Progression, not Possession. What really makes 'Excellence'?
We all love a Champion. And let’s not kid ourselves, we love being a part of the making of that Champion.
On my 50th birthday, my wife, Niki and I sat down and had a long talk about what I wanted to achieve in the next 5 years and 10 years. She asked me, what was the burning desire I had yet to satisfy and that she would do everything to help me towards that goal. And she did! We upped-sticks and moved to Belgium.
My answer to her was to be the coach of an Olympic Champion. I hear you now, "you had your chance Neil in 1996". I did and I didn’t, but those gory details are for discussion in my next autobiography.
I haven’t realised that particular goal as of yet, but reflecting on it, I can solidly say I’ve had my part in a lot of champions’ training. The Belgians and Americans came to my club for weeks, if not months at a time over a few years, to train specifically with me, so did the Swedes. Peter Seisenbacher of Austria & Bob Berland of the USA used, and still use, they told me, my muscular endurance & power circuit programme. And why did they come? I like to think I’m lovely to be around, however, that wasn’t the reason. The main and ultimate reason was the skills sessions.
I’ve always done skills sessions and have made them the foundation of any training programme I have given myself and to others, be it a team I am in charge of, the NA Academies I am creating, or an individual asking for advice. My baseline answer will always be: get your skills in order. Because without skills, you have no adaptability or Plan B, you will have no longevity.
Then we get into the politically hairy ground of "Personal Coaches” and this is where the Possession side of things come into effect. I think I’m pretty safe in stating it here, as those who are reading this will already have an open mind to what I’m about to preach. Those who are holding onto their players tightly with both hands and some with nails dug in, are usually not interested in what I have to say in any case.
I started out here saying I wanted to be THE coach of an Olympic Champion. Over the last 5 years, I have reflected on this and have realised that this statement is unattainable. How can I be the THE coach of any athlete, especially at that level? I couldn’t possibly know everything that athlete needs or specialise to the level that they would need me to be. Impossible! I’d still be in school for that matter. They need a team of specialists, those who are symbiotic, and possession-free. You can’t be THE coach, no matter how much you want it or how hard you try to be. If you want that athlete to be a Champion, you need to have a hard look at what you can offer them, give it all to them and then you need to let them go.
In answer to that epiphany, I have steered my energies towards what I do best and that is skills excellence and the quest to make it everyone’s quest, especially instructors. My definition of an instructor is someone who is successful in enlightening their student with new information, who is then able to replicate this information to a high standard, as well as the skill to successfully communicate it on to the next generation.
This is my new goal for the next 5 years, to take all the knowledge I have from 30+ years of elite training, competing, & coaching and turn it into my Legacy for a developing generation. (I’m not getting any younger and this sport is hard on the body! Or so my two new hips have told me!)
Excellence to me doesn’t necessarily mean the shiny medal, (however nice they are. I love to win, no denying that!) but, you have to ask yourself, does Champion mean Excellence? Or does Excellence mean Champion? I’ll tell you this, glory doesn’t equate to longevity. Champions come and go, are known for a short time and then replaced. Excellence and skill, now that’s something to be proud of, and lasts a lifetime.