Leadership Coaching for World Class Results: The Knowledge within Elite Performance Sport

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Here at the-Coaching Blog-run by Gerard O’Donovan, our aim is to constantly bring value to those seeking to improve their lives. Therefore we have a policy of publishing articles and materials by guest authors whom we value and appreciate. Today’s guest author is LouiseDeeley (United Kingdom).
Depending on your interests, names like Jose Mourinio and Sir Alex Ferguson (football), Dave Brailsford (cycling), and Andy Flower (cricket) are recognised names in their field as not only being outstanding coaches, but outstanding leaders too, responsible for developing, nurturing and challenging people to consistently produce outstanding performance and results in one of the world’s most competitive areas – Sport.
In the UK particularly, unless you’ve been hidden away with no access to the media, you’ll have seen some of the greatest sporting achievements on the planet in recent times: Andy Murray winning Wimbledon, European dominance in the Ryder Cup, Chris Froome being crowned winner of the Tour de France, English cricket back challenging the Aussies and of course, the great success of the London 2012 Olympic Games, with teams such as British Cycling, GB Rowing, UK Athletics and British Equestrian Federation all thrilling us with their expertise and medal winning performances.
Leading a successful team
Success doesn’t just happen overnight (despite what the X Factor talent show might suggest!). It doesn’t just happen without hard work and dedication. And it definitely doesn’t just happen in a vacuum.
Particularly in fields like sport and business, there are a number of factors that come together to create a successful end result: vision, planning, preparation, technical knowledge, tactical knowledge, attention to our physical and psychological needs…. the list goes on ….. and of course, people.
People are the one factor that makes it all happen. Without a great team around them, Victoria Pendleton, Mo Farah, Ellie Simmonds, Chris Hoy and Jessica Ennis-Hill to name but a few wouldn’t have had the success they have without great leadership, coaching and support professionals to help them along the way.
So what has the sports coach got to do with leadership?
The picture that comes to mind when people think of the archetypal ‘sports coach’ is usually a volunteer who is there as the ‘teacher of skills and techniques to make the ball go faster, straighter, harder’ (or something along those lines) …. but at the elite end of sport, that image is far from the fact!
Yes, a sports coach delivers the technical, tactical and sometimes physiological demands of the sport, but the modern professional that supports our high-performance athletes and players is far more than that.  Now, sports coaches are leaders, mentors, teachers, facilitators, negotiators, mediators, linguists …. and along the way teach you how to throw, kick, jump, hit and win …. as an added extra!!
As well as the ‘traditional’ leaders such as performance directors, managers, CEO’s, we train a lot of professional sports coaches, and for us, success is all about the coach. More specifically, it’s all about what the coach brings to the relationship, not just in terms of tools and techniques, but also about their expertise of application. This expertise relates to the intricate balance between understanding themselves as a person and coach (and what they bring to the relationship) as well as how they begin to understand the athletes (or coachees), and what they bring to the mix.
Of course, at the end of the day, it’s the athlete that has to perform. To step up to the plate and use everything they’ve learned and trained for in order to get the results they want, but a major part of that success is going to be the support, challenge and guidance that their coach has supplied along the way.
Any great coach (sport or otherwise) knows that it’s not simply about telling someone what to do and how to do it, but instead it’s about working with their ‘client’ to identify what needs to be done, how to do it and ultimately ensuring that when the time comes to perform, the athlete or coachee has the knowledge, skills and confidence to be able to deliver – and that’s what being a world class coach is all about.
Sport or life – key skills all coaches need to be successful
Alongside a variety performance psychology techniques, NLP has a lot to offer coaches (see the last edition of ICN for NLP articles), and integrating NLP into coaching practices can turn a competent coach into an excellent coach, but as we all know, a tool is only as good as the person using it. Coaches working in leadership areas (and other areas for that matter too) need to have a wide and varied set of tools, but there is no point having knowledge of these tools if you have no awareness of the impact you as the user has on others when you put them into play!
To be successful and effective in the wider coaching world, coach education and CPD, needs consideration of the wider, ecological aspect of coaching, which contains, at the heart of it, the coach and how the coach thinks, feels and acts but also the effects that this thinking, feeling and acting has on their clients and coachees.
Emotional Intelligence Competencies
We hear a lot in the coaching world about developing the emotional intelligence (EI) of our clients, but what about the coaches EI? For me, this is the key starting point in our practitioner trainings for all coaches, as understanding the impact of our emotions, our thinking styles, our motivation and our empathy should be the number one focus for anyone considering embarking on or furthering a career in coaching.
Without a good understanding of EI competencies, I believe we cannot be truly effective in the work we do.

  • Social Intelligence Competencies

Fundamental for anyone in a leadership position (and quite frankly, this could apply to many of us across a range of roles) as this is about successfully negotiating the complex social relationships that we all engage in on a daily basis. Whether that’s to strengthen and nourish relationships with friends and loved ones, in our coach – coachee relationships or in a work situation, having people around you that want to work with and for you, is essential if we are going to get the results and outcomes that we set.

  • Getting engagement to participate and dealing with drops in motivation

In sport, most athletes make the choice to participate, particularly at the elite level (a generalisation I know, but there’s no space in this article to go into fears as a driver for participation, parental expectation, away from motivation etc. so please bear with me on this point!) and even then it’s a pretty tough road to stay focused on at times! Depending on the sport, very early mornings, cold and miserable conditions, repetitive gruelling training sessions that leave you mentally and physically exhausted, injury ….. (you get the picture) … can leave even the most dedicated wondering what on earth they’re doing this for and where has their motivation disappeared to? If only it were as glamorous and exciting as the Olympic TV coverage would suggest – four years of training for a make or break event – how’s that for needing mental toughness?
For many in business, being in a central role where you have to ‘perform’ can feel a lot like being a competitive athlete, and although not everyone experiences the pressures of having to produce the results in the same way, or in such a public space, being mentally tough or resilient is a key aspect – and something that leadership coaching can all help with.
As a coach in both sport and life, we not only have to get the initial buy-in and understanding of who actually does the work, but we also need to understand what’s happening with motivation, and how we can assist our athletes and coachees to re-engage with motivate states when needed. Good coaches will use a variety of approaches to assist the athlete or coachee in this, both to remind them of why they are engaging in the process in the first place, and to also help with the inevitable troughs with they happen!
Engagement involves areas such as:
Working with values – vital for understanding why we do what we do! To ignore values is to ignore the central driving force within all of us that picks what we spend our time, money and effort on, and as such, is central to sustained motivation over time.
Creating a mind set for success – anyone trained in NLP will be familiar with the belief frames of cause > effect, results v’s excuses, perception is projection, operating at 100% and the mind-body connection and how these can be used to great effect. Along with values work, setting intent and other ways to reframe our thinking, we can use these belief frames for creating a mindset that works towards building that mental toughness and resilience, and to focusing thoughts and behaviours on what we need to do in order to get the outcomes we desire.
Sport is a highly competitive area, and particularly at the elite level, where the smallest enhancement of performance could make the difference between getting our outcome … or not!
Developing social and emotional intelligence competencies, through NLP and sport psychology pieces of training has been a key aspect of the coach education work we have been delivering over the last 12 years to elite sport in the UK (and beyond). All of the major sports we work with such as The ECB (England and Wales Cricket Board), UK Sport (governing body for all Olympic Sports) and the RFU (Rugby Football Union) credit success on the field as being down to having a vision for the future, strong leadership and great coach education.
To quote UK Sport and their commitment to sporting success, ‘world-class performance can only be delivered by world class personnel’.
Credit Source: 
Louise is a leading GB Sports Psychologist, working with teams and individuals in the elite sport, and a coach educator in both sport and business.
She is the founder of Inside Performance™ Consulting, a successful Performance Coach, Supervisor, BASES Accredited Sports Psychologist, BPS Chartered Psychologist and NLP Trainer and Consultant.
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