Coaching Association of Canada

Joanne McLeod, ChPC - Figure Skating

From Good to Great: Blend knowledge, wisdom, and a creative formula

A coach’s engagement in sport is usually rooted in passion. That passion is a principal fuel for coaches but can’t be the only asset a coach brings to their athletes’ table. “You should have a collective intelligence of sport science: Biomechanics, physiology, and human kinetics. Invest the time, and study the best in your sport,” says McLeod. That being said, a good coach doesn’t need a PhD. There are plenty of accessible resources available, from free online courses to sport history books to NCCP workshops. Studying the competition is another great way of learning the demands of the sport, and, as McLeod suggests, “identifying your tactical approach.” Keeping up with the progression of your athletes shouldn’t be limited by your knowledge and tapping into these resources is a great way to keep learning.

Once the knowledge has been acquired, McLeod suggests that Wisdom is how you apply it. “In the beginning you don’t have any wisdom, and you don’t want your athletes to be the guinea pigs of trial and error, says McLeod. Tap into a mentor and listen to how they coach. I didn’t agree with everything I experienced but it saved me the time of working things through by trial and error.” Eventually you’ll become a mentor yourself and it’s important to recognize what you can contribute. A senior coach working with junior ones is a simple form of mentorship that contributes to a new coach’s understanding and wisdom. It saves the coach from having to reinvent the wheel and their progression is accelerated.

Most interestingly, successful coaches will develop a creative formula that allows their athletes to win. “You can’t just follow what someone else has done before you. In figure skating, people are jumping higher, skating faster, and the higher factor elements are evolving,” suggests McLeod.

When she began coaching, McLeod invited international champions to skate with her younger athletes; athlete mentorship if you will. “I believe that young athletes need to hear, see, and experience these champions and understand that that is attainable.” Ensuring that athletes can perform under unforeseen conditions can also afford them an advantage. “I’ve never been to a championship where everything is predictable,” states McLeod. To prepare athletes for such eventualities, she’ll “pull the plug”: put on the wrong music, cancel a flood (ice resurfacing), or create a delay. “The athletes tend to get moody and that can attack the way they operate but in the end they still have to perform,” states McLeod.

Ultimately, the progression is simple: Build your knowledge base through education, gain your wisdom through mentorship and collaboration, and adjust your creative formula to address the particular personalities and performance needs of your athletes.