The focus of top coaches is fascinating. Their behaviours, theories and practices are studied by competitors, sports enthusiasts and management schools alike. Two leaders who have achieved this status recently are Dave Brailsford Team Sky Cycling chief and Stuart Lancaster, England Rugby Union head coach. These two leaders are technically and scientifically advanced and yet still believe the greatest performance leverage is to be found in the minds of their athletes.
Both men are learners. Both absorb data, review performances and data plays a huge part in their performance regime. Matt Slater in the BBC recently commented that Dave Brailsford knew Team Sky were doing well when another team’s performance analysts were filming his teams performance analysts!
But both men have something else they value above science and data, both believe in the importance of sports mind coaching. For example, Dave Brailsford, quoted in an interview by Lionel Birnie in Cycle Sports;
We got to the point in the Beijing Olympic cycle where the numbers became scrutiny. For the team pursuit we’d worked out how much further they would have to travel and how much time they would lose if they rode just four centimetres off the black line. We said: ‘You have got to get on that black line.’ But in the end, they weren’t enjoying it. Every time they got on their bikes they were being scrutinised and they were thinking more about the black line than anything else. One day Shane just said ‘Right, we’re putting away all the video and the rest of it, just go and ride’. The team came out and did a 3-59 and we were away. Numbers are a guide but they don’t govern everything.
The fact that statistics support the human approach rather than dominate it is underpinned by the new team vision, to become the “world’s most admired sports team”. For Brailsford this challenges everything the team do at the deepest psychological level;
If you are going to be really audacious, set an audacious goal … reach for the stars and get the moon … that’s one of the challenges, if you tell people about it then you stand yourself up for some criticism. I think that’s healthy
Brailsford has an innate knack for building confidence, belief and mental strength. He is working on Chris Froome who will be Team Sky’s focus for this years Tour de France. Froome secured his first ever stage-race triumph yesterday, finishing 27 seconds ahead of two-time Tour de France champion Alberto Contador. Brailsford said, as quoted by Velonews:
It’s good to get the win, especially when you look at the quality of the field here … We’re happy that the team’s been able to get off to a strong start again this year and this result allows us to build momentum … It’s an important result too for Chris as he’s been able to get his first major stage race victory — that will boost his confidence. He didn’t put a foot wrong all week so it’s been a good start to the year from him
This passage reveals how Brailsford is helping Froome develop the belief that he is building the permanent qualities needed to compete at this level.
As Stuart Lancaster prepares for this weekends crucial Six Nations clash with France each player will have their own video and stats for carries, tackles, passes and so on will be poured over and consumed. But Lancaster will not trust stats alone to deliver the performance England need this weekend. Quoted in The Times he said;
Emotional intelligence is the key requirement to get the best out of people … I was never academically straight A’s, but being self-aware of your own strengths and weaknesses, I am pretty good at that … Emotional Intelligence [is] the key requirement to get the best out of people.
This ability to critically assess his own performance and that of his team is allied to a mental toughness that allows him to perform under the sort of pressure that deflects weaker leaders. Paul Ackford, writing one of his last pieces for the Daily Telegraph;
This triumph over the previously dominant all blacks may go down in the record of Lancaster’s Leadership as the one that marked England’s transformation into a genuine world class side and his emotional intelligence was fundamental to the win. As I posted at the time his team had come in for fierce criticism and his Captain ritually slaughtered by some pundits. Lancaster remained clear in his outcome and composed, (Step 1 & 2 of impress). His refused to criticise his captain and publicly backed his players to continue to think for themselves on the pitch. His players rewarded him by producing high quality rugby. They played with a freedom that only comes with the confidence that you have the support of your leadership in anything you try to do.
The top coaches in elite teams of every sport have their stats, videos, nutrition and fitness regimes and much more. The science is important but it’s not a major factor in finding an edge to separates the best from the rest because pretty much everybody is at it now. The most consistently successful teams will certainly do all this and do it well. And they will also be the best at leveraging that extra level of performance locked away in the human mind.impress Inspiration Survey
Both these men would score at around four or five on the impress Coaching questionnaire. find out your natural inspirational qualities by taking five minutes to do the impress Coaching Inspiration survey.Sign up to our free Newsletter
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