31/01/2020- Coach Digest


The high-performance environment is a fundamental building block for any organisation and the creation and maintenance of this environment is a challenge for any leadership team.

Sport and high-performance environments are often linked together supporting the Elite Sportsperson to achieve their success, which normally requires, the delivery of a winning performance at a specific time. Where else beyond the sports sector is the importance of a winning performance at a specific time?  The medical operating theatre undertaking a complex procedure, the West End theatre delivering  a show.

Once such organisation, where the high-performance environment is created is The Juilliard School, located in New York City. It is one of the best performing arts school in the world. Juilliard alumni have won more than 150 awards including Grammy Awards, Academy Awards (Oscars) and the Pulitzer Prize.

There have been four key areas that the school focuses on to keep the environment at the highest level:

  1. Don’t leave emotions at the door
  2. Having good eyes
  3. Do not teach from fear
  4. Recalibrating students and resetting goals


1. Don’t leave emotions at the door

At Juilliard they believe that students should not be encouraged to leave their emotions at the door of the studio but encouraged to bring them into the room and figure out how to recognise them , deal with them, use them. The various emotions don’t go away so the students are better served learning about their emotions, their emotional states and about channelling their emotions into their development and how the emotions can help the future performance.

In the past sport has discouraged emotions, the laser focus, hiding the emotions, fixation on the outcome only. Danny Kerry, GBR Hockey Coach recently highlighted his inability to appreciate the winning of the gold medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics and in not knowing  what to do after the match, he sat in his room looking at what made the performance work, with an eye on Tokyo 2020.

2. Having good eyes

The eye for the finer detail is what separates the good from the great coaches, something which the Juilliard places emphasis on. Constant feedback should be given, but only the identification of the problem or barrier should be identified and not the solution. This encourages self-reflection and requires the performer to analyse their own performance, take responsibility for their learning  rather than being overloaded with information by the coach.

How often does the coach provide the problem and immediately a solution, denying the learning and development opportunity for the athletes. Denying the opportunity to practice, develop and refine the ability to self-analyse and then to develop higher levels of self-awareness and self-organisation required for a higher-level performance.

3. Do not teach from fear

One of the teaching philosophies at the Juilliard is ‘not teaching from fear’. The individual is unable to comprehend more than a few options when they are stimulated by fear. If you’re teaching people from fear, they’re ultimately doing it for you. Fear takes away responsibility and potentially infantilises them. The dancer cannot turn to their teacher in the middle of a show and ask how to land from a difficult jump, so allow them to take responsibility.

There is a question of the presence of the coach piste-side and a need to encourage the coach to really self-reflect on their impact. Are their actions inadvertently causing a reliance on themselves, the coach? What are the unintended consequences when there is an over reliance of the coach? The fear of letting the coach down is one! The potential impact of that fear, the fencer playing safe, not deciding to attempt those slightly higher risk actions to win a point, or a match. These decisions and actions the fencer will need to take and be able to perform to progress to the next level in competition.

4. Recalibrating students and resetting goals:

Juilliard is unique in the respect that the performer’s goal is to be accepted into the school, that is the achievement. Once they have made it, it can be difficult to re-focus. The performer has moved from being the best in their previous institution, to becoming just one among many incredibly talented dancers. The school looks to reset goals and describes this as the performer writing their own sentence, which has a positive impact on the creation of new targets.

In fencing one goal is being selected for a major championship.  After being selected and the goal has been achieved, they could go into the competition under prepared. They might have neglected to fully prepare for the higher-level performance required by that specific competition, and if they underperform, quite often they will identify other reasons for the underperformance.

On reflection, where do you see areas that you feel you do well and areas you could look to improve in your coaching environment? Chinese philosopher Confucius says, “When three people work together, you can always find a teacher from the other two”.  To give your reflection a stronger validity you could ask for input from others, your fencers, other coaches.

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