

The reason it worked was because my teammates and I each had very good self-awareness with respect to actually sliding down the track.  We didn’t have a coach but we learned the tracks as well or better than we otherwise would have because we coached each other.  At the time there were four of us on the men’s national team so in effect each of us had three coaches.  If we arrived at a new track, after the first run we would meet and discuss our issues.  If someone had a problem steering effectively through a corner that another team member had been successful with, there was a passing along of information.  Occasionally there would be corners that we all had trouble with and in these circumstances we would get together, come up with a plan such that each of us would try a different strategy and then meet again after the run to determine what we had learned.

It was an effective strategy only because each of us were very self-aware with respect to where we were in a corner, when we were steering, how hard and for how long.  In a sport where you can at times be more upside down than right side up going well over 120 km/h and under several G’s, that’s not easy to do.  It worked because we could accurately convey information about a corner and because we were willing to invest in each other’s success.  Your own information was going out to the team but you had three people’s information coming back to you which both speaks to the team environment we had, and the importance of being self-aware.

Now, myself and the other coaches preach two things above all others.  One is the team environment and the other is to listen to your body and learn what it is telling you.  It can take a long time to get there but that information is key.

Duff Gibson

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