Hello and welcome back to Brain in the Game. Brain in the Game is a podcast that's been specifically designed for athletes, coaches, and parents who are looking to do their sport just that little bit smarter. And I'm your host, Dave Diggle.
In this Episode 86, we're going to look at the differences, or is there differences, between coaching and being part of a team versus coaching an individual athlete. So as we get into this, this is a podcast that will, on some levels, speak to coaches and on some levels speak to the athlete. When I'm putting together a podcast, I'm very cognisant of who am I actually speaking to during that podcast. So I wanted to say up front, if you're an athlete and you're thinking, I don't coach a team, I'm not going to listen to this one, there's going to be part of this that's going to be really relevant to you as an individual if you're going to be part of a team, whether that's travelling as an individual athlete in a team or part of a traditional team. So with that confusion at the way at the start of that, let's get into this one.
So is there actually a difference between coaching a team or being part of a team, or being an individual athlete?
So off the bat, I'm going to say yes and no.
So I know that doesn't actually help anybody, but the yes aspect to that is absolutely, there's things as an individual athlete that is uniquely you, and there's things if you're a coach of individual athletes, that is uniquely part of your skillset that's not necessarily that obvious when we're looking at team dynamics. However, the reason I say yes and no is because the ethos that I have and has worked really well for athletes and coaches and teams over these years that I've been doing mental performance is:
The best version of you, everybody benefits from.
So if I'm working and I've been embedded into a team, now I've been embedded into multiple different teams at all different levels, from grassroots right the way through to Olympic and national representation teams. High performance and general athletes. The best version of you as an individual, everybody benefits from that. So if you're an individual athlete and you're... I was an individual athlete in gymnastics, yet there were times we traveled as the British team.
When we traveled as a British team, there were times where we completed with what's called the five and four to count method, which is there's five athletes on tour, four of them would compete, and their scores would go collectively to our British team total. So as much as we were individual athletes, we were still representing in my sport at that time, Great Britain, for our competitions. So the best version of me, if I was turning up and performing at my best and I was 100% focused on being my best, then the British team benefited from that. So that's why I said at the start of this, don't disregard this if you're an individual athlete and you're thinking, I don't coach teams, I'm not part of a team, probably you are. You just may not necessarily realise it at this stage, or you may not necessarily be there at this stage. You might be what I call a tipping point athlete, you're just not in the team yet, or you're not in the representational part of your career yet, where understanding team dynamics is front of thought. But at some point, if you want to represent your country, you will be working within a team.
The flipside of this is, and it's off the back of what I just said there, you will be working in a team. Now, whether you're representing your country or your team or your club or your region as a team member, the fact that you're not doing it alone, it means you've got a coach, you've probably got peers that you train with, you've probably got an entourage around you, whether that's physio, S&C, chiropractor, whatever that is, mental performance specialist, if you're smart, you've got all of those people around you. You are part of a team, even as an individual athlete. So being able to work in that dynamic is critical. If you have the attitude that, Hey, I'm out there on my own, I don't need anybody else, I don't want anybody else, the likelihood is you've just put a cap on your career. You are not going to progress to a point where you're going to see your full potential. I can say that with some assurity because I've seen athletes who do have that very individual focused attitude and they've got to a point where they need other people and other people won't work with them because they don't know how to be part of a team dynamic.
So this is obviously a very complex and very multi layered thing to be focusing on, process to be aware of. Let's talk about how we build a team and how we build an individual. Initially, what do we share that's exactly the same? Wherever you're listening to this podcast, you'll have the ability to download and look at the Smart Mind DNA Performance Programme. It's a template I use to understand both an individual and a team's DNA. When I mean DNA, I'm not looking at their genetics. Are they 6'4 or 5'2? Are they built like brick toilets? Or are they thin and wispy, whatever that is, it's not that kind of DNA. Do they have blue eyes or brown eyes or green eyes or red hair or blonde hair. What I'm looking at is the how. How do they do what they do? What's their DNA of performance preparation, collecting the data, and communication? So that DNA will tell us what the best version of you is. What does that look like? How do you know that's working? How do you know what the outcome, or how can you predict the performance outcome, based on your how? So the DNA process is critical.
Now, when I get embedded into a team, let's start looking at teams first of all. The first thing I'll do is I'll sit with the head coach and the coaching fraternity, and hopefully if they've got a leadership group and say, What's our DNA? How do we, as a team, do what we do? What are we known for? If I'm working in a sport, let's say rugby, I spend a lot of time in rugby, are we renowned for a defence based team? Are we renowned for being an attack team? Are we renowned for being a kicking team or a running team? What is it we hang our hat on? If we don't know what the DNA of the team is, then quick smart, we better work it out. Because if we don't know what our DNA is, when we get put under pressure, we capitulate. Think of when you turn the light on, like I live in Australia and there's cockroaches everywhere. It doesn't matter how clean your environment is. When you turn the lights on in the first thing in the morning, you see this scurry of cockroaches. And that's just part of living in Australia (I've just broken the bubble for people who don't live here). But it's the same ethos when we get put under pressure as a team, it's like turning the light on first thing in the morning, you see everybody scurrying in their own direction, self preservation mechanism kicking in. If we have a really clear DNA of how we do what we do as a team, then when we get put under pressure, we come together, we collaborate, we become cohesive in how we do what we do, rather than being these individual cockroaches that just run for their life. Our DNA is critical. So as I say, we've come together as a team and we look at what is our DNA? What do we want to be known for? What's the team focus that we're talking about? Now, as of the recording of this, Eddie Jones has just come back in to be running the Australian rugby union men's team, so the Wallabies. And he's come back in with a really clear mandate of that team's DNA, the way that he wants that team to play. That's really, really clear from the get go, from the outside and the inside and the top and the bottom.
It doesn't matter where you sit, stand or observe this. You're under no illusion of what the DNA he wants this team to play in. Because of that, it makes it way easier to start selecting team members because if you want to play a very, and like he's turned around and said, I want a very aggressive playing strategy, but then you've got a player who's very passive, the likelihood of them fitting into that team DNA and then optimising and being the best version of them is reduced. It doesn't mean it can't happen, but you're putting them into an environment where the team DNA needs to be maybe adjusted slightly to receive them, and their DNA needs to be adjusted slightly to interact and be part of that. When you're coaching any team, the first thing that you need to be doing is looking at it and going, What team do I want to coach? Now that might be off the back of what you know works. It might be off the back of you've done your data and you've collected your research and you've gone... In order for us to be the winning team moving forward, this is the way we need to play, the way we need to be turning up each time.
It might be off the back of your coaching style. I hope not, because you need to be adaptive enough to look and say, What's the right outcome? How do I make that work? But it might be off the back of your coaching style. It might be off the back of what had been happening beforehand, so there needs to be a course correction on that. And that certainly appears, from the outside looking in, what Eddie Jones has done with the Wallabies. He's gone, Right, what we were doing before clearly wasn't hitting the mark. Let's recalibrate and we're going to go for a different DNA.
As a coach, we need to first identify that DNA. The process we go through, well, I take teams through... We're talking teams here, first of all is, what's the best version of us when we're performing? It's a utilisation of our imagination and saying, if we were going to build the best version of us, what would that be like? How would we play? Now, in motor racing, when I'm working with motor racing teams and drivers, we look at what's called theoretical best. That's an accumulation of all the laps that that driver or that team have done.
We've gone, Okay, in corner one at this track, what was our best time? We'll look at that and say, Right, in corner two at this track, what was our best time? We create this puzzle piece and that could be over the whole season. It could be over the whole preseason as well. We end up with this patch work, this patch quilt look of what's our theoretical best. Now, it might have been done six months ago on corner one, might have been done yesterday on corner two, it might have been done two weeks ago on corner three. But what that gives us is if we take all the parts, all the known parts, and we bring them together, we now have a theoretical best. We do that in every single team. So if I'm sitting with, let's say, a rugby team, I'll sit and I'll say, Right, over the last 12 months, 18 months maybe tops, if we're looking at our forwards, what's our best combination and individuals of forwards, centres, backs. In any team dynamic, hockey, whatever team we're working in, American football, football – as in soccer for the rest of the world, or –football if you're English.
Each one of these teams, I will look at and we'll create this patchwork of theoretical best. What does that look like to us? Does that fit into our DNA? Then we've got this theoretical perspective. That's how the best version of us as a team is. Now, the second column of that is, how do I maintain that? There's no point if I'm going to go back to the racing car drivers and saying, We've got this theoretical best, but because it's split over multiple different time frames, we can't hold that together. Then all we end up doing is creating frustration. We've got this optimal outcome that we're just not hitting or getting anywhere close to. Then the next column needs to be how do we hold that together? How do we perform that way, consistently and replicable. Those of you who know me and have listened to me before know I talk a lot about our neurological point of reference, our blueprint inside our brain. Our 'how'. This is our how, our template, the way that we do what we do. Now we've got this theoretical best and we've got this how do we operate and how do we execute at that?
The third column is how do I course correct? If something goes off track, how do I recalibrate and bring that back on track? What's my exit strategy? How do I apply the brakes when things are going downhill in the wrong way? I've got wobbly wheels and all of a sudden I can see we're going to crash. How do I bring this back on track? That part, that third column is critical. Now, most people, most organisations, only think about that when it's happening. So that's like being in a plane and you're plummeting towards the Earth and you say, Hey, Captain, what's your strategy? How do you get us out of this? You go, I don't know. I've never done this before. Never thought about it. That's never what you want to hear when that plane is plummeting towards the Earth. You want to make sure that you do, and what I teach is called the 'what ifs'. What if this happens? What if that happens? What if we're on course and we get hit by a bout of injuries? Or during COVID, when we were traveling during COVID, we hit this period where a large number of our players and our staff got COVID.
That was a 'how do I course correct' moment? And fortunately, we had strategies and processes in place that allowed us to course correct and get back on track. Bring in new staff, bring in new players that had already been earmarked, who'd already been set up to, if this happens, you're going to get a phone call, you need to be on a plane in 24 hours and heading to X. That's how do I correct. Those first three columns form part of our DNA. I know what my best is, I know how to execute that, and I know if it goes off track, how to bring it back on track. The fourth column is our comms, our communication, what's our language. Now, again, those of you who listen to me and I talk about our operating system, and I've used the analogy numerous times to the point where you're probably going to go, I know what you're going to say. But if I had an iPad and I had a Galaxy tablet sitting in front of me, and I downloaded the iOS operating system onto that Galaxy tablet, could I utilise that and action that Galaxy tablet to do what I needed to do?
Well, the answer is no, even though a vast majority of the components are made in the same factories. And if you take the screens off, they actually look really similar, scarily similar. Even though you're paying a fortune for one and it operates much better. I'm a Mac person, sorry, I apologise up front. I love my Mac and my Apple. That's going to operate much better. The vast majority of the components inside are coming from the same factories. But it doesn't work because the operating system, the language that we're using isn't cross platformable. And humans are the same. Teams are the same. What's our internal language patterns? Are we away-from focused? Are we fear driven? Now, I've got some players who currently play in France, and the way that the team communicates is way more emotive than what they're used to. And, for them, it's really, really difficult to focus on process when the emotional pregame conversations are so dramatic. And that's understandable. It must work for them in their world. But to be able to transition and work in that, you have to understand that. What is the team DNA communication model? If it's highly emotive, then you need to get your head around that and become bilingual and understand that.
If you're in a team that is highly process orientated and structurally driven, and you're one of those high emotion people, you're out there slapping yourself in the face before you compete, then you're not going to get the necessary communication model that you're looking for. So that's what we're looking at when we look at a team DNA. That's stage one.
If we're an individual athlete, the biggest difference is absolutely nothing. You would go through exactly the same process as an individual.
What's the best version of me when I'm performing?
What's my theoretical best as an athlete, as an individual, as a competitor? How do I do that? How do I maintain that?
What's my preparation process? Hopefully you talk about the funnel.
What's my performance process?
What's my collecting data and reevaluating and debriefing process so I can collect the data, build a plan, apply it? Collect better data, better plan, better application process.
And if something goes wrong, how do I course correct? Who's the people in my corner? What's my entourage that I can tap into and get myself back on track?
And what's my internal dialogue? What's my operating system?
So I hope straight away you can see, whether you're working as an individual athlete or you're working in a team, the same philosophy, psychology process gets applied.
And the reason that I utilise the same techniques, the same templates is because you want them interchangeable. If I'm working with a team of 40 athletes and we do the individual DNA process, we want to be able to take that, use the same language, use the same processes, and tap that into and connect it into the team DNA. They need to be interchangeable. There's no point in me working on the Galaxy tablet and working with a team on the iPad. We want them to be interconnected. So when I'm working with a team or I'm working with an individual, I'm working with both, I want everything to be as unified as possible. If we're talking about what's our game DNA, what's our team DNA, what's our season DNA, how do we want to do what we do over the whole length of this season, over the length of the career of this team, then individually, what's your individual DNA, what's your session DNA, your month DNA, your season DNA, your career DNA? And if they're not compatible instantly, then we're going to look at that and go, what do we need to do to either make them compatible or look for somewhere that's way more compatible for you?
So that's DNA. The best version of you, everybody benefits, both as a team and as an individual.
The second part of this is our language, our communication. We started talking about if my DNA as a team is the same language, the same process, the same framework as our individual, we've got a symbiotic relationship. This is what I need from you, what do you need from me. They're going back to, as I said, I'm a Mac person and I don't apologise for this. One of the great things about having an Apple computer is everything just works, everything just connects. When you're looking at an Android, then you've got peripheral things that you've got to then get different software to make them connect. Now, this is not an Apple advert, although if they want to sponsor me, feel free, but it's not an Apple advert. But it's a recognition that the language in all Apple operating systems talk to each other. Often when you're looking at an Android, you got to get a third party patch to make them talk to each other. We talk about symbiotic versus parasitic relationships. A symbiotic is that connection, is talking, everybody's on the same page, same communication modeling, same framework, same techniques and strategies that are being applied.
This is what I need from you. What do you need from me? That psychology and symbiotic relationship is optimal. If it's a parasitic one, it's, This is what I need. Or as a coach, you might tell them, Do as you're told. It's one directional. I say this every time, it's not the band. It's that one direction. It's either, This is what you got to do, so you're just giving information, or this is what I want from you, you're just taking something. It's not a symbiotic value system where everybody's benefiting from that. We want to build a culture of symbiotic relationships. Even when you got the head coach who's very, very clear this is what I want, his language should be, This is what I want from you. This is how I want to perform. This is our DNA. I can see you fit into that. So I want you to do A, B, C, and D. Now, what do you want from me or our organisation or our staff to enable you to do that? If that athlete feels that, Yeah, look, we want you, we value you, we know you fit, you tell us how you can be the best version of you, then we're going to benefit from that and you're going to benefit from that.
It just makes sense. If we're not building that symbiotic culture, what we've got is a parasitic culture. And if we've got a parasitic culture, then the only thing keeping that athlete in there is stubbornness to either represent their country or get paid what they need to get paid. And when you've got that mindset, you've got one hand on the exit strategy all the time. If it doesn't work, if I don't like it, if they annoy me, I'm out. Then you are never, ever, ever going to get the best from that athlete. The best version of them is not going to turn up. So recognition of symbiotic relationships, recognition of DNA are the two critical components of understanding how do I coach a team and how do I coach an individual. If we see them as two separate processes, then we've got two siloed processes. And then in order to get them to come together, we've got to manufacture, we've got to patch that gap. That often kills optimisation. It often kills the ability for the athlete to turn up in trust. And in any situation, Coach, you put me out there, I'll do what you need me to do, because I know how to do it.
If you're patching that gap, and I've said, look, I've seen this, unfortunately, numerous times, where the athlete's best version of them doesn't get the opportunity to turn up because it's not quite in line with what the best version of the team is. And if you're getting to game day, competition season, World Cup, whatever it is, and you've got these misalignments, trying to fix that in the moment takes the athlete out of that subconscious performance strategy back into the prefrontal cortex overthinking strategy and the student version of them, and that costs us consistency in performance. Athletes need to own that journey. Coaches need to give them the vehicle for that journey. So recognition and reward that both these two different DNA processes and symbiotic relationship go hand in hand. The symbiotic relationship is the glue that holds the DNA together. It allows that athlete and that team to thrive. So when you look at some of the most successful coaches on the planet, they don't come in and become dictators. They come in and optimise. They build a culture where players and athletes and everybody just wants to be part of that and add to that.
Now, the third part of this is buy in. So if we're going to create a team dynamic where the athlete is willing to do whatever they need to do to be the best version of them to add to their career and add to the outcome of that team, there's going to be a cost involved. I was working with a team once, many, many, many years ago where the head coach turned around and said, You have not earned the right to wear this jersey. You have to go out there and prove that you're good enough to wear this jersey. Now, I understand that they were emotionally driven. What they were trying to do was drive passion for these performers. And I get it. I even understand why they were trying to do it that way because we were in a time where there wasn't that buy in. There was a lot of conflict that was going on in that sport. So I understand where they were coming from. However, what that did subconsciously was say to those athletes, you're just not good enough. You're not good enough to wear this jersey. Other people who wore it before you were better than you.
So when I came on board, I sat with that coach and I said, Hey, can we change the language around this? He's gone, Why? Why do you want to change? I want them to be passionate. I said, I don't want to change their passion. What I want to change is their focal currency. And if you listen to my last podcast, you'll understand what I'm talking about with focal currency. I want to change their focal currency. I want to change the connection between the team DNA and their DNA. And he goes, Well, okay, I'm listening. And I've gone, Rather than you're not good enough to wear this jersey, you've got to prove it to me. I said, How about you turn around and say to them, What do you add to this jersey? What's going to be your legacy when you retire from this sport? What part of that patchwork are you adding to this jersey? And this coach went very, very quiet and he looked at me and he's gone to me, I don't understand. He said, I want them to fight to wear the jersey. And I said, so do I. I want them to fight to add to the Jersey.
So there's a value, there's this legacy. It changes it from I'm not good enough to wear it, everyone's better than me, and there's this imposter syndrome that comes with that to look what I do that's unique. What I want to do is impregnate and imprint my DNA onto that jersey so that generations after that know that I've added to the culture. I've added to the colour of this jersey. So then the next generation put it on, they say, I've got all that rich history. Now, what am I going to add to it? So we create momentum where everybody feels valued and their identity, their DNA is benefiting that jersey. And full credit to him, he entertained the idea, but he was then replaced, which is such a high performance coaching world. And I had the conversation with the next coach, and there was a lot more receptiveness to that. And integrating the leadership group with that conversation allowed them to go, What are you adding to this team? This is what I add. And their passion came out, but in a very, very targeted, laser focused, sniper way. That added to that jersey.
So what have we talked about with working, how do I coach and be part of a team versus being an individual. How do I be part of that? The reality is you do what you do in such a way that the best version of you as an individual, you thrive. And in you thriving, you tap into and connect and plug in to that best version of that team because the language, the process, the frameworks are conducive of that. It works. We also looked at that symbiotic relationship building that cultural identity. What do I add to this rather than am I good enough for this? And that's not just one sport or a team sport. I hear this all the time. You're just not there yet. You're not good enough, rather than, Hey, you're really good at this. Our DNA is that. How do we help you grow so you fit? Then if they don't fit, if they are just so left field from the DNA of the time, and they don't add to the direction of the team, they can clearly see that. So the athlete has a choice. They either go away and recalibrate and re-skill, or they turn around and go, You know what? I'm really proud of who I am. I'm still doing state or national representation. I might not make our national team, but I understand why. I don't fit in the way that the game is being played today. That is really, really super critical. Understanding and knowing, and also get in there early. I sit and I do the DNA process with young athletes, not because I want to put them in a box or put them in a pigeonhole. It's because I want to know at this stage, what are you doing that's really working? How do we grow that and make you thrive? We can add skill sets and layers to you as you really understand what it is you're doing that's working for you.
So the question at the start of this podcast was, is coaching or being part of a team or being an individual different? Well, the reality is no, there is no real difference. There's some different layers to it, but the fundamental issues and core and process is exactly the same. And if we think about it that way, if we allow it to be the same, it's going to be integrated. It's going to allow athletes to thrive.
It's going to allow teams to be adaptive and optimised. Understand your DNA. Make sure that you understand the team DNA and the athlete's DNA. Create that symbiotic relationship, that culture. This is what I need from you. What do you need from me to make that happen? Understand that the best version of you, everybody's going to benefit from. As long as it's that symbiotic world. Remember, we talked about the operating system needs to be the same. How do I do the best version of me? How do I keep that on track? If it goes off track, how do I bring it back on track? What's my internal language, my operating system? Got to make sure all of those are optimised.
I hope you've got a lot from this podcast. It is challenging. It is often a place where, particularly, a coach and an athlete can find themselves being highly emotive and reactionary. That's not worked. I've got to completely do it in a different direction. And we become that pendulum that swings to the other side and go, Well, this doesn't work. Oh, no, I'm right the other side now and that doesn't work. And you get lost.
Athletes try to become the chameleon. What does the coach want? I'll be that. And if there's no collaboration, communication in that process, then an athlete is always chasing what they think the coach wants, rather than know what the coach wants. Everybody needs to know the DNA, the team DNA, the athlete's DNA.
Hope you got a lot from this. I hope it's challenged you to assess how you're doing what you're doing, either as a coach or as an athlete. I hope it's challenged you to better understand what it is that you do, how you do what you do, and how you keep it on track. And again, I hope you've got a lot from this and you've grown as a coach and grown as an athlete. Until the next episode of Brain in the Game, train smart and enjoy that ride. My name's Dave Diggle. I'll see you on the next podcast.