Carrot and Stick

By Adrian Harvey

Carrot and stick

I’ve been reading the paper again. It’s always a mistake because I end up reading something that makes my blood boil!

In an article in the Daily Mail (serves me right I suppose) today about alleged bullying in elite sport, “one parent told the BBC we were told elite sport wasn’t about the welfare of athletes it was about the pursuit of medals”. Errrr, help me out here but aren’t these very athletes competing to be the best in the world yet mummy and daddy want them to achieve this without any hardship and with the coach and team management ever conscious of their welfare and only ever ‘sandwich-ing’ bad news with good.

Let us perhaps explore the role of the coach in elite sport. Is it, do we think, to ensure Rachel the rower and Charlie the cyclist have a nice time and that their feelings are managed and nobody says mean things to them?

Non of course it isn’t and frankly, if mummy and daddy think it is they should perhaps point their kids at a NON competitive sport – although I can’t actually think of one! (Tiddlywinks perhaps, but I reckon even elite “winkers” or whatever they call themselves are competitive and have world champions!) Or mummy and daddy accept that being the best in the world isn’t for their precious offspring. The role of the elite coach in any sport is to extract every last ounce of performance from that individual, to hone natural talent and endless hours of practice into a winning machine. Ultimately the end game is gold, the end game is winning, it is not about “the fun of taking part.” Coming second is called losing, it’s a binary outcome.

Do you think the world’s greatest athletes became so by chatting over a chai latte with their coach about, “how perhaps they might do so and so a bit better and would Tarquin please try a little harder today” or did they achieve greatness, world domination, champion status by working their ass off, and being cajoled and, dare I say, bullied by their coach?

The reality is you have a coach to help you achieve what you cannot achieve yourself. Your coach is there to push you and in elite sport that inevitably means coaches shout at athletes, push athletes until they puke, tell them their performance was sh*t when it was sh*t, they don’t mince their words and sugar coat them. For coaches, this is not a popularity contest, it is instead about the pursuit of being the best in a pool of 7.5 billion others.

And you know what when you are winning you don’t think about the pain and hardship that went before, you revel in the winning because that is what you are and that is what you have trained relentlessly to be.

So if you are an elite athlete, get a coach with a stick and accept the road is hard and only for those tough enough to travel it. If, however, you are not an elite athlete and global domination at any personal cost is not your end game then get a coach with a bag of carrots and a stick! Because most of us mere mortals just aren’t mentally resilient enough to exist in a world without chai latte chats and sandwich feedback and lots of carrots!

And that means for 99.99% of us we need management and bosses who are sensitive to our wellbeing and feelings and manage with empathy and accept we may not be the ‘the best’ but who, none the less, have a genuine desire for us to reach our personal potential.

 The workplace is no place for elite sport coaches and the velodrome is no place for dentists – compromise wins no golds!

 But if you find yourself hankering for a coach that is never critical, always supportive and never shouts or loses their temper then you may want to work with Clever Nelly from Elephants don’t forget.