Exploring sport coaching and psychology
Exploring sport coaching and psychology

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Exploring sport coaching and psychology

3 What about coaching individual-based sports?

Next, you will hear from Teri McKeever, who has been a swimming coach at the University of California for almost 25 years. She is one of the most successful coaches in the world and is known for her innovation. For instance, her idea of swimming training is one that also uses yoga, skipping and dancing to hip hop music. It was with these types of methods that led to her becoming the first ever female coach of the 2012 US Olympic women’s team (they won 14 medals).

Activity 4 Coaching connections or contrasts?

Timing: Allow about 25 minutes

Listen to the interview with Teri McKeever below. As you listen, think about the comparisons between her approach to personal coaching and those of Pia Sundhage and Jurgen Klinsmann. As a reminder, both Pia and Jurgen talked about players taking responsibility and making their own decisions in competition. Note down some of the key terms that she uses to describe her approach. To what extent are there connections or contrasts between the approaches of these three coaches?

Download this audio clip.Audio player: Interview with Teri McKeever
Skip transcript: Interview with Teri McKeever

Transcript: Interview with Teri McKeever

I’m at the huge outdoor swimming pool on the campus of the University of California Berkeley, which is just outside San Francisco.
So as you started your coaching journey how soon did you begin to question what were the conventional training methods and develop your own system?
Teri McKeever
Honestly I think I probably started questioning them as a collegiate athlete myself.
Iwas in an environment where if we all swam a 200 butterfly and there was four of us then we were all supposed to have the same race plan and race the same way and that didn’t make sense to me either because I didn’t think my strengths were the same strengths that my teammates had, so why would we all want to do it the same way.
And one key aspect of training, simple aspect, that you questioned relatively early on was this idea of distance over quality.
Teri McKeever
I think there’s a place for volume but there’s also a place for quality. And I don’t always mean quality is faster,I think quality is about quality technique, quality is about purposefulness, intention, relationship to your racingevent. There are elements of racing and if I can put the athletes in those situations and they know that they can manage them and they develop their own problem solving then when they’re in the race they’re empowered to be faster, better and it’s them doing it, it’s not a plan that a coach has given, it’s a plan that they’ve developed for themselves.
So you put a large part of the onus in terms of development on the athletes themselves, you can’t tell them everything?
Teri McKeever
Absolutely, absolutely, that is huge, a cornerstone to what I believe is different. I think a lot of people think the difference is about the volume or end quality, I believe the greatest difference is in those subtleties of asking the athletes to use their imagination to connect with the race experience, to put themselves there emotionally, physically, mentally.
And one interesting part of your training techniques is that some days you will actually avoid the pool completely.
Teri McKeever
Absolutely, I think initially I felt that being in even the weight room or doing dance or having a spin class or taking a boxing class, I saw it as a diversion from what can be a very monotonous, boring sport.
I think often times the traditional model is coach has the information, athlete needs to do it. I want to have a model where I have information, the athlete has information and we’re partnering in that.
And then kick, see the difference? Now you can feel it in your stomach right, go like that – see – that’s how you swim, that’s how you want to go…
You know it’s not about me standing on deck giving information, you take the information, do something with it, it’s me giving information, it’s me asking, just like you’re asking me questions to get an essence of who Iam, myj ob is to ask them good questions to get to the essence of what they’rethinking.
Right? Do you feel that? That right there, if you make that adjustment, golden.
It’s not for everybody, I fully know that not everyone is motivated or I would not be the right coach or the right team leader for everyone.
End transcript: Interview with Teri McKeever
Interview with Teri McKeever
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The list of terms that we noted were: ‘environment’, ‘athlete problem-solving’, ‘empowered’, ‘learning’, ‘training quality’, ‘mind–body connection’, ‘partnership’ and ‘different training being fun’. The first four of these terms were points of connection and similarity to themes mentioned by Pia Sundhage and Jurgen Klinsmann. Perhaps all three coaches have a view of a coaching model where ‘I have information, the athlete has information and we’re partnering in that’ (The Documentary, 2014). The research evidence on effective coaching mirrors these views.

One of the striking contrasts (differences) with Teri McKeever was her willingness to be creative and try out different physical training methods. She observed how an athlete’s mindset to approaching new tasks could often be revealing. She talked about a characteristic of quality training being how she asks athletes to use their imagination to connect emotionally, physically and mentally to ‘race time’ in their sessions. This is all part of her view of the interconnection between mind and body. She concludes ‘there’s more than one way to be successful at the highest level’ (The Documentary, 2014).

These interviews and research evidence reinforce a view of coaching not being formulaic, but something that is incredibly diverse, with one of the main attributes being that coach’s respond to the individual, while also shaping the environment and the task.


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