28 January, 2016

Creating a Performance Playground

Creating a Performance Playground

Photo Credit: Cosmic Kitty

When I watch my four year old son in the playground, I see a few things. I see imagination, creativity, learning and him challenging himself to learn new things. He knows when to ask me for help and when to tell me he can do something himself. He is engaged in his learning in this playground and he is learning how to perform.

Don’t we want something similar for our athletes? For them to be engaged in their performance, where they are learning and thriving?

At a recent talk by Darren Roberts, a performance coach for many Red Bull athletes, he posed a couple of questions that hit home with me:

  • Is it me as a coach, that limits my athletes?
  • Are you creating a performance playground for your athletes to thrive?

So what is a performance playground? Well I would define it as an environment where the athletes are in control. It is an environment where the expected outcomes are defined and there is support from the coaches, but the athletes are encouraged to be creative, to learn new skills and challenge each other.

This performance playground means that the athletes have some determination over how the outcomes are achieved. They are part of the learning process and challenged to find the answers.

I know that I get this wrong sometimes, especially when I’ve got 20 athletes in front of me and I perceive I haven’t got enough time to create the environment where they are in control – it will descend into chaos, won’t it?

Well this is where I need to challenge myself more, otherwise I am the one limiting my athletes. So after this recent talk, I have been asking myself:

  • How can I provide challenges in my training environment, where the outcome is defined, but the path to get there isn’t.
  • How do I provide the athletes opportunities to learn from each other, rather than hear me preach?

When we see children in a playground, unobstructed by adults, they are usually doing a few things:

  • They understand their boundaries and sometimes will challenge themselves to try something new.
  • They watch each other, learn from each other and challenge each other.
  • When an older child comes along and does something that the younger children can’t, the younger, more adventurous children are challenged.

So then in many situations, including sport, we put our athletes into structured learning environments that often stifles their performance playground creativity.

This also makes me reflect on the ‘flair’ I see with Indigenous athletes. When visiting remote communities and seeing AFL being played, there is no coaching going on. There is a cross section of ages and abilities on the field at once. This is a performance playground where learning by watching, exploring and challenging each other goes on. There could just be more similarities between the Red Bull athletes and Indigenous athletes than we might think!

This blog has created more questions than answers for me and I might not have given you any answers either. But I want to challenge you to help each other. How do you create a performance playground for your athletes? Share your thoughts with the Community below.

© 2019 Paul Mead