I just gave the first interview on our coach education process here at Sparta, mentioning the 3 areas of competency we seek to objectively develop with each of our staff; tactical, technical, and emotional intelligence. I am not sure if this topic was the intention of the sports technology writer, or if the topic just shifted in this direction by my comment early in the discussion,”The field of sports performance and strength & conditioning was better off 10 years ago.” This comment was in reference to the technology growth in sports without the accompanying growth of emotional intelligence by coaches and sports personnel. Unfortunately, the value of technical expertise is overshadowing the tactical and emotional abilities needed for athlete and organizational success. This hyper-focus on technology is taking away from the emphasis that used to be placed on the relationship development. It is these relationships with athletes and personnel that determine your role within the team culture, and the efficacy of your career.
Emotional Intelligence is just Trust
I am skipping over the tactical piece for a couple reasons. The first reason being that this area is the easiest to master because it’s just content (i.e. how to squat), and this ability tends to be a strength with most of our software users who are very application-centric. The competency of emotional intelligence is far more challenging, but it really boils down to one goal; trust. Trust is critical for the athlete-coach relationship, but first the staff must trust each other.
A great quote on such culture is from the book, The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business, by Patrick Lencioni. “When there is trust, conflict becomes nothing but the pursuit of truth, an attempt to find the best possible answer.” Patrick goes on to explain that you can gauge a culture by observing the staff meetings.
The Best Way to Look in the Mirror is in Meetings
At Sparta, an observer of meetings would likely see a family holiday dinner scenario, an air of disagreement that is rooted from trust amongst the people in the room. We argue over details like the best place for the entryway doormat just as much as the ideal squatting percentages for the athlete. We believe you must have these tough conversations to get clarity, to ensure everyone is on the same page. Specifically, the room must come to a consensus, by an obvious unanimous choice or an opportunity for staff to convince others that their proposal is the best solution. This leads to individual growth and clarity amongst the staff but more importantly, the clarity ensures consistent and convicted messages are delivered to the athlete, building trust in the coach-athlete relationship.
Most sports organizations and departments avoid these discussions because it is uncomfortable. Avoiding tough discussions are often shrouded by the rationale of just not having enough time. Yet we all know that not having enough time is translated better by the label “low priority”. The problem of avoiding group discussion and conflict is that separation continues to grow amongst departments; whether it is dissension amongst different sports or silos between department of medicine, strength & conditioning, etc.
Alignment Suggestions; “Swim in Discomfort”
I remember having lunch with Trent Dilfer a year ago, and he explained how important it is to just get comfortable with being uncomfortable. He explained that he often encouraged others to recognize this discomfort and just “swim in it.”
So at Sparta, we follow a few major avenues to ensure alignment within the staff.
1. Weekly 1 hour education meetings
- rotating topics from new scientific trends/hardware, programming, and our metrics
- meeting topics are sent out 48 hours in advance for proper digestion and preparation to actively discuss
- all staff present (marketing, software engineers, strength coaches, software support, business)
2. Weekly 20 min operational meetings
- the topic is always “urgency”/”challenging athlete issues”, generally centered on injured individuals
- discussion is centered on our software dashboard, showing the most current status of athletes*
*paper reporting is outdated as soon as it is printed!
- meritocracy; everyone speaks and has equal input – ideas, not job titles win
- no complaining; only allowed to bring up problems if you have a proposed solution
- simplify; any changes should replace, not add so we can be better at less
Overall, we are just uncomfortable together…comfortably.