***Health warning! This book is not a textbook***
Part 1 of the Preface from ‘How to support a Champion: The art of applying science to the elite athlete’…
“He who works with his hands is a labourer.
He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman.
He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.”
Francis of Assisi
I often hear myself and others saying, “There aren’t any books telling you how to work with elite athletes.” Well, this book is a contribution to invalidating that statement and sentiment. However, this book isn’t a point by point guide of what you need to ‘do’ to be an effective practitioner. Applied practice is too complicated for a step by step manual. Instead, this book shares with you the intensity, the challenges, the complexities, the strains, the insecurities, the regrets, the mistakes and the lucky scrapes as well as the fierce ambitions, the hopes, the breakthroughs, the sense of purpose, the joys, the fun, the wonder and the grandeur of being an applied practitioner. I have written this book as a part of my ‘call to arms’ for us all to do more to develop and celebrate the art of applying knowledge.
If you are a scientist, maybe a sport scientist, botanist, chemist, oceanographer, meteorologist, or from a different field, an architect, military officer, web developer, graphic designer, air traffic controller, optometrist, speech therapist, audiologist, medic, actor, singer, clergy, teacher or even a writer, whatever your occupation you are a practitioner – ‘a person engaged in the practice of a profession’. I’ll take it as a given that you have a good knowledge base. I expect you will have done the reading and researching and have the certificate to prove it.
Throughout my career I have been struck by the curiosity as to how some people are effective and others are not. Why is that some practitioners are brilliant, others mediocre and some awful? Why is it when you meet some practitioners they drain all your happiness away and others brighten up your life? Why is it when given an interesting project to work on, some practitioners just go off and do their own thing and others pull together in a team for a collective effort? Why is it when presented with a problem or a question, some practitioners become innovative, sparky and creative, whereas others just try to hit different problems with the same hammer? When presented with an outcome, why do some practitioners point the finger of blame and others reflect and accept responsibility? Why do some practitioners just mess with other people’s business and others just make life easier? The difference might be explained by a practitioner’s personality, but I think the major difference comes from whether or not someone has learnt and adapted from their experiences.
If you fail to learn from your experiences, you won’t progress in your understanding. If you fail to adapt from your learning, your skills will remain static. If you fail to learn or adapt, your ability to effect change and influence the world around you will be limited. All too commonly the educational system is stuck in teach-recite or research-write up, two-dimensional methods of training – so how will practitioners of the future ever be suitably trained to work if there is so little ‘DO’ in their courses from which they can learn and adapt? Even out there in the big bad world practitioners are often afraid to confront the brutal facts of their own performance by self-reflecting or giving and receiving feedback from and to others – so how will existing practitioners ever learn and adapt higher level abilities?
I have made thousands of mistakes throughout my career, but I am lucky; I work in the unforgiving, unrelenting and performance focused world of elite high performance sport. In that world if you don’t learn and adapt from every instance, encounter, experience, mistake or failure, there is every chance you will be spat out of the system. Pursuing an ambitious goal, such as a World or Olympic medal is an environment allergic to poor practitioner skills. On the other hand, if you take the opportunity and make the room to self-reflect, develop, hone, iterate, polish, cultivate, rehearse, nurture and refine your skills, words and behaviours, you will be on the road to being an artisanal practitioner.
This book shares with you the pivotal practitioner lessons I have learnt throughout my career working with some of the world’s greatest athletes. The first six chapters describe moments where I was required to learn and adapt my practice quickly in order to survive let alone thrive. I have had the utter, utter privilege of working with over a thousand athletes and over a hundred different coaches. The first six chapters focus on six different cases, followed by a further two chapters which address two important concepts (Part 2 of the preface will include the chapter outlines… coming soon…)
I have chosen to use a mix of story telling (which I have devotedly reproduced from my note keeping) and reflective observation throughout the book with the hope they will amplify, illuminate and punctuate the circumstances encountered and lessons learnt throughout my career as a practitioner and leader.
The accounts contain a smattering of technical science, but owing to the dearth of material addressing the area, I make no apologies for focussing on the craft skills of supporting, working and developing others. I hope you can soak up the accounts and reflect on how you would have worked with the situations and visualise yourself developing in a similar way.
The book closes with some final thoughts from myself, the coaches and athletes, accentuating the need for us to cherish, care for and craft the application of knowledge.
I hope you enjoy the book. If you do not read any further, please just get out there, learn, adapt and bring your knowledge to life.