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.

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.

Managing the Power of the Other


The Temple of Apollo in Delphi

The entrance to the Temple of Apollo at Delphi contains the above inscription, ‘gnothi seauton’. This translates in English to ‘know thyself’, and is taken to be one of the fundamental areas of knowledge for anyone wishing to excel in life pursuits. It is also one of those things that are far easier to state than to accomplish.

The difficulty in knowing thyself comes partly in the wide variety of areas of knowing that are necessary. There are a myriad of those areas and each of those areas can be viewed from a number of perspectives. The main issue with knowing in this context is the sheer volume of things to know. However, an active sense of curiosity, a quantity of discipline and a quantity of time cover most of what is needed to overcome this challenge.

Where a real problem lies for all of us is in knowing the impact of the concept of ‘Us’ and ‘Other’ on our behaviour. In this piece, we will look at the impact that the Other has on the self. This does not imply that Us is somehow less impactful, just that the two are each complex enough in their own right to be dealt with separately.

Enter the Other

According to recent research done by Robert Sapolsky and outlined in his book, ‘Behave: The Biology of Humans at our Best and Worst’, our concept of the Other moulds and governs a significant portion of our perspectives and judgements which, in turn, modify and control our behaviour.

So, what is this Other that we need to know? It’s probably easiest to start this discussion with what the Other is not. The Other is not external. That is, the Other is an internal concept that is separate from external reality.

The Other is a tool that we use to sort friend from foe, safe from danger, good from bad, comfort from discomfort, happy from sad, and so on. The Other is a hard-coded neural feature that has evolutionary roots in the primordial ooze. The Other is about protection and survival. The Other is a barrier to performance.

To give you an idea of how the Other works, 50 milliseconds is all that is needed to make a judgement of Us or Other. Obviously, this is not enough time for this judgement to register as conscious thought. However, the judgement still registers in the brain in the Limbic System and related parts of the Prefrontal Cortex (PFC). The Limbic system makes its assessment and gets to work notifying the appropriate associative areas of the PFC where a judgement is made. The judgement is then matched to a closest approximation of past experience. A secondary, unconscious decision is made, based on that experience, and a reactive behaviour is generated. Bingo, bango, bongo, you are now behaving in response to a non-conscious perception with no idea that the behaviour is even occurring. Functioning just about as quickly as a knee jerk reaction, this brain jerk reaction is a continuous process. This is what makes it so powerful. This is what makes it so difficult to know.

What is the Purpose of the Other?

From an evolutionary standpoint, it was essential to develop a mechanism to determine a danger and equally important to quickly conjure a strategy to manage the danger. The Other is the mechanism for identifying the danger and the non-conscious (fast) behaviour is the strategy. To make this process even more complex, the broader the range of behaviour of the organism, the more wide-ranging the mechanism/strategy needs to be.

Currently, our understanding of human neuro-physiology makes nearly everyone over the age of 12 familiar with the concept of fight or flight (and the additional F’s that get added). This is just one of hundreds of mechanism/behaviour combinations that are continuously active. Each combination is specifically designed to protect from or prevent injury or insult. How these mechanism/behaviour combinations developed is of critical importance to performance managers.

Why is this a Problem for Performance?

Our existence a mere 10,000 years ago was far more precarious than it is now.  A range of 104 years is an instant in evolutionary terms. Our mechanism/behaviour combinations were ‘designed’ via evolutionary processes to manage an environment that was significantly different from the environment that we experience today. In addition, the cost of false positive reactions was far lower than it is today. The keenly honed sense of Other that was so essential to our ability to flourish in the past is now responsible for our propensity to over react to encounters that we identify as Other. We rain havoc down on our proximal environment without even being aware of what we are doing. And this can make performance suffer. These reactions are commonly referred to as the ‘Stress Response’. A detailed examination of this phenomenon can be found in Sapolsky’s book, ‘Why Zebras don’t get Ulcers‘.

For example, we evolved as social mammals. As social mammals, it was critical to be able to identify our social group (Us) from the Other. At the time that this evolution was taking place territories only rarely overlapped. Contact with Other groups was relatively infrequent although often highly violent until mutual exchange of value exceeded the risk of contact. In a relatively short period of time, far less than the time that it would take to evolve a refined mechanism for Other, we now find ourselves living scant meters from all manner of ethnically and culturally different groups. The naturally understandable but socially unacceptable prospect of racism is a direct result of an highly developed but outmoded function of Other.

So how does this impact performance? One of the primary performance modifiers is distraction. Distraction, like nearly all of the performance modifiers, can have a positive or a negative impact on performance. A distraction as significant as a loved one dying immediately prior to a performance can provide a distraction strong enough that the performance becomes automatic and can result in a lifetime best performance. A distraction as insignificant as seeing a rival standing close to your life partner can overcome several years of training and undo a performance in a matter of minutes.

Being triggered to unconsciously react to a constant barrage of Other related events pulls energy and focus away from the task at hand. Normally this is not an impairment to performance, we have enough slack to accommodate the distractions. When the performance requires the majority of neurological and physical resources the distraction becomes a significant impairment factor.

Distraction isn’t the only challenge that is driven by the Other. Chronic over stimulation of Otherness can lead to a number of physical manifestations including: hypertension, immune disorders, ulcers, depression, phobic behaviour and pathological rage, just to name a few. None of these conditions are known to enhance performance and most are seen to degrade performance.

Crap, what can be done about this?

Awareness is the prime antidote to the condition. Along with becoming aware of when mood, attitude or motivation changes without a discernable change in environment we can alter the way in which we process our Other based perceptions. It is widely known that the same stimulus has markedly different impacts depending on how the stimulus is perceived. An individual who has developed perceptions that interpret Other as an opportunity for growth and development is more likely to gain from the experience than an individual who perceived Other as a threat or burden.

To enhance awareness of Other based perceptions that have a significant negative impact, exercises like perspective taking can have a positive impact. The first step in the perspective taking process is to identify an area where Other based perceptions provide enough distraction to impair performance. Once this is accomplished it is a simple matter to take the perspective of the Other to see the situation through their ‘eyes’. The word eyes is in parentheses because the Other may not be human and may not even be living. The act of taking the perspective of the Other often works to lessen to the negative power of the Other when we realise that the intention that we attributed to the Other may not be what we perceived or may not even be intentional at all.

The power of the Other is significantly enhanced by an extreme focus on difference. Making a conscious effort to seek out similarity can have an impact on lessening a perceived threat and significantly reduce the power and impact of the Other on us. As soon as we have something in common with the Other, the Other loses some of its Otherness.

Another benefit of gaining awareness of strong Other perceptions is that the concept of Priming can be used to minimise the impact of the Other. Priming is an odd feature of our neural processes where some completely unconnected idea can get associated with another idea and impact the resulting behaviour. The classic Priming example takes place in the showroom of most companies that sell high value products. If the marketing folks are tuned in to the effect of Priming, the very first thing that you will see as you enter the showroom are the most expensive products that they have, with the price clearly visible. There is little to no intention to sell you the expensive product, the Prime is in the price. Seeing the high number, you are now primed to perceive the price of the lower priced products as better value than you would have if you had not seen the large price number. How can we use this to our advantage? If we know that we are likely to encounter an Other that will negatively impact our performance we can Prime ourselves by associating the Other with positive experience that enhances performance.

And the circle is complete

We are complex beings, non-linear by nature and prone to behaviours that we are not even aware of. In the area of the Other we can come closer to the goal of ‘know thyself’ by improving our awareness of this formerly undocumented feature. To know that the Other is primarily a construct of the self is to know the self.

The discovery of just how this aspect of our neural makeup works is actively being pursued by some of the most disciplined minds ever generated. Take a bit of your time to keep up with what is being discovered in this area. Your performance will improve as fast as your mind can incorporate these new ideas.

Finding Flow

The Original Csikszentmihalyi Model

Flow is a useful concept but difficult to develop as a teachable practice. Revising the model can help.

For a number of years, I’ve been keenly interested in the Flow concept as researched and developed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (Dr. C). While the concept and theory are exceptionally well researched and presented, practical application of the concept was difficult for me. What I experienced was that, knowing Flow Theory, it became easy to recognise when a Flow state had been attained in performance. It wasn’t difficult to recognise a Flow State before knowing Flow Theory, I just didn’t have labels for the state. What was missing was an understanding of the process that leads to generating a flow state.

The primary tool for outlining the process is the Flow Model that Dr. C created to encapsulate his theory.

His model looks like this:

3-Flow BasicThe model is a simple matrix using two axes, one for a progression of intensity (Level of Challenge) and one for a progression of capability (Level of Skill). Eight emotional states populate the interior of the matrix representing the path to the Flow State.

From this model, it appears that there are many paths to a Flow state (which is probably true) but no predictable means of getting there.

There must be more to it than what this model shows.

A Useful Addition to the Original Model

Studying the model carefully over a significant period of time I first came to a realisation that there were two more dynamics that were impacting the attainment of a Flow State. The first dynamic is the Level of Action. This is a parallel dynamic to the Level of Challenge. Level of Action is different because it is about the pace of the activity and not the difficulty of the activity. Action or pace may or may not increase the Challenge but Challenge exists independently of Action. As the Action increases the likelihood of Flow State attainment also increases.

The second dynamic is Emotional Quality. As the model shows the Emotional Quality is low on the left side of the matrix and high on the right side.

The modified model now looks like this:

4-Flow +With the revised model it is now possible to see that where it is possible to generate high Quality Emotions in situations that require high Skill and offer a high degree of Challenge combined with high levels of Action a Flow State will have an increased likelihood of occurring.

Not all of the dynamics need to be at high levels to attain a useful state of functioning although the state may not be what Dr. C has defined as a true Flow State.

Further Model Development Through an Inspired Realisation

Close inspection of the revised model reveals another helpful insight. Looking at the two emotional states in the middle of the matrix, Worry and Control, one can see that these two states are opposite sides of the same coin. That coin is the coin of Confidence. Worry and Control, in their form as emotional states, represent the ends of a continuum that represents the Confidence spectrum.

With this realisation, the model can be further adjusted to look like this:

5-Flow ModifiedWith the realisation that the second level of the matrix deals with Confidence, terms more appropriate for expression of Confidence can now be used. Worry is replaced with Doubt and Control is replaced with Assurance.

It can now also be seen that we have continuums in both the horizontal and vertical planes. We have now also exposed two very valuable additional realisations. These two realisations create the environment where a process begins to be revealed. It is now possible to see the path for training through to the consistent achievement of a Flow State in performance.

The Horizontal State Pattern

As the model has now developed it is possible to see that there is not one continuum of States but three continuums. These continuums represent the essential performance elements of Perception, Belief and Activation. Any performer must be operating at a high level (right side) of each of these continuums in order to achieve an effective Flow State in performance.

The model now looks like this:

6-Flow StatesThe mystery of Flow State achievement now begins to be unravelled. We see that development in the areas of Perception, Belief and Activation will lead to an improved likelihood of consistent Flow State achievement. It is highly possible to work effectively in each of the three continuums. Each of the three continuums can be worked on independently. Creating a program to address and improve function in the three continuums will improve general performance maturity which, in itself, will improve performance while making Flow States easier to achieve and more frequent in their occurrence.

The Vertical State Pattern

With the inclusion of this dimension, the auxilliary development of the model is now fully complete (at least in our usage context). We can see a full, multi-dimensional, process oriented, model that can be used to develop and monitor performer acquisition of Flow State creation skills.

By using the vertical perspective, we can now see that, from left to right, the model indicates differing levels of performance maturity. The characteristics of the leftmost state are those of the Novice. The middle state denotes attributes of a Performer or journeyman and the rightmost state is that of the Master.

7-Flow MaturityAs the model now indicates the path from Novice to Master is also the path to being able to consistently establish a Flow State during performance. It is quite likely and totally consistent with the model to have a performer operating at each of the three maturity levels simultaneously. In fact, this would be considered to be the norm. A performer may have certain elements of the performance that are fully mastered where Flow State occurs consistently and naturally. The same performer will have areas where only the Performer level has been attained and Flow State is only rarely attained during those aspects of the performance. And, of course, the same performer can have areas where the Novice level exists. These areas would most likely be areas where very new technique or capability is being introduced.

What this means to My Coaching Practice

The methods and techniques for coaching a performer differ according to the level of maturity in the development process. The same methods and techniques for training are not effective at all of the levels of maturity. While the process is the same the methods and techniques need to match maturity level. Novice level maturity requires a high level of input and control over the training program by the coach. For the Performer level the input is primarily in the nature of guidance and occasional suggestions for improvement. At the Master level the coaching relationship turns to more of a mentoring role.

The big insight for this work, aside from now having a process whereby Flow States can be consistently achieved, is that the same performer requires different coaching approaches depending on the maturity level of each aspect of the performance spectrum.

The best coaches assume that this ability to recognise maturity levels within individual athletes and between different athletes is an intuitive gift.

This gift however, comes from an accumulation of knowledge of both the performance area and human nature over many years. The gift can be learned and developed. Using the work of Dr. C on Flow States can help further your development and hopefully this addition to the model can give you a path to do that work successfully.