Jenny Williams With Brothers Mark (Left) & Stephen (Right) - Source: Peter Argent

The Brave New Coach

Friday, December 04, 2015

Years ago I heard about the Sci fi novel by Alduos Huxley titled a Brave New world where one of the basic premises was a discouragement of critical thinking where castes were bred for a station, to perform specific tasks and conditioned not to think or look for change.

I wonder if in sport we are not fast approaching this time. Every day I turn on the radio or TV and I hear coaches, presidents and many others talking about being brave. Supposedly this bravery is to take on opponents, to have courage to do the extraordinary, to stand out and to make a difference and yet when I look at the behaviours and lack of critical thinking in coach and player development there is a lack of bravery.

To be a champion coach, player or boss what are the characteristics that are needed. In my research into long term successful elite coaches and X factor players bravery could actually be summed up in the areas of Drive, Boldness, Colourfulness and Imagination. The accompanying factors of Care, Outstanding Preparation and Resilience then are the cream on the cake.

The Brave Traits

Drive. Wanting to be the best and always looking for an edge. This is characterised by always doing more often physically to themselves and others. Drive is so important but too much can be as dangerous as too little.
Bold. Willing to take a chance. The capacity to have a go without fear of failure understanding that mistakes are part of getting better.

Colourful. Being prepared to stand out, never bland and capable of having an informed opinion.

Imaginative. Looking for an edge. Never suffering from what Nobel prize winner Kahneman terms as What You See Is All There Is (WYSIATI). Just because it has always been done that way does not make it right.

Becoming The Brave Coach

So if we know what factors will contribute to a brave coach and we expect players to be brave, how can a club live this from a top down perspective.

1. Boards, Presidents and important sponsors should be informed and educated about the consequences of “Being Brave” Being brave is a high risk, high reward strategy that will involve making mistakes. These mistakes must be accepted always in an atmosphere of good ethics and striving for improvement. For every mistake there must be one excuse and two new plans. (The excuse to keep self confidence, the 2 new plans to fight entropy and regression to the mean.)
ACTION.   Have this discussion as part of your Board strategy with coaches.

2. Boards, presidents and even Coaching Panels must adopt a “Devil’s Advocate” position in all of their planning. A questioner who ensures planning is done with an eye on possibilities and an understanding of potential biases and conformity of the group. This person must be influential so that their opinion is heeded.
ACTION. Appoint a critical thinker for the group as a devil’s advocate.

3. Bold coaches and Boards need to be BRAVE in their coaching appointments. Assistant coaches must have a degree of Mastery in coaching before their appointments. ( Until then they are development coaches) Just being a great player does not make a great coach and understanding that your players development can be helped or hindered by certain coach appointments can win or lose you games.
ACTION  a. Appoint experienced coaches who have a track record as assistants. Get potential future coaches involved in development. Even coaching a school or their child’s team gives them some experience.  Get and give feedback to coaches
ACTION b.  Have a coaching mentor whose job is to improve the coaches. (not coach players)

4. Bold and Imaginative coaches.   Coaches need to look and understand all aspects of player performance. They especially need to understand Flow and the effects of Anger, Anxiety and Boredom on keeping their players heads in the game.

So much time is devoted to sport science training but

• Fit players look flat if they are anxious
• Fit players cannot think if they are anxious
• Fit players cannot remember instructions if they are anxious
• Fit players stop thinking if they are angry
• Fit players think and play lazy if they are bored
• The same can be said of coaches in all of these areas.


ACTION.  Brave coaches will train not only themselves as a group but also the players on sports psychology. Rather than waiting til there is a problem, just like physical training, it should be group based and give players an edge Topics should include “keeping your head in the Game”, “the ball park and social loafing” “how house of cards will help your game” and “Why the Doctore didn’t have to use the whip in Spartacus” These are all about psychological principles that will give an edge to the group and prepare them for the unexpected.

5. BOLD and DRIVEN. Coaches who are highly driven will want to spend every waking hour (and even some sleep time) looking for an edge and often have the energy reserve to do so. Not all of their staff, family or players have the same capacity. Sometimes the BRAVE coach will learn to take their foot off the pedal for improvement.                                         ACTION. Recruiting expert coaches, teaching players how to deal with their challenges as a group and actually spending time with QUALITY rather than QUANTITY counts.

• Too many meetings mean bored players
• Too many meetings mean anxious players
• Anxious overworked coaches are a contagion for anxious players
• Over anxious coaches on game day affect anxious players

Optimism and pessimism from charismatic coaches or players is catching. Brave coaches learn how to be CALM. They learn how to take their foot off the pedal and inspire rather than mandate players do extra.

6. Imagination and Brave Coaches involves profiling both themselves and others. The Brave coach learns to distinguish between pop psychology, snake oil and genuine science. The Brave coach learns that neuroscience can explain so much about learning pathways and make it simple to help players get better or look like they lose their talent. Players and coaches can and will flourish in an atmosphere of optimism, smarts, inspiration and possibilities where they are free to experiment, speak up and question. These same players will become small, highly self doubting and look unfit or unskilled under an oppressive scheme where feedback is delivered without care.

ACTION. Profile coaches, players and support staff. Know what is most natural for each but understand brain pathways can and will be changed under extreme environments. The Brave coach will set an environment where people feel valued and rewarded rather than fear and robot like behaviour.  The brave coach will ensure the care factor is high and will improve challenges of individuals by team learning where new tasks are made easy to master. (You need teacher coaches not player coaches)

7. Feedback and the brave coach. Feedback is sought on themselves not only on the technical aspects but also on the interpersonal aspects of their coaching. They may not be loved by all but they will be respected and never feared. Brave coaches evaluate their own personal skills and are prepared to change and find advice from experts. (They actually find experts)
The brave coach also knows if they want to change the behaviour of others that they have designed drills and activities to make it easy for others to learn. They know how to sequence learning and help those they work with improve with great feedback.

ACTION. Feedback sheets on coaches and drills are common and anonymous.
Feedback on players include a HOW to get better and a “WHO is GOING TO HELP THEM”component.

8. FUN and brave coaches.  The coach will remember why they loved their sport. To be the best and to have fun with their mates.  The Brave coach will be able to tell sport science to add fun to training. Relays, 4 aside touch footy, red rover all over, agility games, british bulldog are all fun parts of warm up. Players who enjoy their sessions will work harder and are likely to have less soft tissue injury.
ACTION. Add some fun to training

9 Sports Science and the Brave Coach must know players are not guinea pigs. They should not just be tested but should know why and how the physical links with the mental.  They will know their maximum heart rates and where they enter and leave their adjustment (head in the game) zone. Things such as jumping, landing rolling should be part of everyday practise as should skipping ropes and fast feet. This can be part of fun but fun with a purpose. Know more about their own bodies. Coaches should also know where they stop being able to think because they have become emotional. Emotions are linked to heart rate and the brave coach will know how.
ACTION. Wear and use heart rate monitors because players know how they link to keeping their head in the game. Understand the importance of adrenaline in their preparation.

10. Music and the Brave coach.  The Brave coach should understand how music links to heart rate and performance. This can really give you an edge before or during games.
ACTION. Understand the link between heart rate and preparation or performance. Have tracks prepared for individuals and coaches.

11.  Brave coaches and CARE. Having any conversation and even making an occasional mistake in how you treat someone is easier if you have a real and genuine care and concern for each other. Words on the wall do not suffice and actually make things worse. How to improve and making it easy enough to improve are your job if you are the coach. You must take the time to look at strategy and skill progression. Remember how anxiety clouds learning. Break down and help develop skills from simple through to extreme pressure. You are responsible for this until you develop players who are capable of taking over. (You can fast track with profiling and expertise)
ACTION. Have all the players over for tea sometimes. Share your life. Talk to a great PE person about how to progress drills.

12. Time and Brave coaches.  Trade extra time on the schedule for finding new ways.  Value players who do extra or different. Given more autonomy on their schedules, champions WANT to do more. They simply want to win. Those who do more themselves get better and get selected. Players can watch movies or TV shows together. Teach them to NOTICE things that will give them an edge. Body language. Inspire others with true stories based on greatness and then plan how you will get there.
ACTION. Learn to notice. Watch, Interview, Emulate Champions.

13.Less training more improving.  Inspiring people to get better and valuing autonomy  because you TRUST others to work on it in their own time makes CHAMPIONS. They want to get better, they want to do extraordinary things and they will do more with fun and friends than others can imagine. They take the group with them.
ACTION. Allocate 50 marks for experience and 50 marks for effort in your selection. When the experience is high but the effort (their own) is low then time for the new kids on the block.

14. The brave coach and food. Tell the dietician to take a break and encourage the occasional parmagana, the occasional drink and get them to shout each other for coffees. CARE. When you’ve had a good day help someone who didn’t.
ACTION.  Have the occasional treat.  Helps mood. Follow the chart 
15.The brave coach and the medicos.  Give them a break and get in a teaching psychologist that links fun, fitness, friends and the love of extraordinary hard work together and see the effect of happy players on injury and resilience. Live the CARE and watch players thrive. Champions have less injury and recover quickly because they love the game and the people.
ACTION.  If you have lots of soft tissue injury, check the welfare of the players. (PS If they don’t like you they won’t tell you. )

16. The brave coach and expertise.  I once applied for a job with a club with an AFL club who apparently debated long and hard about appointing me to a position for which I was more than qualified. They had set the criteria, job specs and even publicized that they were looking for someone outside the usual AFL candidates but when push came to shove I received a letter that they had “Gone with a conservative appointment”. I could never argue their right to do so but if you want your players to be champions and be brave then it is up to the coaching department to do the same. I simply wrote back and said” Conservative” is not on my list of champion qualities.   Brave coaches are gender and race blind. They just want the best because it will fast track the group.
ACTION. Be brave in your appointments if you want to win.

FINALLY the Brave coach will never stop learning, improving and surrounding themselves with the best people and the best ideas. They will constantly be seeking new ideas and maybe just maybe will give the players and coaches more time off to become better prepared because they want to rather than have to.

Are you ready to be a brave coach?    Do you want to win more doing less?

Jenny Williams. (Brave Coach Developer.) “THINK PREPARE PLAY LIKE A CHAMPION", Master Coach, World Champion Lacrosse, Ex-Australian Captain, Psychologist 








What makes a great champion? What makes a great leader? How do you get to the top as a player, coach or manager? In this book Performance Psychologist, former World Champion athlete and Australian Lacrosse Captain Jenny Williams answers these questions and sets out in practical easy to understand steps, how to think prepare and play like a champion. The down to earth advice draws on the personality profiles done by Jenny on the game changers - elite level coaches and X factor players. Jenny has used this research, combining new information with the wisdom of Nobel prize winning thinkers like Daniel Kahneman to provide psychological tools that transfer across all aspects of life - both on and off the field.

For more information about purchasing this book click here.



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