Sam Parfitt

How should we think differently in a coronavirus world?
All over the world coaches are taking time to deep dive into research and reflection, often with a technical / tactical focus.

But is that enough?

We live in a new normal. The traditional approaches won’t be enough anymore. Sport can no longer exist in an isolated bubble where the concerns of the outside world can be suspended in the name of competition.

We need new thinking.

The question is:

How should we think differently in a coronavirus world?

We posed this question to Sam Parfitt, tennis coach, former scholarship player at Tennessee and Founder of The True Athlete Project.

Sam’s answer
There’s a lot of noise right now about learning opportunities for coaches during the lockdown. It’s true – there are opportunities, but I suggest the most valuable ones are about “being” more, not doing more. In my experience, the skill and patience required to “be”, can greatly improve our ability to make a difference as a coach.
My best coaching flows from being in touch with my own struggles and judgements and hopes and fears, and giving players the space and support to be in touch with their own. This means we have to accept that the mental-emotional realm is firmly in the remit of a coach.
“I’ve become more passionate about the human side of sport than I am about the technical / tactical side.”

I’m thinking a lot more about becoming skilled at taking my judgements out of a situation and letting the player grow, as I am about entering a situation and providing direction.

I think that now, with all the upheaval we face, there’s a big risk in leaving emotion at arm’s length. When we get back on court we need to drop the front and invite players to join a struggle together so that we can take on challenges far greater than improving a serve or a backhand.

3 new ways to think about coaching during covid

1. Recognise that people’s needs are changing

The stark reality is that the needs of the people you coach may have changed for the worse.

All our communities are facing significant increases in mental health issues, financial pressures and jobs loses. There’s also a deeply troubling rise in abuse and domestic violence.

Making assumptions about the lockdown experiences of the people you coach could lead to you missing the signs that someone needs your help and the opportunity to make a difference.

2. Start with connection

First restart (or rebuild) connections with the people you coach.

Try having conversations with players at a depth that you might not have gone to before. More importantly, create space and opportunities for players to reconnect with each other.

Research from the New Economics Foundation, adopted by the UKs National Health Service, concludes that connection is one of five ways to enhanced mental wellbeing. By reframing our practices and training sessions around creating connections first, and sport-specific content second, coaches can make a difference to the wellbeing of players.

3. Reduce the tech/tac

Let’s face it, as coaches we obsess of the technical and tactical elements of our sport far more than most of the people we coach.

By focusing on the details of technique, skill acquisition and strategy risks sending a message that you don’t prioritise the health of the people you coach. Prioritising performance above the human side of sport risks creating transactional (not transformational) relationships with players, and ultimately undermine future performance.

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