Fosbury Flop Coaching Guide
“And what is the secret?” Everyone was wondering...
We are what emerges from our relationship with the environment. That’s why, in a world geared for hurry, immediacy and recipes, I have no choice but to sell my secrets to be a successful coach.
Because what surrounds us has a lot to do with who we are, the secrets aren’t purely mine. People from the Complex Systems in Sport research group and many other ones I have been lucky enough to meet along the way have been very influential.
You should take into account that ratios and order of the recipe are variable and it can have undesirable effects if it’s applied without considering the context in which it’s carried out.
The Coaching Guide of Fosbury Flop is dynamic. As the world and, thus, sport changes, the guide adapts. Check it regularly.
This is the recipe to become, what I consider, a great coach:
People first. Treat them by name, from minute 0, and take into account the stones that have been found on their path. What we do is determined by what we believe.
One day they’ll stop being players but they’ll never stop being people. You have a responsibility that doesn’t end when the training, or season, ends.
From Àlex Terés I learned that “this consists of rolling up our sleeves and leaving everything for the children and not by making the children roll up their sleeves and make them leave everything for us.”
The ultimate responsibility of learning rests in the learner. But train as if it was your own.
Make them accountable, don’t worry about techniques or tactics. May their actions be coherent with their dreams. Like Kota: they are building their own house.
Learn to live with failure and accept it as part of the process, but don’t seek it out or foment it.
You aren’t a mechanic, but a gardener. You don’t build robots, you design environments. Building a machine is complicated, training is complex.
Your first task is to align the team’s intentions. So you can eat an English breakfast, the pig gives its life to put the bacon but the hen only makes a small effort for the egg. Or we are all pigs, or we are all hens. Then, we can start talking about tactics. Make the team share the “why” behind every action.
Give up control… and enjoy it. There is nothing permanent except change. The technique must change: to keep winning, to adapt to new demands, to avoid injury when fatigue appears... The same with tactics, recipes and your methods, among many others.
Paco Seirul·lo said: don’t cause harm —iatrogenics— by wanting to invent gunpowder. Your personal desire for success or to be different doesn’t justify the harm you can cause.
This is about letting the players express themselves and not messing with it. The player must have a voice and vote in the training process and during the match. You aren’t the most important person on the field. You aren’t the center of the process but just another component of it.
We are what emerges from our relationship with the environment. Surround yourself and your players with the best. Expose yourself and them to challenging environments. The main unit of training is the player-environment system.
Make the player able to live without you as soon as possible. Train towards independence. Orders generate dependency. Create autonomy by helping them solve game problems. Kike Lacasa used to say: “Tomorrow, I may not be there to tell you what to do and how. You discover it and that’s it.”
At one extreme there is free-play, at the other there are isolated exercises, over-constrain. The good coach dominates the whole spectrum. It usually moves closer to the first by proposing tasks with different limitations, which maintain the nature of the game. However, when she sees it necessary, she over-constrains. Cones don’t move but at some specific moment, they can provide confidence.
Develop a broad range of skills to be predictable to your teammates and unpredictable to the opponents. Too much diversity, impredicatble for everybody. Look for a functional amount of it.
Dick Fosbury didn’t change high jump by jumping on his back because of orders of his coach but because they added a mattress to land on. Stop giving orders and put mattresses. Use rules and limitations in training to promote creativity and adaptability. The Chinese general doesn’t require his soldiers to be brave, he puts them in a situation in which they can’t retreat and the only way to survive is to fight as hard as they can. Stop demanding and create environments in which players cannot accommodate.
Games with challenges or needs to satisfy are more powerful than any obligation. Joan Cortés explained that every day he was obliged to make his own dinner but he arrived home and had it ready on the table. If the player succeeds, she has no need to change. Change the strategy: when Joan gets home, prepare a game for him in which he has to start exploring the pantry at home and put his skills on the stove into practice.
Long time ago, psychologists debated whether what affected behavior more were traits or situations. It turned out that neither one nor the other: it was how situation and traits interacted. Courage and cowardice are a product of the context rather than qualities of our own. How a player acts depends on the context.
The coach who has all the answers and who is above the players, orders and expects his team to play the way he wants. The one who is at the same height as the players and doesn’t know everything creates different challenges, problems and needs for the team to solve. He doesn’t do it expecting anything specific, just helping the team find their functional solutions. Constrain to afford, not to act. Education is about helping to find solutions, not to give the “correct” answer.
Functionality as a criterion. I don’t care about the status quo, what the technical books or society say. Whether or not it works in the context in which it is applied is what makes it good or bad.
elBulli —the best restaurant of the world— changed its menu every day depending on the food available and the waiters adapted it to the needs of each customer. The context changes, the menu adapts. In the kitchen and in the court, the chef dependent on recipes fails, the chef with own criterion adapts to any context. One size doesn’t fit all. That’s why Ferran Adrià is the best chef in the world.
Your verbal instructions are much less necessary than you think. There are no coaches on the streets of Brazil or in the skateparks because behaviour emerges without any need of orders. The best instructions are given by the game. The body cares about the game and little about what the coach says.
Stop looking at how the player or team behaves and focus on what happens in the game. Direct the attention out of the body. Pursue the flow: fluid functional movements, without conscious control. The body doesn’t care about the coach’s instructions, it cares about having success in the game.
Can you imagine teaching birds how to fly? A similar thing happens in sport. Coaches are less necessary than we think. Respect the nature of the game, the players will do the rest, stop treating them like fools.
The dinosaurs were the strongest… and they are extinct. The fittest aren’t the strongest or fastest but the ones that have more skills to adapt to different situations. The player is adapted, or not, to a style of play; it doesn’t matter if she is strong, fast, handsome or has very good “technique”. Don’t be a dinosaur… and don’t coach dinosaurs.
The bridge doesn’t fall because of the last truck. The sandcastle doesn’t collapse at the last grain. The player doesn’t learn from the last exercise or specific tip. Small actions can cause disproportionate results because we live in a non-linear world. Who gets tired the most doesn’t go further, break with the hope and work intelligently.
If two molecules of hydrogen and one of oxygen interact, they can become water and put out a fire. But if we apply them separately, they make the fire more virulent. It happens the same in your team. Stop reducing and separating everything, because you miss the properties that emerge from the interaction of the components —what truly matters.
When the NBA decided to add the 3-pointer rule, the behavior of teams and players changed, even today. If an important player gets injured or leaves a team, it can end up affecting the team itself, the club and the league; look at Messi’s case. Everything is connected by circular causality top-down and bottom-up, changes at macro-level condition all other micro-levels at the same time that they are conditioned by them. You can intervene from the bottom and train muscle by muscle, movement by movement, player by player... But, most of the time it is more effective to act at the macro-level and influence all the levels below. With a competitive 5v5 football exercise in conditions of fatigue you work the muscles and “strength” of each player. With a basketball 3v3 you work on the “technique” of each player without eliminating the “tactics” and the “physical”.
Be a training flâneur: “If you look at the notebook or Excel —Kike Lacasa used to say—, you miss your team’s training.” Be aware of where you want to go, what you want to work on... but don’t miss the opportunities and all the information of each scenario along the path. Flexible stability, stable flexibility. Planning in the long term or in the smallest detail helps the coach to be calm with his mind but goes against the team.
Relax with statistics and metrics. Sometimes the strongest and most wonderful things are those we cannot see… or measure. Everything in your fridge gives you cancer and more often than not, averages don’t represent anybody. “The world cannot be understood without numbers. But the world cannot be understood with numbers alone.”
There is no copy-paste. You can take the boy out of Liverpool but you can’t take Liverpool out of the boy. Pep Guardiola’s Barça style of play was perfect in that culture, at that time and with those players. You cannot copy and apply the same to Paris, Helsinki or Japan. Culture and its social norms have a great influence on the game.
Tarantino was asked one day where he learned to make those spectacular movies that he makes. He replied that he didn’t go to any school, that he went to the cinema. Joan Cortés never tired of repeating that to play basketball—or any other sport— is learned by playing. You learn to coach by coaching.
Don’t be a monkey: Doubt everything —as Pep Guardiola and Martí Perarnau taught me— and abandon “that is how it has always been done”.
Leave an empty space for all those lessons you don’t expect, for all the things you don’t know that you don’t know... and that the path will give you. Sport, like this world, is dynamic —not static— and constantly evolving. The recipes and truths of today are no longer valid tomorrow. Get ready to adjust the sails when the winds of change blow.
Coach with blood. No one regrets being brave, being a coward is not worth it. Integrity is expensive. Stay true to your values. I learned this from Raul Martínez and his “if you don’t like it… sack me out!”
I am not so convinced, but I would swear that no one regrets being a good person either. One sees in the world what is in one’s heart.
May you never lack the unconditional smile.
And last, but not least… The passion for what you do. I doubt it can be learned. It was perfectly explained by Pep Guardiola in the Parliament of Catalonia and Estrella Damm on its spot. If there was any “secret” to become a great coach, I think it would be this one.
Martí Cañellas | Fosbury Flop
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