Dr Israel Halperin, Senior lecturer at Tel Aviv University, speaking at the Youth Coaching Conference (YCC).
“Supporting our athletes’ needs by allowing them to make decisions has been shown to be a very effective coaching strategy that pretty much enhances any outcome measure that we, as coaches, care about- motivation, adherence, motor-learning. Autonomous Supportive Coaching (ASC) essentially means considering and accounting for our athletes’ preferences in training.”
This striking claim was made by Dr Israel Halperin at the recently concluded Youth Coaching Conference (YCC) organized by the National Youth Sports Institute (NYSI). Over 230 coaches, students, and administrators attended the two-day conference at the Lifelong Learning Institute on 25-26 Jan 2019.
In his workshop, Dr Halperin, a senior lecturer at Tel Aviv University, touched on four steps a coach can use to effectively implement ASC, based on his personal experiences coaching high performance athletes in Australia.
Dr Halperin stressed the importance of allowing autonomy and choice in athlete training.
He contrasted ASC with Controlling Coaching Behaviours.
"With supportive coaching, what we generally do is to allow athletes to make choices and thereby, allow them to asset control over their practice environments. On the other hand, with Controlling Coaching, we will deprive our athletes of choices and the sense of control over their training environments."
He also gave examples of how choice and autonomy can be implemented in practice.
“Do you prefer starting with Exercise A, or do you prefer starting with Exercise B? Would you prefer if we start with the Squats or the Deadlifts? By asking [your athlete] this very simple question, I am essentially implementing the Autonomous Supportive Coaching strategy here.
“Another example is that I can ask an athlete, ‘When would you want me to provide you with technical feedback? After every set? During the set?’ There are many ways and different opportunities for coaches to provide feedback and this is what we do all the time.”
To further emphasize his point, he cited a study about how the act of making a choice, even if it is irrelevant to the task, seems to have a positive effect on performance.
“The title of the study is “Choose to Move”. This study was published in 2015. Participants in the Control group practise golf putts for X amount of reps and distance. The Choice group completed the exact same task with the same number of repetitions. Everything was similar between the two groups but with some interesting differences. Participants in the Choice group get to choose the colour of the golf balls.
“What they found is that those who get to choose the colour of the ball improved their accuracy considerably more in comparison to the Control group. Just the very act of making a choice, even if it is irrelevant to the task, seems to have a very positive effect on performance,” he said.
To round off his point on choice, he said the effects are universal.
“The positive effects of choices were replicable across different types of populations, including children, adults, athletes, those with motor diseases and even mental disorders. Even Americans and East Asians. To me, this seems to reinforce the fact that this phenomenon is consistent amongst everyone, almost independent of culture.”
In the second part of his workshop, Dr Halperin discussed the less-to-more approach.
“When I start working with a new athlete. I do not know what the athlete needs, he or she also does not know his or her needs. We are just exploring together. For the first point of interaction in our first session, I will limit the amount of choices provided. Put differently, I will provide them with irrelevant choices. However, the number of choices to begin with is going to be low.”
He emphasized the importance of coach-athlete familiarity.
“However, as I acquire more experience working with the athlete and we develop a working relationship and we know what to expect from each other, then overtime, the number of choices that I allow the athlete to make will gradually increase.
“In treating this principle quite strongly, this is something that I do naturally. I will not propose to start giving athletes a lot of choices to begin with because by then, you may be perceived as being unprofessional.”
He gave personal examples of how he implemented the less-to-more approach.
“When I work with someone who is new, who is a pure beginner, I usually provide them with irrelevant choices. [L]et them choose a colour of the ball or the colour of the sticks. You can think of countless irrelevant decisions but nevertheless, it seems to have a positive effect, so this is what I start with. Then as the athletes’ morph from a beginner into an intermediate, I get them more and more involved with what we’re doing and I would value his insights or her insights more so than a pure beginner, because now he’s more involved in the training process.
“Lastly, with advanced athletes, those that I’ve worked with, usually more than a year or two orthree, then I’ll try to get them to be quite heavily involved with what is happening in the session and I’ll heavily consider their decisions. Their decisions are relevant to what we’re trying to achieve, for example.”
“You can tell the athlete to do exactly 10 repetitions on one end, or to tell the athlete to do as many repetitions as he wants on the other end. I propose that the range should be somewhere in between. For the most part, I would restrict the range of repetitions and tell the athlete to do anywhere between six to eight, or between 10 and 12. It is up to you, depending on the goal you are achieving with your athlete.”
Dr Halperin further discussed why giving athletes a choice over repetitions is significant.
“First, we’re providing athletes with a choice, so that alone is why we should do that. But secondly, is the following issue, there’s so much variability in how athletes respond day to day. Some days, I’ll be able to do 10 good repetitions. I slept well, I ate well, I’m in a good mood. On a different day, I might not have the best night of sleep, I might not have eaten well, I might have gotten into an argument with my wife, all that could affect me as well, and it leaves me to be able to do only 8 repetitions, quality repetitions. There's a lot of fluctuations in our performance.”
“For the aforementioned reasons, this is why I don't think we should stick to one number at a time because that assumes that we understand a whole lot of things about the athlete’s state. But if we give it a range, then there's a better chance I will be able to get what we’re after.”
“The next one is that I would propose you mostly use suggestive language when coaching. This also falls under the category of Autonomous Supportive Coaching, so using terms such as, ‘I suggest’, ‘Let’s try’. This type of terminology is more autonomous supportive because what's inherent to it is that the athlete is not forced to do one thing. We’re not forcing it upon them.”
“So this very use of this language, and this also has been studied as well, leads to higher level of motivation, people perform better, more learning, and other interest than outcome measures. This is in contrast to controlling language- ‘You must’, ‘I want you to’. When I tell an athlete ‘You must’, then that's it, the athlete doesn't have any control over their environment.”
Dr Halperin shared the findings of a small study he conducted at an amateur boxing competition in Australia.
“All of them were national coaches and then we spent hours and hours trying to analyse and categorize the different type of feedbacks that the coaches provided to their athletes and out of curiosity, we also matched the type of feedback with the outcome of the bouts.”
“We found an interesting relationship. The coaches that provided more controlling language, their athletes tended to lose more.”
Questions to coaches
Dr Halperin gave a list of questions for coaches to consider:
Do you need to use the controlling coaching method on some occasions? Never? Sometimes? Often? Very often?
How does the personality of your athlete affect his/her reaction to various coaching methods?
Is there a one-size-fits-all coaching method for athletes of differing personality types? How can you adjust your coaching style to better suit certain personality traits?
Below is the full transcript of Dr Halperin's workshop:
I will just talk, and you can think about this talk as an extension of the previous one in which I will focus on preferences, in our case, the athletes’ preferences. It will be on the autonomy support of coaching, the why and how, you can see myself there coaching. One of the athletes that I have coached for nearly three years during my period in Australia—he’s a world champion kickboxer. He is actually competing today, believe it or not, in the Philippines and he wanted to make a gold.
If it was actually in a day or two from now, I would have taken a plane to Philippines but instead I’m standing here in front of you having my time.
This is what I will be talking to you about today. First, what is Autonomous Supportive Coaching? Some of the definitions, some of the research, some of the concepts that I think are important, some of the concepts before we move on. I will try to move on rather quickly to the implementation strategies—how do we actually act upon that when you coach and work with athletes. What do you do? Once we are done with the six different strategies, I will show you two case studies of two elite-level athletes whom I have worked with. One of them is a kickboxer that you have seen in the first picture. I will show you how I try to implement that. Of course, it is not easy to pinpoint exactly because this is a general philosophy or a framework that I try to apply. It is a moving target but I will share some of my experiences. You will see that despite the fact that I work with two high level athletes who are actually friends, you will see the way it unfolds quite differently. One of them was very autonomy supportive; the other, not so much based on my interactions with them and their rather different personalities.
As I have said before, to me, it is very important to discuss this topic of autonomy support of coaching through the evidence-based framework model. I have never seen anyone done that in the past. Usually, evidence-based practices discuss some type of literature, but I have not seen the connection yet. To me, this is crucial because if you take my advice and start thinking in view of this figure, it will assist you in making better decisions. I view it as the last channel that we act upon to make decisions.
So, Autonomous Support of Coaching. Essentially, that is considering and accounting for our athletes’ preferences in training. Autonomy—we can define it loosely as the ability to make choices and assert control over one’s environment. This is the working definition. Supporting our athletes’ needs by allowing them to make decisions has been shown to be a very effective coaching strategy that pretty much enhances any outcome measure that we, as coaches, care about. Motivation, adherence, motor-learning (which is, in a sense, learning new techniques) and performance (strength and conditioning-related performance) Now, I will distinguish between two different types of coaching behaviours that lie on opposite spectrums. It is not that there is no grey area in between, but for the sake of understanding a contrast between the two, I will address them as if they lie on two opposite ends. On one hand, we have Supportive Coaching Behaviours; on the other, we have Controlling Coaching Behaviours.
With Supportive Coaching, what we generally do is to allow athletes to make choices and thereby, allow them to assert control over their practice environments. On the other hand, with Controlling Coaching, we will deprive our athletes of choices and the sense of control over their training environments. I would like to give a few examples just to give you a better sense of what I am referring to. I may act as an athlete that I am working with. “Do you prefer with starting with Exercise A, or do you prefer with starting with Exercise B? Would you prefer if we start with the Squats or the Deadlifts?” By asking him this very simple question, I am essentially implementing the ASC strategy here. Now, I should not write here that I would not advocate you use one or the other—this is not my key message. The message is that: you stand right now as a Coach, you could shift yourself somewhat to adopt more Supportive Coaching Behaviour. It is not to say that we will never use Controlling Coaching Behaviour. I will give some examples of where they may be beneficial. On the other hand, using a similar but opposite example, in moving from the Squat to the Deadlift, from Exercise A to B, the athlete has no say about the decision. He is not involved and in this particular instance, he has no autonomy to assert control over the practice environment.
Another example is that I can ask an athlete “When would you me to provide you with technical feedback? After every set? During the set?” There are many ways and different opportunities for coaches to provide feedback and this is what we do all the time. The question is, when do the athletes prefer to receive feedback? There is a lot of research on this. Usually, when do athletes prefer to receive feedback? After a good or bad performance? We now know, it is perhaps surprising that people like to receive feedback after they perform well. Asking them when they would like to receive feedback is an example of Supportive Coaching Behaviour. Or, you can tell the athlete that you will provide feedback after the second set and he has no say about this. I am not saying that this is inherently wrong, I am just contrasting the two to get a better sense of the topic.
Many studies have clearly shown that Autonomous Supportive Coaching Behaviour lead to superior outcomes when compared to Controlling Coaching Behaviour. This has been shown in tasks that require balance, accuracy, exercise of motivation and endurance, and also in outcome measures that are performance-driven such as in applying maximum levels of force or in punching performance.
I would like to give you a taste on the type of choices that have been investigated in the literature partly because I want to give you some ideas of what you can use in your work. Some of the coaches that have been investigated today include the order of exercises. For example, I can have a particular participant in the choice group of the experiment. I can tell the participant that he is going to be performing three different types of exercises today. I can ask him if he has a preference on the order of exercises in completing them. “Would you like to start with this or that exercise?” The athlete then makes a choice. I will then take another participant from the control group and I will enforce upon him a particular order. Both participants will do the exact same exercises in the same order. The only difference is that one participant gets to make a decision while the other does not.
Another choice possibility that was investigated was the exercise selection. For example, I can tell the athlete that there are five exercises to be done today to strengthen his legs, but he will only be doing three. The athlete gets to choose the three exercises out of the five. The athlete can also choose to do four or five exercises—he gets the choice to choose. There is an option involved. Another participant from another group will not be given a choice, but imposed upon him. The number of repetitions—I will focus on this quite significantly in the Practical Application section as this is an important point. Some athletes could have chosen how many repetitions to be completed in a given exercise versus some athletes from another group where they have the number of repetitions enforced upon them. Timing and feedback—I have mentioned that in some studies, the athletes were able to choose when to receive feedback. This is crucial for coaches to know. The last one, I hope to get your attention here, is that coaches even allow athletes to choose the colour of the ball or mats when they make decisions.
You may question how this is even relevant at all but I will show you shortly that even making supposedly insignificant decisions can have quite an impressive positive impact on different outcomes. The outcomes that I have covered today have been covered on the previous slide but for tasks that require accuracy, such as golf putting, dart throwing, balance drills, punching, basketball shooting and the running economy have recently been investigated. I should also note that even though it is not mentioned in the slides, these positive effects of choices were replicable across different types of populations, including children, adults, athletes, those with motor diseases and even mental disorders. It is generalizable across the wide population.
I would like to give you a taste on some of the research that has been done. I will briefly go over two studies. The title of the study is “Choose to Move”. The motivational impact of Autonomy Support of motor-learning as you can see here in lane number four is Gabriella Wolf, a world-known scientist who investigates this topic. This study was published in 2015. Participants in the Control group practice golf puts for X amount of reps and distance. The Choice group completed the exact same task with the same number of repetitions. Everything was similar between the two groups but with some interesting differences. Participants in the Choice group get to choose the colour of the golf balls. Now, you may be thinking that the colour of the golf ball should not have any influence on accuracy. But, what they found is that those who get to choose the colour of the ball improved their accuracy considerably more in comparison to the Control group. This was despite the fact that everything else was consistent—number of repetitions, background, everything else. Just the very act of making a choice, even if it is irrelevant to the task, seems to have a very positive effect on performance.
Similar studies have shown that manipulated the colour of different balls or mats have similar positive effects. What we are learning right now is a very important aspect, that you can allow the need to support autonomy by allowing your athletes to make decisions even if they are supposedly meaningless, such as the colour of the mat or ball. This is something to keep in mind while we get back, once we move on to the practical section.
This is a study that I have done during the time that I have spent in Australia working with combat teams. I was reading papers that Gabriella Wolf published and I was fascinated as a coach, by the concepts of involving the athletes that I work with in the process of coaching. This line of research really resonated with me. However, I felt that there was one problem to the research that has been done and that these tasks usually just involves balance or accuracy. I wondered how it would impact tasks that required athleticism, power or force and whether it would have different types of outcomes. I asked Gabriella to collaborate together for a project on how providing options would influence punching performance.
Firstly, we have a case study for a participant who was a world champion kickboxer. We also have a second study that is essentially the same type of study done with the same type of intervention and outcome measures, except that we have thirteen amateur kickboxers at the competitive level who trained everyday but do not compete at the international level. We had the athletes deliver twelve maximum effort punches to a punching integrator. This is a device that measures punching forces and velocities very accurately. We will test the athletes on this device routinely. We know the athletes are all very motivated and are performing to the best of their abilities. Whenever the athletes made a single punch on the integrator, they did so one punch at a time. Each punch is an independent punch before we restarted the system with about ten seconds of rest in between each punch. There is no combination. It is important to understand that there is no combination. We gave the determined order of punches to them, let them rest for a bit, before getting them to deliver the same twelve sets of punches but allowed them to choose the order of the punches this time round. We let them make decisions. We tested the athletes for many days and let them be in the Control round where the delivered the punches for twelve sets and rested for one minute before trying the Choice round where they could select the order of the punches.
The next day, we flipped the order of execution just to make sure that there is no other effect or fatigue effect. What we found was very interesting. We found that a world champion punched considerably harder by 5-10% when we let them decide the order. He also punched 6-11% faster during the Choice rounds. This is a very impressive effect given the level of the athlete. When we investigated the data of the thirteen amateur kickboxers, the effect was not as big—they punched 3% harder during the Choice round, which we can debate on its significance. I would say that it is. They also punched 6% faster, which is definitely meaningful. What we did here is allow them to make a decision. To be able to attain an improvement of 6% in punching forces, you may need sophisticated intervention, such as a nutritional supplement or resistance training intervention. However, we are now able to achieve these through words, by simply telling them, “You choose”.
Why is this happening? Why are we seeing these positive effects consistently on learning, motivation, adherence and so forth when we let people choose? This is a very interesting question and I should note that these effects are not only applicable in sports and motor-learning. They also exist in regular learning where people study for exams and we also see academic performance improve in students who were given a decision as to how they study and things of that nature. There is a psychological explanation to this. Firstly, it is based on a psychological theory of self-determination, which states that autonomy or the ability to make decisions is considered as one of the most fundamental psychological needs of humans. It is the very basic elements of our needs. It is even considered by some to be a logical necessity and indeed, even animals prefer to make decisions and this is shown to be true with rats, monkeys and pigeons. This seems to have deep evolutionary roots to it, such that even animals which may not be highly involved, prefer to make decisions over not making them. Also, through some neuroscience studies, we know that certain areas of the brain are activated when people get to make decisions. This is especially so for areas that are in charge of dopamine. We do know by now that dopamine is associated with better learning with motivation. When these areas light up, we have a mechanism and assistance in understanding why we are seeing these positive effects.
One more interesting point when I was asked to talk about this topic, I started thinking. As I did not know much about the Singaporean culture, I do know that it is very different from, say the United States, Australia or the UK in many ways. A lot of studies were conducted in these countries. I asked myself, “Will the effects be generalizable to this culture?” I started looking around and found a paper, which reassured me that the answer is positive. What it did was that it investigated the differences between countries, the relationships on the perception of autonomy and their perception on wellbeing. They found a very strong relationship when people have a sense of autonomy, they also have a sense of wellbeing. There is no difference between Americans and East Asians. To me, this seems to reinforce the fact that this phenomenon is consistent amongst everyone, almost independent of culture. Quick question for you: Will you use Autonomy Support in your coaching in local settings? (getting responses from floor)
Hopefully, I will be able to convince you to move towards the ‘Often’ option. Moving on, we have finished with the first part in which I provided some definitions and discussed some possible mechanisms. Let’s move on to how you can implement that, assuming that I have convinced you that this is an effective strategy. Let’s start with the first recommendation, which is quite basic, but needs to be stated nevertheless. Let your athletes make some choices. It will have a positive effect on their performance, learning, motivation and adherence. There are many other studies that I did not cover, they are there with the references and reviews. You can rest assured that there is a fair bit of literature by now to support this as a basic recommendation. Now, let’s move onto more fine-tuned ones and more complex ones. This is the second one. Do note that to date, there is no literature on how to implement it. This is a problem and I am working on it as a researcher. I am trying to get better answers as to how to better implement them. But I should note that what I am recommending right now is based on my own experience.
Going back to the evidence-based figure, a lot of it is based on my own experience. Here, we have a graph that leads straight to the principle that I propose to you, following a Less-to-More approach provided to new clients. Right now, I have started working with a new athlete. I do not know what the athlete needs, he or she also does not know his or her needs. We are just exploring together. For the first point of interaction in our first session, I will limit the amount of choices provided. Put differently, I will provide them with irrelevant choices. However, the number of choices to begin with is going to be low. I am not going to give a lot of choices. However, as I acquire more experience working with the athlete and we develop a working relationship and we know what to expect from each other, then overtime, the number of choices that I allow the athlete to make will gradually increase. There is no hard rules as to the number of choices but this is just a general tentative suggestion that I am making to you and you should implement it however you see fit. I have also added these two dotted lines around the blue lines to illustrate that there is a lot of variation. As a function of their personality and the working environment that I develop with them, I will provide them with more choices. There are also others, for different reasons, where I will provide them with less choices.
In treating this principle quite strongly, this is something that I do it naturally. I will not propose to start giving athletes a lot of choices to begin with because by then, you may be perceived as being unprofessional or insecure. To avoid that, I gradually built it up and try to figure out who the athlete is and based upon that, I will start adding more decisions. This is what I am going to expand about as I think that it is very important. This is another recommendation in going about implementing it. I recommend you to restrict the provided choices to ranges and to keep these choices open-ended. This is important to keep in mind. For example, instead of telling athletes to choose the number of repetitions you want him to complete, that is providing way too much responsibility to the athlete. It does not make a lot of sense—how is he expected to make an educated decision if we leave it so open? An open-ended choice would be one end of the scale. The alternative would be to provide the athlete with absolutely no choice and to tell the athlete exactly how many repetitions he has to complete. You can tell the athlete to do exactly ten repetitions on one end, or to tell the athlete to do as many repetitions as he wants on the other end. I propose that the range should be somewhere in between. For the most part, I would restrict the range of repetitions and tell the athlete to do anywhere between six to eight, or between ten and twelve. It is up to you, depending on the goal you are achieving with your athlete. You should restrict it to a range.
Depending on the goals of you are trying to achieve with your athletes but you should restrict it to a range and there are a number of reasons why especially when we talk about repetitions and I’ll explain. First, we’re providing your athletes with the choices, so that alone is why we should do that. But secondly, and the most specifically in view of the repetitions, is the following issue, there’s so much variability in how athletes responds from day to day. There are so many fluctuations in their performance. Some days of the same weights, I’ll be able to do 10 good repetitions, I slept well, I ate well I’m in a good mood. On a different day, I might not have the best night of sleep I might not have eaten well I might have gotten an argument with my wife, all that could affect me as well, and it leave me to be able to do only 8 repetitions, quality repetitions. There's a lot of fluctuations in our performance. For various reasons and this is why I don't think we should stick to 1 number at a time because that assumes that we understand a whole lot of things about the athlete’s state. But if we give it a range, then there's a better chance I will be able to get what we’re after. Within the working range and we can account for the different variability that the athlete is going through. So, this is why you always, personally, always use working ranges, I can narrow them down or make them wider, but I do use ranges. A bit of exceptions that I don’t, but this is definitely the principle I follow, the 2 reasons I mentioned and I recommend you do the same.
The next one, is that I would propose that you mostly use suggestive language when coaching, this actually also falls under the category of autonomous supportive coaching, so using terms such as “I suggest” “Let’s try”. This type of terminology is more autonomous supportive because what's inherent to it is that the athlete is not forced to do 1 thing, there is a say he can make a decision where proposing we do one thing, we’re not forcing it upon them. So, this very use of this language, and this also has been studied as well, leads to higher level of motivation, people perform better, more learning, and other interest than outcome measures. This is in contrast to controlling language, “You must” “I want you to”. When I tell an athlete “You must”. Then that's it, the athlete doesn't have any more control over their environment. We took it away from the athlete by using these particular terms. Even though we might not be aware of it, but this is essentially what hides underneath these types of language. And I can even share with you an incident of a story I have done. During the 2015 national champs, in amateur boxing in Australia, I flew down there and I did a very interesting study. That only required recorders, so I flew there, usually when I do experiments, I need force plates, EMG, all these different types of equipment, there I just went with recorders, microphone recorders. Andi ask the coaches would you mind if I record the type of feedback and instructions that you provide your athletes between the rounds of competition. I was really stressed because I thought nobody would agree, but fortunately a whole lot of the coaches did agree. So what we did right before the athlete competed, and mind you, that was a very important competition, we hooked the microphone on their shirt and recorded the feedback that they provided for their athletes, the type of coaching instructions and feedbacks between the rounds of competitions so a boxing belt, back then there were different between males and females so it was between 3 and 4 rounds, each rounds lasts 2 or 3 minutes, and then there is a minute of rest that athletes goes to their corner, they can sit down, the coach walks in and provides feedback to their athletes. So, we recorded that minute in between rounds, I don't remember the exact number but we ended up with over 300 or 350 types of different feedbacks statements. All of them were national coaches and then we spent hours and hours trying to analyze and categorize the different type of feedbacks that the coaches provided to their athletes and out of curiosity, we also matched the type of feedback with the outcome with the belts.
Now I’d like to mention 1 thing right now before I tell you the results and I need to highlight that I can’t highlight that enough. There is no cause and effect relationship between what I am going to tell you right now so I’m not implying that the reason the athletes won or lost the belt was because of the feedback they provided. But nevertheless, we did find an interesting relationship in which the coaches that provided more controlling language their athletes tended to lose more. Now I don't know if there is a cause and effect of the relationship, I want to emphasize that again, but nevertheless, it was a very interesting find. We did find interesting relationships between the type of language that the coaches use, feedback and instructions according to how we categorize them and the match outcome.
So, another question for you, if you don't mind, I’m curious to know whether do you use repetitions ranges in your coaching at all, again, it doesn't just have to be resistance training type of exercises, it can be different type of technical drills or do you usually just tell them how much to do and then you expect them to do that. So the first one just recap is to use choices just because it is so effective, the second one was to use the less to more approach, is that over time let your athletes make more decisions of course there are a lot of variability from athletes to athletes, from sports to sports but it's a nice rule to follow, it's a nice way to implement these type of principle and work. The next one was to use ranges, rather than to lock down a particular range or to leave it too open. Use ranges of course you can narrow or widen the ranges as a function of the athletes you're working with how long you’ve been working with the athletes and so on and so forth but nevertheless, this is the principle. Now we’re moving on to the next one which is that I recommend you to use a variety of choices. Not just 1 but don't always go back, refer to the old only type of choice that you feel comfortable with, use a variety of different choices. And while I try and convince you to do, is to use irrelevant choices, less relevant and task relevant choices. And then I’ll give you some sort of a working principle that you can try to follow. The black line represents time, so as we move towards the right, time is passing.
So, once we go to the beginner stage, an athlete who is just starting out, especially youths who doesn't know much, his choices are probably not going to be very relevant because he is not in tuned with what we’re trying to do, he doesn't fully understand what we’re trying to achieve. Therefore it's not clear that the choices that they’re going to make are going to have a lot of insight into the program. But nevertheless we do know that providing choices is effective by itself. again, this was thoroughly investigated with children as well and the effects seems to persist. So, what I tend to do when I work with someone who is new, who is a pure beginner, is that I usually provide them with irrelevant choices. Irrelevant choices I provide you with a study that let them choose a colour of the ball or the colour of the sticks or which of the 2 similar devices or balls they are going to choose. You can think of countless amount of irrelevant decisions but nevertheless, it seems to have a positive effect so this is what I start with. Then as the athletes morphs from a beginner into an intermediate, I would provide them with task relevant but not as relevant to the tasks.
So, I get them more and more involved with what we’re doing and I would value his insights or her insights more so than a pure beginner, because now he’s more involved in the training process, so his insights to me are of value. I’d like to integrate that into my decision-making process which is why I’ll have him make decisions and I’ll ask the athletes what they think but nevertheless, I still not sure that they know exactly what we’re doing, so I’ll restrict the choices to things that are relevant but up to a point. I’ll give an example in a minute. Then when the athletes morphs into what I define as advance, I’m sure that you have different definitions to how you categories your athletes but when I have worked with advanced athletes, those that I’ve worked with, usually more than a year or 2 or 3, then I’ll have them, I’ll try to get them to be quite heavily involved with what is happening in the session and I’ll heavily consider their decisions. Their decisions are going to be relevant to what we’re trying to achieve for example.
So here are a few examples. We go back to the beginners, so the colour of the bands or the type of mattress, they get to choose that. Then as we move on, I’ll let them choose the order of the different exercises, the order of the number of sets and reps to do, but then I’ll have them confined it to simple exercises. Those for example I don't expect to have a very meaningful impact on the training program that I’m trying to have, so for example that could be, let’s say we’re having a resistance training environment, the strength and conditioning environment, I’ll have them choose whether they want to start doing their biceps or their triceps, it doesn't matter that much to me, it's something that I let my athletes do at the end of the session because they want to do it, so whether they start with the biceps or the triceps or reverse the order, doesn't really matter but it's still more relevant than choosing the colour of the ball. Then as they morph into an advance athlete, I will involve them in anything and I will consider, I will integrate their choices and their opinions about the program, more heavily so. So, that could be the same type of choices but now it will revolve around meaningful exercises. So, in my view, when I do strength and conditioning and we do let’s say squats and deadlifts, these are actually important exercises so I’ll have them, make them choose that as well. Not just confine it to simple exercises that are less relevant, then I will consider their choices concerning all the parameters of the program, event those that I consider to be of most importance.
Then after all of that, that was another semi-structured rule that you can follow that will assist you in implementing autonomous supportive coaching in your work but then we also have to keep in mind the following, that you have to still figure out who’s in front of you and that’s actually an extension of my previous talk. Because there's going to be a lot of variability, and not everybody would respond the same. As I’ve said, there is a very large variability between people concerning how many decisions we provide them with, what type of decisions we provide them with, the frequency and all the other variables that I’ve mentioned. So there’s only tentative guidelines that we can rely on but we also have to use our coaching senses and our coaching eye to see whether what we’re doing is working and is effective with the different athletes that we’re working with, so this is why you have to explore, you got a good base of scientific outcomes, that on average can assist us in making decisions but we have to see how we can implement that individually with each and every athlete that we are working with. This is up to you to explore. And this is the thing in some place, puts the model, the framework, quite nicely in place, there's the body of literature out there, supporting the use of autonomous supportive coaching, however, it's up to you to figure out how you going to implement that in your own coaching scenic.
Now I’d like to share with you 2 case studies of 2 athletes that I’ve worked with and then perhaps after I introduced it to you, we can take a few minutes and you can, ideally you’ll talk it within somebody that you’re sitting next to, see if you agree or disagree or add something else, just reflect upon what I’ll be sharing with you here and I’ll give you a few minutes to discuss it within yourself because you will learn it better if you discuss it, especially now towards the end of the day it’s good to just, not just take in but also try to see what you make out with it, so discuss it with someone, I’ll leave you few minutes. If you don't feel comfortable then you just write down a note and reflect upon.
So, this is an athlete that I’ve trained for about 3 years, during my time in Australia, he is a professional boxer, he actually has a professional record of, 15 wins and 0 loses and professional ranking he was ranked on top of 15 pound for pound boxers in the world, very impressive athlete, I would say he was the most impressive athlete I have worked with. So he was the Australian champion, Australian middleweight boxing champion, and if I had to define him, this is the terms I would use, he is very intelligent, he is very committed, very determined and very knowledgeable, and perhaps more importantly, he really wanted to be involved, he want to share his input and he really has a lot to say about the different type of training that we’re doing, actually I should note an important fact that I failed to mention, is that I was a strength and conditioning coach, I was not his boxing coach but I was his strength and conditioning coach, so I worked with I’m between the range was different, sometimes I worked with him once a week, but then at times I worked with him 3 times a week depending on the plan and all that. But the point here is that he wanted to be involved, he had a strong personality and he wanted to share what he thinks he would do a particular exercise and then he would provide me with feedback about it immediately, like this feels right, this feels wrong, this is what I think I should do today, and I got to tell you, it didn't threaten me at all, it doesn't bother me that he has a lot to say, I’m perfectly comfortable with that because he in this case is an adult, and very committed and motivated and my assumption is that he wants the best for himself so, to me, if we go back to the diagram, with the 3 channels, I placed a lot of weight on his inputs on the program, and he made a lot of decision, considering the training and the direction we took with it.
So, this is what end up happening, he is heavily involved, in the decisions, considering the training approach and design that did not happen right from the start. It evolved over time when I got to know him as we went through different boxing belts and we saw the outcome through discussion with him, through discussion with the coach through a lot of reflection in some of the other proposes that I had for you in the previous section. So, it's not something that I just follow blindly it's something that emerged and unfold as time went by. He was heavily involved and for the most part, here my language was quite suggestive, so that means that I would tell him “I suggest we try” or “let’s try this and see what happens” or “lets gather your feedback” “would you like me to provide you feedback” or “Which one of the 2 would you like”. Especially when we got closer to the competition, given that he was so responsible and in tuned with himself and the training, I value a lot of the information that I was able to gather from him and he was so easily willing to share. So, for me it just gives me more “free information” that I can act upon as a coach and integrate that in my decision-making processes when I integrate my own experiences and what the research had to say and that his input and the choices that he made.
The other example is another athlete and the reason I chose to discuss these 2 particular athletes with you is just because I worked with both of them at the same time for about 3 years, out of the same gym they're both internationally ranked, roughly speaking from the same sport, I mean it's not like one of them was a swimmer, right? So, they’re both in combat sports, both at the highest level, and both friends, that was what was interesting too. Yet the way I train both of them is so different, so I was his kickboxing coach, I wasn’t his SNC coach, and if I had to define this athlete I would say that the defining factors, some of the things that stand out to me when I try to categorise this athlete, I would say he trusts his team. That’s that defined him the most, he trusted me, he trusted the nutritionist, he trusted the physiologist, all the surrounding team, he put a lot of trust in us, he is very passionate, very easy to coach, very open minded, he is willing to try different types of approaches, different type of training designs, he was excited to try, and a very hard worker. And what ended up over time is the following, what's on the slide is mostly in contrast to the previous athlete, so he was involved to a lesser extent and the decisions concerning the training approach and design. Because what I noticed, quite interestingly, is that he didn’t really want to make decisions, despite all the research that show us that it an excellent approach, he passed the decisions back to me or the others, who were involved in the planning of the training, he trusted us, so in a sense that’s funny cause that was his decision; not to make the decision.
So, I could’ve tried to force it upon him based on all the literature that out there. But that’s what he felt comfortable with, and I respected that so this is an interesting situation which there is some sort of a mismatch between what the researchers are showing us to be true on average and then what the athlete actually responses to better. It’s not to say he did not make any decisions but at least compared to the previous one, he made considerably less. So, he had a preference for group decision making, he felt very confidence once this was the case once we made the decision together, but he didn't provide a whole lot of input, he didn't have strong preferences towards anything, and that’s fine because that’s just who he was.
So if this particular athlete, if time involved, just like the vast majority of the athletes that I worked with, my coaching decision was very suggestive but perhaps in contrast to the other athlete, there are definitely some bound of controlling language, because I grew to understand that he responded well with that, when I tell him “alright today we going to do this and that”, it’s not quite supportive but nevertheless, I found that over time, it would be effective because, as I’ve said before, there is a body of literature that can guide us on average, but then I have to explore and see whether that is effective with the athletes that we’re working with, in this case, is that there are some inconsistency between what I’ve found to be true with this particular athlete and what the research has shown us to be true.
Here’s a question for you, “do you see the need to use controlling coaching in some occasions?” never, sometimes, often, very often?
Do you feel comfortable with my coaching philosophy?
I would like you to reflect upon that because I know that not everybody agrees with me and it’s fine but I know that. This is an example of one of the most extremes that I had, that I involved the athlete to the fullest. He’s heavily involved in the decision-making process, I considered his opinions and I allowed him to make significant choices, possibly more so than any other athletes that I have worked with. Now I do know that not every coach feel comfortable with that because sometimes they may feel that they are losing control with what is happening, for me personally, I didn’t bother, it didn't bother me at all, I feel very comfortable with that because that made part of the definition of being a coach is that to gradually become less necessary, and by doing so provide more autonomy and independence to the athlete but I know not everybody agrees with that but this is something to reflect upon.
To be fair, I don't have that much experience to work in a team setting, this is always a topic that comes up when I present about this is how to implement this in team setting and this is more challenging but what you can do is for example what Andrew did, where he worked with a group of athletes cause every sessions usually composed of different technical aspects or different drills within the sessions so you can allow the athletes to make some choices within the session itself which I think is the way to do it. But I try to give you some materials to think about and to reflect but maybe the bottom line is that I will definitely encourage you to implement the choice provision with your athletes just because the effects are there consistent in every parameter that we as coaches care about, whether that’s more to learning, whether that’s immediate performance whether that’s motivation and adherence. Especially with youth athletes, one of the most important things that we care about is that they enjoy themselves, they stay motivated that they adhere to the program, one excellent way to do that is just to use autonomous supportive coaching. And with that I will end my talk.