Coaches' Cross-Training: 10 steps to becoming a better coach (and human being)

According to Wikipedia ...

Cross-training (also known as circuit training) refers to an athlete training in sports other than the one that athlete competes in with a goal of improving overall performance. It takes advantage of the particular effectiveness of each training method, while at the same time attempting to neglect the shortcomings of that method by combining it with other methods that address its weaknesses.

Why should athletes have all the fun?

Research suggests that coaches tend to rely on a relatively narrow range of professional development practices. It also shows that these practices rarely lead to significant improvement in performance.

So, perhaps we need to try something new ...

Learn something new
. By far the best way to understand your students is to become a student yourself. It doesn't really matter what you learn, although the less 'relevant' the better. Experience being a beginner, and all that it entails.

. There is a huge amount of information available today, and some of it is not completely crazy! The internet, in particular, gives mostly free access to endless books, articles, blogs and newspapers. Quick tip: if you are searching for something wholesome and challenging to read, don't use Google; turn, instead, to its geeky, bookish half-brother Google Scholar ( Your life will never be the same again.

Take time considering your own body. Apart from the obvious benefits of practices like Yoga or Tai Chi, or other 'somatic' methods, these practices encourage attention on the internal experience of the body.  
And the body, after all, is the thing all sports people have in common.

Watch others coach. By all means, watch those who do your sport. When you do that, you pick up tips and ideas from those who have followed - more or less - the same training programme as you. But if you are looking for radically new ideas that force you to rethink your whole philosophy of coaching, you really need to connect with those from completely different backgrounds. For a start, how about one of the following: a golf professional; a PE teacher; a martial arts instructor.

Go to conferences. Sport conferences are a mixed bag. Some are great; others are poor. The best events have inspirational keynotes from leaders in the field, stimulating workshops and seminars, and good food. But even the most desperate affair has one compelling reason to attend: other coaches to talk to. Oh, and the bar.

Keep a journal. In this modern world, it is possible to keep a journal online, and there are some excellent IT programs to help you structure your thoughts, and even remind you to write in the first place. Personally, I prefer old-fashioned paper (Moleskine, to be precise). Either way, there is little doubt that keeping a regular journal helps record and clarify thoughts in way that simple reflection sometimes cannot. As the great philosopher Karl Popper once said, "My pen is cleverer than I am!"

Learn to spot bullshit. Sport, like almost every other of life, is bombarded by bullshit: from special training gizmos, from physio-neuro-psycho-bollocks, to gurus. There are some great books discussing the dangers of bullshit, such as Ben Goldacre's Bad Science, and Michael Shermer's Why People Believe Weird Things, and countless websites [search "skepticism"]. Next time someone claims that a little crystal in a magical wristband improves balance or coordination or 'energy', hit them with one fo the books.

Read business books. Business books have two great virtues. First, they talk about many of the topics that occupy sports coaches. Obviously, some of them talk specifically about coaching, and it is a fascinating exercise to compare the assumptions and practices of sports and business coaches. But there are also books about communication skills, leadership, change, values and vision; all topics of interest to sporty folk. Second, most business books seem to be aimed at a Primary School reading age. They tend to be short, to the point and accessible. Different people seem to have different tastes in these books. My favourites include The One Minute Manager, Influence, and FIsh!

Use social media. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, MySpace, Google+, and their kin have become enormously popular in recent years, with hundreds of millions of people around the world signing up. Whether or not a 'FB friend' is a real friend or not is an interesting question for late-night discussion (on FB!). But it is difficult to argue that social media offer sports coaches a remarkable access to information and insights from professional colleagues from every corner of the globe.

Learn to drink proper, Italian espresso. This is nothing to do with coaching. It is just one of those things every civilised person needs to learn!

So, what do you think? What would you add to the list? What practices have you found particularly helpful?

Please share your insights.

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