A Successful Philosophy of Coaching Athletes

Sports psychology is such a diverse field of information that it would be difficult to develop all of the issues embracing the philosophy of coaching. This analysis is directed to those sports that encompass skills of a rotary nature, either around the lateral or longitudinal axis or both. Sports such as diving, trampoline, tumbling, aerial skiing, and ice skating  are a few such activities that are included. When circumstances are appropriate in sports other than those of a rotary nature, the implementation of this philosophy should be beneficial. The ensuing portrayal of a coaching philosophy has been tried and tested over a period of approximately 50 years with great success. It is hoped that a thorough examination and application of this formula will lead others to a similar conclusion.

What are the fundamental principles that come into play in the development of a champion in sport? What sets this individual apart from others, and what are the elements that engender this excellence? Is it strenuous work, persistence, self-discipline, inspiration, or is it a merging of these values integrated with other relationships that create a champion? Perhaps,  an  examination of this phenomenon will disclose those characteristics that create a champion.

A champion is an individual who has the ability to translate his/her mental perception of a skill into the actual performance of that skill in such a way as to be unmatched by others. Through a variety of personal qualities, coupled with proper instruction, this individual is proficient in the creation of an image of grace, beauty, and strength in the performance of physical skills. This portrait of uniqueness, displayed by a champion athlete, is acquired over a period of time. The development and progress of an athlete falls within the jurisdiction of a coach. Consequently, a champion – for the most part – is the product of superior coaching.

It is essential for athletes to execute skills or groups of skills in a manner that is compatible with their personality and refrain from modifying the performance to fit the skills. Yes, there is a pattern that should be observed in the development of a skills routine, and personal motivation must be allowed to dominate. It is the responsibility of the coach to recognize and guide each performer in the development of this stimulus and to use it to the athletes’ best advantage. There is, of course, a basic mechanical and fundamental approach to the performance of each skill, but here too, athletes should perceive and execute skills using their own personal technique. Accordingly, one should not assume that there is only one way to accomplish a skill.

One should not feel that a point has been reached where learning is not possible from the performance of others. What one learns may be useful in that it confirms the theory, “this is the way it should be done”, or it may tell you, “this method is wrong”. It would be inappropriate to assume that a performance is incorrect since it was not done in a manner acceptable to you. Remember, it is important that when you discover a method superior to yours, have enough judgment to examine it and, if necessary, change. The ability to change is the mark of a champion, as well as a successful coach. (This does not imply to imitate, there is a difference.)

Form is important only after a skill has been learned. If the athlete must be concerned about form breaks while learning, learning will be tedious. Debilitating injuries are a very real possibility when highly complicated skills are being learned. With this in mind, there should be one major thought while learning a skill, that is to complete the skill without injury. In addition, a successful coach must have an eye for constructive analysis. The coach must possess the ability to evaluate and correct defects no matter how insignificant they may be, as this ability is essential in the development of a champion.

Good rapport must be maintained between coach and athlete. For this relationship to grow, the coach should be familiar with the individual personality, ability or lack thereof, the capacity to learn, and the desire to succeed.  This knowledge is the forerunner  to the development of a champion. A coach must be able to prepare an athlete mentally for learning new skills and to determine when a performer is prepared for this new skill. A determination as to the type of safety standards must be considered as well as the use of appropriate safety belts when needed.

Execution of a skill or group of skills will vary from performer to performer. Aside from poor coaching techniques, there are a variety of justifications for these differences. In order to understand these variations one must be familiar with the background and personality of each performer. Therefore, when one becomes familiar with the personality of the performer in question, he/she – the coach – is better qualified to assist in the development of that individual or individuals. Each coach should recognize these differences and not insist on a rigid “one way attitude” toward the execution of any skill, as it is doubtful that success will be the end result.

The coach must have, and impart to the athlete, a mechanical knowledge of the skill that is to be realized. In addition, a knowledge of visual locations that are to be sighted during the execution of the skill must be communicated to the performing athlete. Much thought must be put into the execution of a skill, both by the coach and the performer. The work-up is both mental and physical – a great deal of discussion is needed, discussion which leads to confidence.

These discussions should provide the correct approach for the treatment of each performer, as each has his/her own temperament. The coach should know when anger is appropriate. Anger can be a strong motivator, but at no time should the athlete lose his/her temper during a workout or competition. This will not enhance the ability to perform. However, it is advantageous for the coach to use anger, in a controlled sense, for motivation during workouts. This method should never be used during competition, as it adds problems to those already at hand. Problems should be left where the workout sessions were held.

It does not help the competitor’s frame of mind for a coach to exhibit anger prior to or during competition, but an attitude of understanding is important and should be displayed during that period of time. After the competition is completed, the scene may change and often does.

Sympathy is important, but only at the appropriate time, as is agreement and disagreement, along with encouragement for continued efforts to learn new skills. In the same light, the workout must be structured in such a manner that the athlete does not end the practice session with a failed skill. If the session ends in failure, tomorrow’s session will be difficult for continued work on that particular skill.

A spirit of positive thinking may be instilled in a performer by eliminating the word “try.” To try a skill is to indicate there is a possibility that it may not be completed. Hence, an element of danger exists. Never try a skill, do the skill! To do a skill is to never blunder. The word “try” is not in the vocabulary. With this premise, it follows that a skill may be altered but not abandoned midway during its execution or the creation of a disaster will be the outcome. Finish what is started, regardless of where you land. If one fails to follow through, the chances of injury are high. When a rotary skill is in progress, the rotation will continue while airborne. Deceleration may be achieved by extending the body parts. Termination of the skill occurs when a landing is realized.

The expression “can’t” is another remark that has no place in the vocabulary of an athlete. Because of the negative connotation realized from the use of this word, it is forbidden! In the event a malfunction occurs during the execution of a skill, an analysis of the failure should follow, corrections implemented, and the skill performed again. Performers must be taught to have respect for difficult skills and not be pompous in their ability to perform. (Particularly a new skill!) At the same time, a coach should instill confidence. Overconfidence leads to ruin, while confidence is the path to success.

With the inclusion of more complicated skills in aerial sports, there has come a phenomenon that, to date, has not been explored to its fullest. This curiosity deals with the loss of a skill, and in some cases a group of skills. Through the years, this problem has become more prevalent and is the source of a great deal of controversy as to the cause and effect as well as its cure. There are more treatments and less cures than one can imagine. As this “disease” progresses, and it sometimes does, it engenders the unwanted apparition of fear. When fear raises its ugly head, execution of those skills involved comes to a halt and the possibility of injury becomes the issue. Fear is intimidating! During this period of apprehension, there are several avenues of treatment that may be explored to help the athlete continue to participate.

It would appear that a short-circuit develops in the memory retention capabilities of those individuals unfortunate enough to experience this phenomenon. The athlete has no concept of how to perform a skill that has been done many times.  There is no recall as to the direction of the twist, the number of somersaults, or any aspect of the execution of the skill or skills in question. In essence, they must be relearned. The sequence of learning has been disrupted to the point that a new approach must be taken to reestablish the thinking process needed to provide an opportunity for success.

Prior to the introduction of a potential remedy, a thorough discussion to determine the root of the anxiety should be addressed. To arrive at a cause is perplexing because the onset of this condition is not announced. The problem only becomes apparent when an attempt is made to perform a skill that has been performed many times and there is absolutely no recall. The feeling is one of confusion and exasperation. The following guidance is offered to assist in the unraveling of this dilemma. No guarantee of recovery, complete or otherwise, can be made as to the outcome of these suggestions.

  1. Introduce a new approach to learning with little to no similarity to the original learning process.
  2. When there are repeated failures, the passage of time has a way of healing.
  3. Use appropriate spotting to protect the athlete.
  4. When the skill in question can be rearranged, as in multiple somersaults with twists, make an effort to so.
  5. Eliminate the skill altogether.
  6. Seek the origin of the problem through consultation with a qualified sports psychologist.
  7. If nothing is successful, and fear dominates  the effectiveness of the athlete, the time to consider retirement has arrived to prevent injury.

Performers must be conditioned to compete on their own level. This competitive level should be maintained within the proper age group until such time that the athletes indicate, through their performance, that the time has come to move up to the next level. When this change is made, the individuals involved frequently discover they have gone from the top-half of their previous competitive standing to the lower-half of the next. Therefore, it is important that this change be made at the right time. This decision, by the coach, is one of importance to prevent the competitors from becoming trapped in an untenable situation. It must be noted, in certain classifications this predicament can not be circumvented. Nevertheless, a loss of confidence can be prevented with proper guidance.

In their search for improvement, athletes will experience several plateaus of learning. Depression is often associated with these phases of learning which inevitably leads to problems. At this point-in-time, the athletes must be kept occupied with other aspects of the sport until improvement and/or the addition of a new skill, or combination of skills are mastered. It is this state of mind, a sense of “standing still”, that is the impetus which leads to the loss of many athletes. These individuals might have remained in the program had the coach handled the situation correctly.

A thorough evaluation of the outcome of a competition, along with the written results, should be treated in a way as to instill a desire to improve. This evaluation should foster a sense of confidence in all the team members. At the same time, a spirit of friendship must prevail. The coach should treat each winner or loser in a way as to maintain this relationship. Communicate to each individual the progress and improvement that can be realized from the experience of each competition.

The coach must be “one of the boys” yet command respect in terms of a coach-to-pupil relationship. This is a difficult and sometimes lonely and frustrating position. It is necessary however, because without this respect discipline is lost. It is difficult to maintain discipline and unreasonable to believe that a coach can communicate a point, in an authoritative manner, unless the participants have the utmost confidence and respect for his/her decisions.

When and/if an athlete becomes a discipline problem and does not respond to appropriate measures, it may become necessary to expel that individual from the team. A sound environment can not be developed with individuals that are not contributing constructively to the overall program. If disciplinary problems are allowed to continue, the program will falter.

About drug abuse, there has been a great deal of conjecture in recent years on this topic. There are probably more solutions than there are situations. When an athlete becomes involved in drugs and is a participant in an aerial sport, the end result could be catastrophic. The ability to determine one’s position in space is impaired and the final outcome is the loss of spatial awareness. When this occurs, the performer develops vertigo and may believe the ceiling or sky to be the point of impact. Consequently, a catastrophic injury or death may be experienced on landing. Immediately on discovery of this drug problem, the athlete should not be allowed to participate and professional help should be obtained. The best solution to protect all concerned, is non-participation of the athlete in the program.

A successful coach is one who prepares each performer to accept the merits of victory and defeat. EACH DEFEAT IS A STEP FORWARD, A STEP TOWARDS VICTORY. Victory on the other hand, is an illusive reward that often corrupts when achieved. The corruption typically takes the form of conceit and is not a trait that a true champion desires. Proper discipline, understanding, communication, and guidance on the part of the coach should help mold a champion into a well respected and honorable person. Fortunately, this issue is not endemic.

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About Jeff T. Hennessy

From: Jeff Hennessy Subject: Biography: HENNESSY, Jeff Date: October 12, 2009 2:23:00 PM CDT To: Jeff Hennessy HENNESSY, Jeff Inducted: 1992 Born: October 27, 1929 Most parents take walks and go on picnics with their children. Jeff Hennessy did these things with his children, also, but, in addition, he went bouncing with them on a steady basis. He produced and coached more World and National trampoline, tumbling, and mini-tramp champions than anyone in America. The champions included his daughter, Leigh. Jeff received his Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees from Northwestern State University in Louisiana and matriculated to the U. Of Louisiana at Lafayette where he taught, instructed, and coached the Swimming and Gymnastics teams for 27 years. He was nine-time USA Trampoline Team Coach in World Championships and took USA teams to South Africa, Russia, Germany, and Holland. He also coached AAU teams, intercollegiate athletes, and even Miss America, Judi Ford. Jeff has served as Director of World Trampoline Championships, International Judges and Coaches courses, AAU and Federation Championships, six National Jr. Olympic Championships, and the community service trampoline program for children. He has officiated from London to Japan. Honors: A Trampoline/Tumbling Scholarship is awarded in his name by U.S.A. Gymnastics, the national gymnastics governing body (NGB); Accepted as an honorary member of the Federation International Gymnastic (FIG), (1999); Honored to be a recipient of the Safety Award from the American Trampoline and Tumbling Association, (1992); Inducted into the International Gymnastic Hall of Fame (IGHOF) formerly the Helms Hall Gymnastic Hall of Fame (IGHOF) formerly the Helms Hall of Fame, (1992); Received international Trampoline & Tumbling Federation’s Lifetime Membership Award, Osaka, Japan, (1984); American Trampoline and Tumbling Association Outstanding Coach of the Year, (U. of Southwestern Louisiana, (1982); Distinguished Professor, U. of Southwestern Louisiana, Lafayette, LA., (1992); Master of Trampoline, American Trampoline and Tumbling Association, (1978); Who’s Who in the Southwest, (1977); Gift of Honor, presented by the International Trampoline Federation, (1976); Elected Chairman of the International Trampoline Federation Technical Committee, (1976); Inducted into the U.S. Trampoline Association’s Hall of Fame, (1976); Featured in “Fliffises and Gazip-Gazaps”, Sports Illustrated, 8th Day, (1970); Received the C.H. McCloy Research Award for Gymnastics, (1966); Member of U.S. Gymnastics Olympic Committee, (1965-‘69); First Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) Trampoline Chairman, (1965). General: Appeared in the Guinness Book of World Records and reportedly has been featured in more magazines, publications and newspapers than Donald Trump. Twice, he was elected Outstanding AAU Coach of the year and was honored by the German Gymnastic Association for his extraordinary talent and contributions. Personal: Jeff served as the United States Sports delegate for the AAU to Winston Churchill’s funeral. He was an advisor and consultant to USA Gymnastics, the United States Diving organization, the International Trampoline Federation, ABC, CBS, the United States Department of Justice, and Law Firms throughout the country. Jeff Hennessy has authored more books and journals about trampoline and springboard diving than John Grisham has courtroom scenes. His daughter, Leigh, won two World Championships in Double Mini-Tramp and may be the leading U. S. title-holder for women in the twisting, turning, and bouncing sport of trampoline. Sources: World Acrobatic Society “Legends of Honor” Newsletter, personal resume, and interviews with his daughter, Leigh. Introduction, commentary, and formatting by Larry Banner, Web Manager. Close
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