A canal tour

The city of Amsterdam is like Venice famous for it’s canals, but like most of the time one barely visits the treasures in one’s own hometown, while millions of foreign tourist do.
Last week I had the opportunity to take a canal tour through the canals in Amsterdam and what inspired me was a wall paining with an interesting thought:


How true this is and what a beautiful insight in the basics workings of the human brain!
It expresses the capacity to forget or ignore things, (probably a better developed capacity than to remember things!) and the quality to fill in the blank spots on the map at which  our brain is absolutely great. Read e.g. the work of Elizabeth Loftus about the “reliability” of witnesses of for example  an accident or a crime.
Now apply this to coaching and coaches. How many times did you hear a coach being credited or giving himself credit for his concept, idea or planning after the successes of an athlete or a team?
Interesting enough I think that many times these concepts, ideas or plans hardly existed before the successes of the athlete or team, but were developed in retrospect. Like we remember more than we saw and we pimped our vague notions only afterwards into a solid plan.
This also might happen because after success the media or our colleagues assume that we had a great plan and ask us what that plan was. And seriously, would you tell them that you did not have a clue and it was probably luck, having a great athlete or a great team, just doing the right thing at the right time as dictated by chance as happens sometimes?
Quite a few times people said I wasted my time with an athlete, but when this athlete became successful they always “knew” that this athlete was very gifted to start with.
It might also explain why we  coaches are hardly consistently successful over a very long period of time: we became firm believers in our own “success formulas”, our own superior concepts and planning. And selectively ignore the times when this great and superior plan failed!
And what about the phenomenon that so-called mediocre coaches can have great successes, not because their plan is so great, scientific and detailed, but because they know the sport and the game and by experience know and intuition know how to avoid to make the big mistakes.

No success formula  or “school” is successful for ever, sport changes, levels increase and athletes change as well. It would not be smart to assume that a very detailed and rigid training concept that worked miracles for athlete A will be as successful for athlete B.  In the past I often wondered why certain ”schools” in sprinting dominated over a period of time and could not be copied or maintained later on.
The coach develops a concept and is successful: ‘hey, funny, this might work”
More success: “well, this really works”
More success: “this is the only thing that works”
More success: “I am a genius, all the others don’t understand how this sport works”
And most of the time, it’s all downhill from there …….
In my opinion the best coaches do have a plan, but a flexible one, adapting it to the individual athlete or, the composition of the team, to the task, the situation or the context, based on the lessons learned from the past and taking into account the latest information, be it scientific knowledge or practical experience.
Again, we have to find the balance between a firm belief in our own concepts and ideas, but keeping an wide open mind to change and adaptation.

About Henk Kraaijenhof

My name is Henk Kraaijenhof and I started this blog as a random collection of concepts, ideas, stories and events that are important or interesting to me in my work as an international performance consultant in a wide range of fields, and sometimes outside of my work. I will try to post a new entry every 3-4 days. Feel free to comment if you like.
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