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KGB Vol 3: The most powerful 2 word combo in coaching…NOTICE & NAME

Inspiring change in yourself or others is difficult. Our natural tendency is to blame others and only those of us who chose to look inward with positive intent will be able to objectively assess a situation and come out on the other side with something actionable to either stay the course or make a change that serves a better end.

Being “hard” is a common attitude in most all sports. In contact sports, it is pretty much a culture. For coaches and athletes alike, this always-be-tough mentality can become a wall that prevents us from looking inward and trying to understand ourselves or others on a more productive level. 

Through my years of coaching and rehabbing both athletes and non-athletes, I have tried to live and teach a message of compassion, both for my patients and players as well as myself. One of the most powerful lessons I have learned on my journey is a concept that was introduced to me through the Precision Nutrition coaching program. It is a simple but powerful technique that can be applied in many different settings: “Notice and Name.”To this I would add that we also need to take action and “Tame” or master the issue at hand. If this process does not end in something actionable, it can lose much of its value. 

This strategy that enhances mindfulness is particularly important when it comes to addressing conflict or encouraging participation from other parties in any interaction. The technique is priceless when trying to improve “self talk” and the way we learn to treat ourselves. In the world of coaching, it is important to bring attention to a certain outcome, feeling, behavior, etc. This is the definition of notice. Once you have taken a moment to appreciate the current situation, using the notice concept should validate and reinforce the positives or create a safe space in which to address the negatives. This approach often needs to be taught to athletes and coaches alike. Humans by nature are not well-equipped to handle adversity without emotion. Coping skills must be learned and applied from a young age and in multiple scenarios. (more on this)

Now that we have established awareness and taken the time to notice the interactions between ourselves and others, the name protocol can be used to identify factors that may have led to that moment. By using the powers of objective observation, we can avoid emotional conflicts and encourage engagement in ourselves or others. Coaches and mentors take great pride in their ability to help others achieve success. These achievements only come through collaboration and no one party can overstate their singular value in the process. 

Use of this dynamic shouldn’t be limited to just team or coaching interactions. On the personal side, the same benefits of this paradigm are true. If we can honestly motivate ourselves with self-compassion, it can be much easier to make actionable decisions. Taking action needs to be the final result of the notice and name tool. Taking action or “taming” the problem should always be the result. This “take action” dynamic can be a powerful example for others around us.

Let me give you a couple of examples of how to implement this concept:

Setting a goal is something that nearly all of us do. Achieving that goal is not always a given. A common goal both in and out of sport is creating body composition changes. At some time in a coach’s career, they will have to deal with a highly-skilled athlete who needs to make some changes in body composition to maximize their talents. This can be a very difficult conversation to have, especially with a young athlete. 

Things can go several ways in this interaction, but the outcome needs to include something actionable as a takeaway. You will either get full commitment or varying degrees of avoidance. Drilling down on a lack of buy-in requires some improved communication and requires participation from both parties. Here is a “notice and name” example that could be useful:

  • What you notice: Increasing scale weight during daily team weigh-ins over the past three weeks. This is actual data that can be discussed; how a player “looks” is not a safe place to start a discussion about improvements. Use relevant data whenever possible to open these conversations.
  • How to name the situation: List factors that could be contributing to weight gain. As a coach, this is a time to take ownership, if possible. Are we providing the appropriate training environment for our players? This is also the time to encourage ownership in the athlete. Really listen to their list of reasons and look for solutions together. Ask the athlete if they have any ideas for improvement or what has worked for them in the past. This is also the time to squash excuses that undeservedly pass the blame to others. Listening and collaborating will help you tread the fine line when taking ownership as a coach that will not give the athlete an escape.
  • Make a plan to tame the challenge: Agree to the steps that will be taken and the metrics that will be used to assess success. Plan a follow-up conversation with enough time for action to take place. 

Hopefully, we’ve established it now — an open conversation that should lead to something actionable. Listening to the responses and reactions of the player should trigger an observable action.

Another scenario in which this technique can yield both awareness and improvement is when a coach detects significant changes in an athlete’s performance, either good or bad. If the changes are good, maybe the technique should be revised to “notice-name-celebrate.” Teaching your athletes to use this notice and name strategy when things are good is just as impactful as teaching them to do it when their back is against the wall. When things are going well, we want to name the efforts or habits that have been leading to the desired outcome. Bring attention to the process just as much as the end result and this will encourage a productive mentality in the player. Too often we create a t-shirt with a cliche like “trust the process” emblazoned on it and simply hope our athletes buy in, but we never really teach them about the process. 

If the deviation is leading to poor performance, the issue must be addressed. The ebb and flow of performance levels are situations that coaches and individuals deal with every day. I work in a one-on-one setting 90% of the time, but I think there are some universal truths to plugging in to individuals’ psychology and motivation to move them to better performance and most certainly these individual improvements benefit the team. This is, no doubt, a personal development moment for any coach or athlete. Think about “notice and name” from this viewpoint: As a coach, are you able to prompt action through conversations that are being conducted in performance reviews?  Depending on how you answer that question, you may need to “name” factors that are contributing to your answer. What are you doing well? What can you do better? Empowering the athlete is always the goal, not establishing or exercising your own power as a leader.

In addressing an individual dealing with performance changes, it is important to recognize that the brain (and the heart) can be sensitive to criticism. Learning to objectively handle both praise and critique from yourself and from others may take some cultivating. Accepting critique is not just reserved for the players, but is also a quality that must be practiced and applied with the same vigor by those in leadership. In the end, it is important to learn to slow down and take a moment to notice the situation you find yourself in. Objectively name the steps that led up to this moment. And, finally, for maximum results, take action and tame the situation by laying out actions or behaviors that support your goals. 

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