Sitting watching the Commonwealth Games, I’m struck by the coaches activity — grabbing fleeting moments to refocus their athletes. None is more apparent than the boxing corner-men. What’s imparted during these brief exchanges? What’s useful, and (more importantly) what’s not useful?
Although understanding how to coach effectively during competition is crucial, it’s also important throughout training too. Coach Nick Grantham uses a great analogy that I’d like to share with you. Your fridge constantly hums in the background, but you don’t notice it anymore — you’ve tuned it out of your hearing. Some coaches are like that, constantly babbling on, spewing out information and overloading their athletes. I see it all the time in fighter’s corners between rounds and this doesn’t help – ever!
Even in training sessions, I’m sure you’ve come across trainers that drone on and on at fighters, more to make themselves appear knowledgeable than to help the individual. Good coaches don’t speak too much, and when they do, it’s just pertinent information (that’ll have the greatest impact right then in that moment). I’ve found this be true both as a fighter myself and while coaching and cornering fighters. Filling airtime with unimportant detail dilutes the effect significantly. It’s the 80-20 rule again, impart only the prime 20% of information that will result in 80% of the effect, not the other way around.
Nick Grantham sums this up with another great analogy — we must ‘tweet’ our information in 140 characters or less. Keep it succinct or lose the effect. If you speak less, but the quality of your information is gold, when you say something your fighter listens. Of course this is important in training, but it’s absolutely vital at ringside. Too much information sends the fighter into a cognitive state (paralysis through analysis), slowing their reactions and destroying their flowstate. You must facilitate your fighter’s style rather than inhibit it, or even worse, force your own style on them.
There’s nothing more frustrating as a coach or corner-man than trying to efficiently bullet point key objectives with a fighter, only to be sabotaged by a well-meaning expert who fills your purposely punctuated ‘sinking-in’ pauses with clutter. Bare in mind that most people only recall around 20% of what you say to them, especially in high stress situations, so don’t waste the opportunity. Open with the most crucial information, 2 or 3 things at most, let that soak in for effect and then repeat in conclusion. That’s it.
As always, it’s quality rather than quantity. Don’t be tempted to over season the dish – what would have tasted sublime will end up tasting like crap! As a fighter, if your coach is a babbler, just focus on the first few things mentioned (that should be the most important detail) and try to ‘tune-out’ the rest of the filler. As coaches, we must remember that it’s not all about us (and to stop trying to impress), check our own egos and simply do what’s best for the fighter. There’s no “I” in team. ;)