A Simple Plan for Change

We have a tendency to make simple things complicated. Complcation has its attractions, it’s mysterious, it requires experts to interpret, it makes working in an area exclusive. Planning and creating change have certainly seen a significant amount of complication. It doesn’t need to be that way.

Here’s a take on planning to create change that is relatively simple (only 4 elements), easy to follow (only common social skills required), and effective. What follows is the whole program with a bit of explanation for each of the 4 elements. Try this at home.


You’re going to invest a lot of your valuable time and energy into this plan so aim high. Get that goal out there into an area where the possible is only faintly present. A plan is not an expression of reality so there is no need to be ‘realistic’. By making it big you allow for the achievement of significant change without needing to achieve everything. In other words, your plan can be highly successful even if the execution of the plan is not perfect. This is very useful for those of us who don’t always get it right.


This is the part of a plan where things can start to get off track. How you carry out the big idea has everything to do with how much successful change you can generate. By acting small you make the plan more achievable. Lot’s of folks have been telling us this since time began. ‘The journey of 1,000 km starts with a single step.’ And another step will follow that, and another,and another … until the journey is complete. Taking 1,000,000 steps is a highly complex undertaking, but each step is a simple thing. Work on the simple steps and the complcation dissolves.

The size or the pace of the ‘steps’ on the journey may need to change as we progress. When we try to move faster toward change than we are capable of, we get blocked. When we get blocked we need to reduce the amount of change we are trying to create, and try again. If the block is still there we need to reduce the amount of change even further until we find our new rate of progress.


We are, at our core, social beings. There has been a vast amount of study done that confirms our social nature and goes further to confirm the motivation that those around us provide for our behaviour. We know about peer pressure, we know about social convention, we know about social hierarchy. We know that when we make our aspirations public the likelihood of our attaining our aspirations increases significantly.

The power of those we are close to affect our behaviour is overwhelming. This is why people with addictions need to disassociate themselves from their addict based social group if they want to increase their chance of successfully changing their behaviour.

We put that power to work for us when we make our plan public knowledge. We get even more benefit from it when we can actively engage those around us in supporting us in our efforts to carry out our change plan. We get no help by keeping it a secret.


Many of us become hopelessly blocked by the complexity of what we are doing when the complexity will naturally resolve itself over time. How many times do we say to ourselves, ‘I can’t do this: until that happens, or, without this thing, or, until this time, or, because I don’t have …’. The list of blocks is long. We could be saying to ourselves, ‘What’s one small thing can I do that will move this forward.’

Even a nearly imperceptible bit of progress is progress. Most of the most highly successful planners come across parts of their plan where progress appears impossible. Yet, little be little, they found a way to work around the block until they were back on track and making steady progress.

In my nearly 40 years of doing this type of work I have not worked with anyone who could not follow this process. I have known many who have succeeded using this process and I have known some who have limited their success because they stopped using this process.

Give it a go.

Working from a position of Strength


We have known for millennia that working from a position of strength creates a distinct performance advantage. The Old Testament story of David and Goliath is not so much a story of good triumphing over evil as it is a story of strength being greater than might.

OK, so how does that work, and what am I even talking about? It is all too common and very mistaken to associate strength with brute force. Strength is the ability to harness natural talent through the development of skill. Brute force is power applied to overwhelm. Brute force works but it is not easily adaptable in a changing environment.

This is what the D vs G story is trying to tell us. Poor Goliath comes to the fight with brute force and nothing else, after all, if you can create more force it is easy to beat down an opponent who has not learned how to harness their natural talents. David, half of the size of Goliath, comes to the fight with highly refined natural talents developed through many years of deliberate practice.

So what are these Strengths that David brings with him? Sure, he’s great with a sling, that’s helpful, but that’s not where the Strengths come in. The Strengths that make his success possible are his Self-Assurance, Adaptability, Command, Responsibility and Belief. By using these Strengths he is able to maintain composure, move with the situation, take charge, know that he has the capability and understand that the cause that he is fighting for is based on a set of values that he knows to be true. Each one of these Strengths requires skill development and practice to master. Each one of these Strengths supports his technical capability with the sling, allowing him the presence to use the tool to maximum advantage.

Game, set and match.

Nice take on the story, so what? Well, skipping forward to quasi-modern times and the (more or less) real world, a guy named Don Clifton wondered what it would be like if we were to work on developing strengths rather than trying to eliminate or prop up weaknesses. Don’s interest in strengths came out of his work in the newly developing field of positive psychology. Don’s work was not something that he put together over a few weeks. 30 years into his research the prototype was born. Now, a little over 10 years on, we can work with a finished product.

DonCliftonQuoteWhat Don did was look at the performance of successful people in any field and interview them extensively. This gave Don a mountain of data. He then sifted through the data and came up with a collection of talent areas that he called Strengths. He identified 34 talent areas or Strengths. He sorted these into 4 performance sectors or Domains. He now had an outcome tool. From his interviews he captured the perspectives that identified each of the strengths and from those perspectives he created an assessment tool that he called the StrengthsFinder (now known as CliftonStrengths®).

Identifying talent is one thing. Doing something with it is quite another. Talent represents potential but that is all that it represents. Without intentionally applying that talent to the daily vagaries of life the talent goes mostly unused and remains in an undeveloped state. In order to build that talent out into full blown Strengths, the Strengths based coaching program was created.

Strengths based coaching uses the output of the CliftonStrengths® assessment to help individuals and teams become aware of their most important talent areas. Once that discovery is made the process of applying the talents can be started. As the application process unfolds the achievements are used to fuel and accelerate the application of action. This causes the development of the talent areas creating real Strengths that become the foundation for performance improvement.

Some of the features of talent areas make this development process very enjoyable. When we are working in our talent areas we are more efficient, we are more confident, and we are more productive. It’s easy, we like it and we get things done. When our talents become full-blown strengths we act with more determination and greater purpose. When we act with more determination and greater purpose we perform at a higher level. In effect, we create a cascade to high performance that delivers lasting results.

Strengths based development is based on the following paradigm.

  • There is a strong connection between:

    • who people are and what people do best;

    • what people do best and how people feel;

    • how people feel and how people perform.

Or, to put it into the words of the athletes that I work with, “We love working on what we are good at, it’s fun!”


Finding the right Training Pace

Finding your Pace

One of the most difficult things for a young endurance athlete, and also for the coach of a young endurance athlete, is finding the appropriate pace to be training at. You may know what a PB pace is and you may know what the ultimate target pace is, but what is the best training pace? A common guess is a training pace somewhere between the PB pace and the target pace. However, this will normally result in training sessions being far too slow to allow the athlete to handily achieve the target. The reason that the training pace would be too slow is due to the “Gravity Effect”.

Now the heart rate folks are going to find our concept uncomfortable. If your athlete has big dreams but is not aerobically fit then there is little chance that your athlete will be able to work at the pace rate that is being suggested in this article without having them work at heart rates that are out of the ‘zone’. All this means is that your athlete is not being realistic if they think that they can hit their target finish pace without being able to train at the paces suggested here. The reason that we can make this claim is that this work is based on the actual event times that the top athletes in the world are achieving right now.

Understanding the Gravity Effect

The Gravity Effect is highly apparent when watching archery and target shooting. The effect of gravity has a significant impact on the projectile. For target shooting the projectile is the arrow or bullet. For an endurance event the projectile is the athlete. The farther the point of launching the projectile is from the target, the greater the Gravity Effect. It works like this:


The Gravity Effect is obvious when considering a projectile that travels through the air. It is not quite as obvious, but just as impactful, when the object travels over the ground. The pull of gravity still operates with exactly the same force for objects, like endurance athletes, that do not travel through the air. To counteract the impact of gravity more work needs to be done to move forward at the same pace. If the work being done remains constant, the pace will slow.

To account for the Gravity Effect on an endurance athlete the training pace needs to be set higher than the target pace to account for the extra work that needs to be done to overcome the effect as the distance becomes longer.

Accounting for the Gravity Effect

We can readily calculate the Gravity Effect if we have available performance data for elite endurance athletes in a relevant distance range. For our data we have taken the PB times for the top male Race Walk athletes who have recorded times for 5km, 10km, 20km and 50km distances. Our sample consists of 15 athletes (a larger sample would be better). Here’s what the data looks like:


From this data we now have a rough predictor for 10k, 20k and 50k times based on the 5k time that an athlete can attain. There are some anomalies in the actual 5km times for some of the athletes as this distance is not as frequently recorded as the other distances making some of the PB marks less fresh than they should be based on performances at the longer distances. However, it is universally the case that the 5k time for any of the athletes is done at a quicker pace than that of the longer distances and that the pace for each successive distance is slower than for shorter distances in all cases.

Finding the Pace

With this data we now have a baseline that can be used to predict the quickest training times that need to be attained in order to achieve the longer distance target time. A pacing chart would look like this:


To find the correct short distance target pace use the 3 columns on the right-hand side to find the goal or target finish time for the desired distance. Move across the line to the left-hand side to find the appropriate kilometre pace for training as well as the required 5km finish time that is needed to be able to hit the 10k, 20k or 50k goal time. The idea is that the athlete must be able to hit the 5km time before they can hit the 10k time and so on up the scale.

The chart also contains km pacing for 75% to 95% of the training pace (in 5% increments) as a large volume of the training work is done at a percentage off of the target training pace.

If you find that the prescribed training pace is too fast for the athlete to manage for short duration training then the finish time goal is not realistic for the athlete at this time. Choose a more realistic target, or find the short duration training time that the athlete can manage and work backwards to the predicted target distance finish time.

The Warning Label

This method for determining an appropriate short distance training time for an endurance athlete is not meant to be an exact science. It is a rough guesstimate that is based on a small sample of reliable data. When considering the target finish times keep in mind that, depending on the specific characteristics of your athlete, it is a range and not an absolute number that you are working towards. A reasonable range expectation would be somewhere between the time above and the time below in the chart.

Creating an Effective Team

Human Pyramid

Excellence in the Team

One of the most enjoyable things about being part of a team is being on an exceptional one. While that is a perfectly obvious statement and something that few would not aspire to, exceptional teams are not that common. So, what makes an exceptional team?

A good team accomplishes what it was created to accomplish. A great team gets the job done and in the process, elevates the performance of everyone on the team. An exceptional team exceeds its mandate, elevates the performance of all team members and elevates the performance of everyone and everything it encounters.

How does this happen?

The difference between good, great and exceptional is the ability to be effective. An effective team is intentional, aware, disciplined, adaptive, creative and highly developmental. An effective team has a specific design. An effective team accommodates the needs of the team, the needs of the individual team members and the needs of the environment the team works in.

Qualities of an Effective Team

An effective team is high functioning in all areas essential for success. An analysis of any high functioning team will identify the following traits. The traits can be divided into those traits that are attributable to the Group and those traits that are attributable to the Individual members of the team. Group Traits are part of the agreed Social Contract of the group and underlie group function. Individual Traits are exhibited by all or predominately all members of the team and support group function.

Group Traits

  1. Leadership and followership are interchanged freely within clearly defined contexts
  2. Unanimous focus on a quantifiable goal
  3. Clearly defined roles
  4. Frequent, effective and ubiquitous communication
  5. Consistent, united and enthusiastic effort
  6. Capability for self-correction
  7. Disagreement is welcomed, mediation is automatic
  8. Decisions are explained, agreed and enacted
  9. Equality of position
  10. Celebration as and when warranted
  11. Collaborative processes
  12. Evolution is accepted and respected

Individual Traits

  1. Professional in approach
  2. Willingness to share resources
  3. Occasional suppression of personal ego
  4. Introspection
  5. Mutual respect, mutual trust
  6. Open to change
  7. Authentic in all interactions
  8. Play is the most productive state


Organising an Effective Team

Effective teams don’t happen of their own accord. The most effective teams are created intentionally by the sponsor and primary members of the team. There are proven process practices for creating effective teams. What is being suggested here is a process that, if followed carefully, will create a framework on which a highly effective team can be built.

There is no specific formula for building an effective team. The complexity of human/environment interaction does not allow for a repeatable formula. However, there are some structural elements that are common to the workings of all effective teams. The process for developing these structural elements begins with the identification of process steps that will encourage the creation of the Group and Individual Traits noted above.

Group Trait Development

The Group Traits can be sorted into those that are Foundational and those that are Cultural. The Foundational traits need to be established at the outset of team creation or as the first step in a team reorganisation. The Cultural traits develop slowly over time through intentional relationship development on the part of the individuals who make up the team.

Foundational Traits

  1. Leadership and followership are interchanged freely within clearly defined contexts
  2. Clearly defined roles
  3. Frequent, effective and ubiquitous communication
  4. Decisions are explained, agreed and enacted
  5. Equality of position
  6. Evolution is accepted and respected

Cultural Traits

  1. Unanimous focus on a quantifiable goal
  2. Consistent, united and enthusiastic effort
  3. Capability for self-correction
  4. Disagreement is welcomed, mediation is automatic
  5. Celebration as and when warranted
  6. Collaborative processes

Individual Trait Development

Individual Traits need to be selected for. All individuals who make up the team should possess a tendency toward all the Traits, an aptitude for some of the traits and a high level of competence for a few of the Traits. It is unlikely that someone who does not identify with all the Individual Traits will be able to successfully integrate into the team. It is equally unlikely that any individual will possess a high level of competence at all the Traits.

A key component of team establishment will be the personal evaluation and development (E&D) program. The E&D program must be mandatory and must be robust enough to be relevant to a wide variety of personality types. The first step in creating an E&D program is to define, in detail, what personality and inter-personal character traits best suit the team. Commercial evaluation methods such as StrengthsFinder, DISC and LPI assessments can assist in providing the foundational material that the E&D program can be built upon.

More to Sex than meets the Eye


If you take a 10,000 foot view of sexual differentiation it appears clear and beyond debate that human sexuality is binary. That is, there are two and only two sexes, female and male. Unfortunately, that 10,000 foot view is inadequate when standing in front of an XX male or an XY female. When we look at an actual human population rather than the flawed model that a binary view of sexuality is based on, we find that sexuality is a spectrum with hyper masculinity on one end, hyper femininity on the other end, and every possible variation in between.

Looking at the Differences

Try as we might to fit every person into one of the two sexuality boxes, it just doesn’t Brain Dimorphismwork. Chromosomal differences are just one of several differentiators for human gender and only one of several determinates of how an individual will orient themselves with respect to gender. In addition to the genetic XX/XY differences in chromosome makeup there are the obvious physiological genital differences; sexual dimorphism in brain structure and function; endocrine structure and function differences; non-genital physiological differences and a host of functional differences that show up over time. Each one of these differentiators has a range of possible configurations and each configuration can present as male, female or any shade in between the two. The number of possible combinations within the differentiators is greater than the current population of the planet. In effect, possibly the rarest of creatures on the planet would be one that presents as purely female or purely male.

With all of that going on it is not hard to see why any system that attempts to sort men to the right, women to the left will be hard pressed to get it right a large part of the time.

What does Sport have to say?

The current state of gender based affairs in the global sport system is a prime example of why a binary gender system doesn’t work. For reasons not clearly defined and even less clearly understood, sport, in general, has insisted upon holding fast to a binary model of human sexuality. This model denies current scientific understanding and is creating an ever-growing series of issues as the global blended gender population has become more assertive in recent years. This is something that the global sport system has been (and continues to be) wholly unprepared to deal with.

Gender DifferencesBy far the most common response of global sport organisations has been to hold even tighter to the unsupportable binary position. In holding on to an unsupportable position sport has had to resort to some rather bizarre ‘solutions’ to attempt to address the issue. Take the IOC for example. Recently, the IOC has required (suggested) blended gender athletes to undergo ‘corrective’ surgery to remove body parts that offend the binary position. The IAAF has required a special policy, and has had that policy suspended by the CAS, that appeared to be slightly more humane. The IAAF policy requires blended gender athletes to contravene IAAF doping policy by chemically altering their bodies for sport performance purposes to bring them into line with binary gender expectations. This is truly a strange and potentially unethical way to resolve a difficult issue, requiring a person to alter their natural constituent makeup in order to support the discredited theory of gender binarity.

As if this intransigence in the face of an overwhelming volume of validated scientific evidence was not enough, the IAAF has actually commissioned a scientific study designed to validate their scientifically invalid position. When will this stop? When will the global sport community be able to accept that the binary position with respect to gender is indefensible?

An Alternative to Mutilation?

The solution is not difficult, we already have a perfectly good example of how to accommodate variations in capability from the Paralympic movement. The Paralympic classification system is complicated but effective at making sure that athlete abilities are properly matched. There is no reason why a similar classification system could not work for gender classing. Once the classing is established it is not a difficult matter to run events by class. Perhaps not all events are available to all classes depending on participant class participation but this would be no different than what already is established practice on the Paralympic side.

Let’s stop blaming the individual for who they naturally are in order to fit them into an outdated concept of the natural order of things. Let’s stop burning witches just because that is what everyone else is doing.

Using Science as your Coaching Process

Coaching with Science

About a month ago I posted a story about the Role of Science in the work of a coach. The Role topic dealt with the Sport Science side of science. This post is concerned with a different side of science, the elemental aspect of science itself. What I’m referring to as elemental science is the scientific method and the application of scientific principles and practices to coaching. That is, coaching like a scientist.

There are 3 different ways that science gets involved with coaching.

  • The science related to technical area being coached;
  • The science related to the methods and practices of coaching, and now;
  • The scientific method and practices that can be used in active coaching.

Why would you Coach with Science?

When you look at it closely, coaching lends itself to the scientific method and practices quite easily. The decision to apply any coaching development method is almost never based on absolute truth and knowledge. It is almost always a best guess. The coaching decision is based on a theory or hypothesis about what method will generate the desired development. Applying the method will result in a testable and measurable outcome. The outcome will then confirm or refute the hypothesis and the cycle of experimentation starts again.

This cycle of hypothesis development and subsequent experimentation can be easily applied to all levels of coaching from Long-range planning through season plans, periodization cycles right down to individual training sessions. The benefits of using science as your basis for coaching are many and of significant value. Here are some of the benefits of coaching with science:

  • All coaching is done using standardised, repeatable process;
  • The process adapts perfectly to the individual variations between athletes;
  • The process maximises responsiveness to change;
  • Incorrect hypotheses are exposed early;
  • Correct hypotheses are confirmed and can be built upon to create development programs of increasing effectiveness;
  • The process is transparent and can be validated externally and independently;
  • All support providers; assistants, medical, biomechanics, sport science and others can understand and learn the process in a short period of time and apply it to their work as well;

How does Coaching with Science work?

Scientific Method ProcessThe process is simple:

  • Develop a hypothesis;
  • Create an experiment to test the hypothesis;
  • Run the experiment and collect relevant information;
  • Analyse the information;
  • Determine the conclusion;
  • Based on the conclusion, develop a new hypothesis.

Here’s what it looks like in practice for an Annual Training Plan:

  • Hypothesis: The athlete will gain usable speed through the mid portion of the event by increasing core strength supported by biomechanical analysis and technical development to allow effective use of the anatomical changes.
  • Experiment: Apply a movement specific core strength program over 12 weeks monitored bi-weekly by biomechanical analysis to identify changes and adaptive adjustments.
  • Information collection and Analysis: Use daily training records, results of periodic performance tests and basic statistical methods to determine the probability of observed changes being attributable to the change program.
  • Conclusion: Judge whether the chosen program has proven or refuted the Hypothesis.
  • New Hypothesis: Based on the X% improvement in mid event speed the indication is that the athlete will make further performance gains by extending the strength program for a further 6 weeks.

Here’s what the process looks like for a Meso (4 week) Cycle:

  • Hypothesis: That the athlete will be able to support an increase of 5% in training intensity without a significant deterioration of performance or requirement for excess recovery time.
  • Experiment: Increase training intensity by 5% for 1 week with an evaluation of training fitness before and after the training period and observation by the athlete and coach of performance effectiveness. This will be followed by a rest week then a repeat of the intensity week.
  • Information collection and Analysis: Review both pre and both post week evaluations for signs of maladaptation or accumulation of fatigue and review the coach/athlete observations for signs of performance degradation.
  • Conclusion: Judge whether there are sufficient indications that the athlete was able to adjust to the increase in training intensity to prove or refute the Hypothesis.
  • New Hypothesis: Based on Conclusion the athlete can/can’t manage an increase in training intensity at this time. The athlete will be able to support an increase in training load at the existing/new level of training intensity.

As you can see these experiments are not complex and they probably don’t vary much from your current practice except for the discipline of following the process and documenting the results and analysis. It will most likely be the case that multiple experiments will be run simultaneously.

As you can see, these experiments are highly individual. There is little value in attempting to run these experiments across multiple  individual athletes. Our process as coaches is not robust enough to support this level of scientific experimentation. We should leave that to the scientists who apply the methods with far more rigor than we do.

What is the best time to start Coaching with Science?

Now is as good a time as any. Start small and start simple. Document everything that you can. Treat working with science as an experiment in itself. You may need to run a few experiments based on adjusting your theory about how you can make this happen. No problem with that. You will just gain experience that will be useful in making this program part of what you do.

One of the best things about using the scientific method as your basis for coaching is that we’re surrounded by scientists. They will be happy to provide useful assistance in getting your science-based coaching program going. It will also mean that you understand their work better.

And that is a good thing.

Ethics in Sport?

Why Bother?

I got into an interesting Twitter discussion yesterday on ethics as they apply in sport situations. Specifically, the discussion centered around whether contravention of doping rules was unethical behaviour. While it is a fascinating exercise to have discussions like this in 140 character chunks, it’s a pretty cumbersome process where explanation is involved. Sometimes more room is needed to get the point across. So now I’ve done this.

Ethics covers a very large swath of philosophical territory. Luckily, we don’t need to go there. What a relief. It’s a mucky, murky place where one can follow a circuitous path right up one’s nether sphincter.

Why bother with ethics at all given the paragraph above? It turns out that ethics are very useful for defining rules for behaviour. These rules help to create a level playing field between individuals. The rules also help to ensure that there are remedies for breaches of ethical rules. Most importantly, the ethical rules allow sport to function.

A key feature of any sport are the rules. Some of the rules are functional in nature describing the size of the playing area, dimensions of the implements, duration of the contest, and so on. Other of the rules are ethical in nature and are commonly referred to as ‘fair play’ rules. All sports provide for specific penalties for violation of the ethical rules. For example, in most sports it will contravene the ethical rules if you kill, maim, poison or otherwise seriously harm your opponent outside of the context of the game. Appropriate penalties will be applied.

The rules associated with doping and doping infractions are another level of ethical sport rules. Doping rules are extra-sport, that is, these rules exist and are created outside of any individual sport and are adopted by individual sports. This is done in order to attain some level of consistency between sports as well as to create an environment where doping rules can be enforced at all.

Because of the adoption of doping rules by a sport they have the same impact and enforcement capabilities as any other rules of the sport. The doping rules become, by adoption, the rules of the sport and not some set of rules imposed from the outside by a foreign body.

Why does this confuse us?

No doubt, ethics can be confusing. The primary area for confusion is with morality, particularly individual moral values. Some folks seem to think that ethics are relative to an individual’s personal moral code. On an individual basis, this can be a valid proposition. Where any sport is concerned, this would be a disaster. Imagine any sporting contest where the participants were allowed to determine the applicability of the ethical rules based on each participant’s specific moral belief system. There would be no enforceable rules and no contest.

The area of ethics that sport is concerned with is called ‘professional ethics’. What makes professional ethics apply to sport, either to coaches or athletes? Sport requires a specific skill set that is unique to sport and that sport, to a great extent, is self-governed. There are two areas of conduct that professional ethics are concerned with.

  • The first is how professionals act between and among each other. The profession is charged with the responsibility of ensuring that the professionals, between themselves, conduct themselves so that no individual or group within the profession gains unfair advantage over another individual or group within the profession.
  • The second area of conduct for professional ethics is how the individuals in the profession affect those outside of the profession.

How can Ethics be managed?

For nearly all professions, ethics are managed using a specific ‘Code of Ethics’. This code contains a lengthy list of rules that need to be followed by the professional. The code attempts to be an all-inclusive document that has provisions for most eventualities. All codes also include a catch-all or universal rule that is generally stated in terms of ‘actions that bring the profession into disrepute’.

For example, nearly all codes have some form of rule that states, (this is a highly paraphrased and colloquialized form) ‘don’t fuck the clients/athletes/staff’. This is usually framed in both literal and figurative terms. It is easy to see that this rule may not be being used to prevent specifically immoral behaviour (at least where consenting adults are concerned). The behaviour may not be immoral at all. A rule such as this is based on lengthy experience that such behaviour generally ends badly for the professional, professionals associated with the professional and the profession in general.

In most cases, athletes do not have a specific professional association. Athletes are regulated professionally by way of an agreement. The agreement is usually not as comprehensive as a code of ethics but contains a list of rules of behaviour that are agreed to by the athlete and the sport organisation. The agreement nearly always contains a provision relating to the requirement to adhere to the doping rules as adopted by the international sport federation or the IOC. The doping rules referred to are nearly always those created by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

In any profession, ethical rules are adjudicated and enforced in a hierarchy going from the local profession level, through the regional profession level, the national professional level and up to and including the national courts. In sport, there is an additional international level in the Court for Arbitration in Sport.

Ethics is the Glue

Our ability to conceive of all the different ways that we can arrange contests of skill, capacity and strategy is probably without bounds. In every sport, without exception, there have been rules created to govern ethical behaviour to be able to contest fairly and in a commonly comparable manner.

Over the years, those who have chosen to ignore the ethical rules have attained a level of international infamy. During the last 100 years we have seen a vast array of ethical violations. The Chicago ‘Black’ Sox betting scandal, the Nancy Kerrigan kneecapping, the Lance Armstrong mega-doping, the FIFA, IAAF and IOC games awarding scandals and, most recently the Russian state-sponsored doping program to name a few that come to mind. In every case the violations damaged sport in some way and in every case, the ethical rules and related remedies helped to repair that damage.

Ethics is not a preventative that can’t reasonably be done; ethics is a restorative that can be done.

Sport without ethics is chaos, pure and simple. We need ethical sport and we need consistent and equitable enforcement of all ethical rules to allow sport to achieve its purpose. The purpose of contesting to determine who is:  FASTER, HIGHER, STRONGER.

What?, How?, What if? – Questions we should all ask


Using Questions to Enhance Performance

Questions, curious questions, insightful questions, inspiring questions, powerful questions… We all ask questions. Our questions define us and can either illuminate the darkest reaches of our inner lives or close the door to possibility.

Our powerful questions unleash untapped potential, solve intractable problems and quiet the most unsettled mind. Our ego based, biased and judgemental questions block progress, limit potential and narrow our thinking.

When we get right inside the development process it’s our questions that can bring about the most exceptional results.

What are some of the things that you could do to …?

How can we get more of …?

Imagine what other ways …?

Open-ended Questions

These questions open the mind to alternatives, foster a change in perspective, inspire insight and make us more resourceful. We perform best when we are most resourceful. Open-ended questions are the most effective at opening the mind to possibility, which is what makes us resourceful. Open-ended questions tend to lead to solution focused answers.

Open-ended questions can also be strung into a logical format like this: “What are some of the many ways that you could achieve ‘X’?” or “Why is that important to you? And what else?” or “How will you know when you have attained ‘X’?”. A string of open-ended questions and the responses in between are the foundation of a ‘coaching conversation’ that helps to guide the coachee toward discovery of productive solutions to challenging problems.

Questions are the foundation that we build on to create the difference that sets us apart from the rest.

Neurology and Questions

Some of the best questions being asked today are being asked about our brains.

Where does neurophysiology end and consciousness begin?

What is the role of consciousness?

What are some of the many ways that this goldmine of understanding can be used to improve sport performance? Some practical applications of recent discoveries in neural function are showing promising results:


A field of study that combines neuro-physiology with biomechanics with the aim of more completely understanding human movement. Franz Bosch is doing some extensive work in this field with rugby and football players.

Neuro-bio Feedback

Is a process where neural and other biological information is collected electronically and displayed to the user. The user then adjusts normally involuntary behaviours by using the feedback information. Dr. Penny Werthner at the University of Calgary in Alberta is doing extensive work in this area.

Solution Focused Coaching

A process that builds on the findings of neuro-linguistic programming and the work of psychologists such as Milton Erickson to create an environment where questions are used to focus development efforts on making productive changes using the client’s inherent resources. The International Coaching Federation provides leadership in this area.

All of these development modalities are founded on the assumption that consciousness is primarily inhibitory and real change in performance can come from accessing the unconscious.

Putting Questions in the Frame

Once the picture of successful performance is available along with the process to get there, the conscious mind can take this new understanding and work with it. This allows a greater scope for performance by following the route of the imagined performance. For us in the world of performance, the unconscious is where all the good stuff happens. Learn how to easily tap the unconscious through the magic of the open question as noted above and the boundaries of performance will be greatly expanded.

More on Questions

A very large body of knowledge now exists to confirm the performance gains that are generated through a coaching relationship where the coach has mastered the art of the question. I recommend that you give it a look if you’re after something that will make a difference to the performance levels of your athletes.

Why not give it a try? These works might be a good place to start:

The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More and Change the way You Lead Forever – Michael Bungay Stanier

Coaching Questions: A Coach’s Guide to Powerful Asking Skills – Tony Stoltzfus

Keeping the Brain in Mind: Practical Neuroscience for Coaches – Shawn Carson and Melissa Tiers

The Art of Asking Essential Questions – Richard Paul and Linda Elder


Manage Your Process – Improve Your Performance


The Athlete Capability Maturity Model (ACMM)

What is it?

The Athlete Capability Maturity Model (ACMM) is a system developed to improve your management of athlete development to get full advantage from your coaching development efforts.

The ACMM is used to attract, train, deploy, and retain the athletes you need to develop a high performance competitive environment. With the help of the Capability Maturity Model Integrated (CMMI), any sport organization can make improvements in their development systems processes and practices. Many have discovered that their continued improvement requires significant changes in the way they manage all of the people involved in their organisation.

The ACMM is a maturity framework that describes the key elements of managing and developing the training groups of a sport organization. It describes an evolutionary improvement path from an ad hoc approach to managing the training groups, to a mature, disciplined development of the knowledge, skills, and motivation of the athletes, coaches and other staff that fuels enhanced performance.

What does it do?

The ACMM helps organizations to

  • characterize the maturity of their athlete and coach development practices
  • set priorities for improving the competence of its training groups
  • integrate competence growth with process improvement
  • establish a culture of performance excellence

The ACMM will support incorporating athlete management capabilities into improvement programs by communicating a model that complements the Capability Maturity Model Integrated (CMMI), and by making available an appraisal method that can be used alone or integrated with existing process appraisal methods.

The ACMM is designed to guide organizations in selecting activities for improving their development practices based on the current maturity of their development practices. By concentrating on a focused set of practices and working aggressively to install them, sport organizations can steadily improve their level of talent and make continuous and lasting gains in their performance. The ACMM guides an organization through a series of increasingly sophisticated practices and techniques for perfecting its overall development program. These practices have been chosen from experience as those that have significant impact on individual, team, and organizational performance.

How does it do this?

The Athlete Capability Maturity Model (ACMM) adapts the maturity framework of the Capability Maturity Model (CMM) [Paulk 95], for managing and developing a sport organization’s people. The motivation for the ACMM is to radically improve the ability of sport organizations to attract, develop, motivate, organize, and retain the talent needed to continuously improve athlete development capability. The ACMM is designed to allow sport organizations to integrate people improvement with sport process improvement programs guided by the CMM. The ACMM can also be used by any kind of organization as a guide for improving their people-related and work-force practices.

Based on the best current practices in the fields such as human resources and organizational development, the ACMM provides organizations with guidance on how to gain control of their processes for managing and developing their people. The ACMM helps organizations to:

  • characterize the maturity of their people management practices,
  • guide a program of continuous people development,
  • set priorities for immediate actions,
  • integrate people development with process improvement, and
  • establish a culture of sport excellence.

ACMM describes an evolutionary improvement path from ad hoc, inconsistently performed practices, to a mature, disciplined development of the knowledge, skills, and motivation of the athletes and coaches, just as the CMM describes an evolutionary improvement path for the processes within an organization.

What does it look like?

The ACMM consists of five maturity levels that lay successive foundations for continuously improving talent, developing effective teams, and successfully managing the athlete and coaching assets of the organization. Each maturity level is a well-defined evolutionary plateau that institutionalizes a level of capability for developing the talent within the organization.

Athlete CMM Levels

Except for Level 1, each maturity level is decomposed into several key process areas that indicate the areas an organization should focus on to improve its athlete and coaching capability. Each key process area is described in terms of the key practices that contribute to satisfying its goals. The key practices describe the infrastructure and activities that contribute most to the effective implementation and institutionalization of the key process area.

The five maturity levels of the ACMM are:

  1. Initial.
  2. Managed. The key process areas at Level 2 focus on instilling basic discipline into workforce activities. They are:
    • Training Environment
    • Communications
    • Staffing
    • Performance Management
    • Education
    • Compensation
  3. Defined. The key process areas at Level 3 address issues surrounding the identification of the organization’s primary competencies and aligning its people management activities with them. They are:
    • Knowledge and Skills Analysis
    • Athlete/Coach Development Planning
    • Competency Development
    • Career Development
    • Competency-Based Practices
    • Participatory Culture
  4. Predictable. The key process areas at Level 4 focus on quantitatively managing organizational growth in people management capabilities and in establishing competency-based teams. They are:
    • Mentoring
    • Team Building
    • Team-Based Practices
    • Organizational Competency Management
    • Organizational Development
    • Performance Alignment
  5. Optimizing. The key process areas at Level 5 cover the issues that address continuous improvement of methods for developing competency, at both the organizational and the individual level. They are:
    • Personal Competency Development
    • Coaching at every level
    • Continuous Athlete/Coach Innovation

Find Out More

The Athlete CMM program is designed for athlete training organisations that are serious about attaining and maintaining world standards for athlete development. For more on the program and how to adopt it for your organisation contact Gerry Dragomir through a comment on this blog.

The role of Science in Managing Performance



We live in the age of science. We are surrounded and constantly reminded of the role that science plays in our everyday lives. For a great number of people these days science has replaced formal religion as a foundational belief system. ‘Proven by science’ carries a weight that used to be reserved for the works and words of the prophets. As with much of what we believe, in our role as coaches, we tend to overestimate the role that science can serve in guiding our decisions and our behaviour.

Understanding the Scientific Context

Let’s take a look at some common misconceptions of what science is and is not and what science can and can not do. The chart below outlines 4 points relating to what Science Is that are often misconstrued when we think about science and 4 points about what Science Is Not that we often mistakenly attribute to science.

Science Is 

Science Is Not 

A Validation process

A Discovery process

Methodical and highly organised

Creative or originating

Slow and deliberative

Leading in thought or innovation



The Role of Science

Science is one of the most valuable tools that we have for validating ideas or concepts (theory). In that role science excels over all other means of determining truth or proof of theory. The nature of the validation process precludes science from discovery however. Except in rare circumstances where an inadvertent scientific result gives rise to a new or modified theory, science, by its nature, only does one of two things, prove that a theory or concept is valid or prove that a theory or concept is invalid.

In order to fulfill its role science must be methodical and organised to the point where no uncontrolled influences can be allowed to impact the data. This leaves no room for creativity other than the creativity involved in insulating the results from unwanted influences. In order to maintain the integrity of science the entirety of the creative process that is the foundation of discovery must remain in the hands and mind of the non-scientist.


Science is a slow process. It can’t be rushed. Validity tests, experiments, must be carefully designed in order to meet the strict requirements of the scientific method. Very few concepts or theories can be absolutely validated and so statistical methods must be employed in order to probabilisticly ‘prove’ or ‘disprove’. Statistical methods require large data sets and multiple trials in order to validate to a reasonable degree of certainty. This is due to the indeterminate nature of the results. The determination comes through large volume and repetition and the repetition takes time.

The fourth important consideration for science is that it is, again by nature, reductive. By reductive we mean that science attempts to isolate and prove a single part of a greater system. In turn, additional parts are validated until the whole system has been covered. This is not an unreasonable way to proceed, it works quite well with mechanical and chemical systems. It does not work as well with complex biological systems where the interaction between system elements is critical to the function of the system. This reductionism is seen by some to be the Achilles Heel of science when it comes to working with complex biological systems. The reason for this point of view is that it is possible for science to ‘prove’ that a system works in one manner when, using other means of observation and interpretation, it can easily be seen that the system, when considered as an entity, works in quite a different manner.

The Role of Thought Leadership 

Max and Honey herdingThought leadership or innovation, as compared to science, is a very rapid process. It goes through many cycles over a short period to get the idea or innovation to a point where scientific validation is possible and necessary. Science, by its nature, is the end stage of the innovation process. Putting Science in a leading position in the innovation process primarily leads to bad science, premature validation of assumptions or validation of inappropriate assumptions.

A large proportion of the people who we think of as scientists also fill other roles in addition to their scientist role. A scientist may also be a philosopher, or a theorist, or a designer, or a coach, (traditional thought leader positions) or be involved in some other facet of the creative or thinking areas. This role blending is confusing for everyone. It can also be very misleading when the scientist role is used to bring validity to the other role.

One of the primary tenets of science is absolute objectivity. This objectivity puts the scientist at a very high level on the trust spectrum with respect to conclusions and pronouncements made. When a scientist delivers some significant validation findings a very high level of trust is attained. When this level of trust is tacitly deemed to transfer over to the other work that is done in non-science areas we get into trouble. We confuse ‘done by science’ which is scientific with ‘done by a scientist’ which is not necessarily scientific. When the trust turns out to have been misplaced this is somehow seen to be a problem of science and not a problem of our faulty logic leading to inappropriate perceptions.

Working with Science

If you are relatively successful in your coaching area, science that is done in your area will not be that useful to you. Using the common understanding about science that we have determined above, anything current that science will validate about your area will have been known, established and actively practiced by you for a number of years. The best that science can do in this instance is to confirm the efficacy of what you have been doing for years.

Again, if you are relatively successful in your coaching area and the science that is being done contradicts what you have been doing, there is a strong probability that the science has been done incorrectly, which has resulted in flawed conclusions. A great example of this type of problem can be seen in the case of Tom Longboat.

TomLongboatLongboat was a native Canadian and one of the most successful North American distance runners of all time. Longboat had a 13 year career that ran from 1905 to the end of the First World War. During that time, the turn of the 20th Century, the prevailing scientific knowledge dictated that lactate threshold was increased by spending maximal time at lactate threshold. The foundation for this belief was that the medical profession had just become aware of, through scientific research, the mechanisms of addiction and the phenomenon of increase in tolerance to an addictive substance. It was assumed, incorrectly, that this same mechanism worked for any substance. The ‘understanding’ was that high exposure to lactate would allow for an athlete to develop a tolerance to lactate in the same manner as addictive substances. In this case science was used to extrapolate results to capture more situations than were warranted by the context of the understanding. This is a highly common mistake that is still made way too frequently today.

Longboat refused to train according to the scientific understanding of the day and, instead, trained according to the dictates of his body. This training entailed a mixture of high intensity effort of short duration, low intensity effort of long duration, and sessions with alternating high and low intensity (intervals) and rest days between the heavy workouts. In fact, this is the scientifically proven foundation of the prescription for training endurance runners today, more than 100 years later.

For his efforts Longboat was branded a ‘lazy Indian’. Eventually this lead to the breakup of his relationship with his coach/agent. After the breakup Longboat went on to post ever faster times including breaking the Boston Marathon record by just under 5 minutes in 1907. His methods remained mostly lost to running until they were ‘discovered’ again in the early 1960’s.

Making Science Work for You

So how can you make science work for you? That isn’t hard. As a coach you work in a fairly well defined and small area of human performance. There are any number of performance improvements that science has proven in other sport and human development areas that have not been picked up by your specific event area that could be productively applied. Look to areas of human development that bear some similarity (it doesn’t need to be a close match) and take a look at what science is doing in those areas. You are sure to find a few undiscovered science nuggets that you can exploit to your advantage and to your rival’s chagrin.