Harnessing Time for Optimal Performance
Coaches often grapple with the elusive concept of time management. For over 20 years, I chased this dog’s tail over and over. To solve problems, you need innovative ideas. If the problems are complex, you must have uninterrupted time to focus, learn and adapt. All of these are very hard to come by in the continuous cycle of coaching student-athletes. Here are some comments for reference. One I personally just received and a few we can all read anywhere discussing the toll on our profession:
“For the number of hours that a coach puts in these days, it takes a lot out of you as a coach.”
“I am overwhelmed trying to hire staff, and prep for spring ball, and run the strength program, and keep kids eligible, and get fundraising going, and be a husband and dad.”
“I’ve come to the decision that the demands of this position are not viable for me long term as it relates to time with my wife and two young children as well as my mental health.”
“This job is 24/7, 365, and it is hard to build in recovery skills... I didn’t have someone to talk to, I didn’t have recovery skills… There is no downtime.”
In football, many of us referred to a “Football Quality of Life” that we aspire to have. A place where you felt you can keep your head above water; be present with your family while not feeling you are letting down the program. Without this ‘Quality of Life', I have been heard saying, and so have many others, you feel you are losing on all fronts. This is certainly not the most effective way to lead others.
Any steps you consider taking also take time, effort, and commitment. So a viscous cycle ensues. "If you're always racing to the next moment, what happens to the one you're in?" - Jill Konrath
Understanding time and recognizing the right moment to take action are distinct concepts. For meaningful change in your time management habits and efficiency, you need to engage with the right information when you're primed for it. The strategies shared next will only be effective if the moment is right for you. If you're still with me, I'd wager this is your moment to act.
So what is it that is working for a few at the top that can be easily implemented by any of us in this situation? Here is a foundation to build from that I believe is very important for coaches. Why do I say that? According to Dr. Diedorff from DePaul University, “time management is defined as the decision-making process that structures, protects, and adjusts a person’s time to changing environmental conditions.” He goes on to identify three particular skills that, when dealt with in whole, lead to success.
- Awareness - Thinking realistically about your time by understanding it is a limited resource.
- Arrangement - Designing and organizing your goals, plans, schedule, and tasks to effectively use time.
- Adaptation - Monitoring your use of time while performing activities, including adjusting to interruptions or changing priorities
When I first read these, it seemed common sense. Unfortunately, like most of us, I often take on a challenge or task with likely the first of the above in mind, and the last being the least considered.
The best of us do two things consistently. They have clearly defined time segments to focus and work while making sure they are free of distraction. These segments can be as short as five minutes. You’d be surprised what you can really do when you are in the right frame of mind, undistracted and focused for five minutes.
Take inventory of your process. Note the reality of the situation versus your expectation. There are a lot of tools and apps to help you stay consistent and efficient with this. As a coach, here is what you can do Today, Next Week and Next Month to build or improve your habits in this area:
Identify your Peak Times - Inspired by Daniel Pink's "When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing," determine your personal peak performance times, troughs, and recoveries throughout the day. Everyone's internal clock is different, but most of us follow a pattern of peak-alertness in the morning, a trough in the afternoon, and a recovery period in the late afternoon or evening. Use this understanding to schedule your most important, high-focus tasks for your peak periods.
Start a Time Log - Following the advice of Elon Musk, who is known for his precise time-blocking method, start keeping a log of how you spend your time, even if it's just for one day. This will help you to understand where your time goes and identify potential areas for improvement.
Adopt Agile Time Management - Borrowing from the world of business, we can look to the Agile methodology, a concept that successful entrepreneurs like Elon Musk and Gary Vaynerchuk swear by. It's about breaking your day into smaller, focused "sprints" and having tangible outcomes for each. Unlike traditional time blocking, Agile management encourages flexibility and responsiveness to change. For instance, you might set a 'sprint' for assessing individual athletes' performance data, another for strategizing training adjustments, and so forth. It allows you to nimbly shift focus as needed while maintaining productivity. This method helps you to stay adaptable, a crucial trait in the dynamic environment of coaching.
Start a 5-Minute Focus Practice - Using Tony Robbins' principle of "chunking," break your tasks down into smaller, manageable parts. Group similar tasks together and dedicate five minutes of complete focus to each part. You might be surprised by how much you can accomplish in these focused bursts.
Review and Refine - Gary Vaynerchuk emphasizes the importance of continuous learning and adapting. After a month of implementing these new practices, review your time log and evaluate what's working and what's not. Make necessary adjustments to your schedule and practices.
Invest in the Right Tools - Like Robin Sharma, author of "The 5 AM Club," suggests, leverage technology to improve productivity. Consider adopting a digital tool or platform that simplifies tracking and monitoring your athletes. Such a tool can save you precious minutes each day, allowing you to invest more time in strategic planning and one-on-one coaching.
The coaching profession, for all its demands and trials, serves a vital role in our society. Coaches, at their best, are not just trainers but mentors, role models, and sources of inspiration to countless young athletes. The lessons they impart often extend beyond the field or court, helping shape the character and resilience of individuals who will eventually become leaders and contributors in their own right.
However, for us to continue to inspire and lead effectively, we must first ensure our own well-being. Time management is a crucial element of this. As coaches, we are often faced with a relentless cycle of tasks and responsibilities, leaving us little space for reflection, growth, or even basic rest. This is not sustainable, nor does it model the balance and self-care we want to instill in our athletes.
By better managing our time, we can create space for our own growth and rejuvenation, ensuring that we bring our best selves to our roles each day. In doing so, we can more effectively support our athletes, fostering their development and resilience. And this effect, in turn, cascades down - each athlete we influence carries those lessons forward, impacting their own circles and communities, creating a ripple effect that extends far beyond our initial reach.
Ultimately, the challenge of time management in coaching is more than a personal or professional issue; it's a matter of legacy. Our ability to manage our time effectively directly influences the quality of mentorship we can provide. And that mentorship can shape the trajectory of countless lives, marking them indelibly with lessons of resilience, determination, and balance.
In this light, the pursuit of effective time management is not merely a means to personal efficiency but a commitment to the future - to our athletes, to our communities, and to the lasting impact of the coaching profession.
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