To kick off the first DSF Coaching Conversations Podcast season I opened with speaking to my father, Stuart Foster. Stuart has been a mentor and coach for close to 30 years across the sporting and professional arenas. He not only coached myself for many years growing up but even after I moved to the USA he continued coaching and mentoring U18s teams in order to develop them as people and players.
Following a serious health experience in 2017, Stuart went on a journey of introspection and self-discovery. This process facilitated the exploration of his core values and core identity. Furthermore, he is now sharing his experience and his increased knowledge base in the area of self-care and mental fitness in the workplace.
“My core identity is about helping others and serving others and I get a lot of personal satisfaction out of performing those types of activities, or activities that give me those things. Those translate into my own personal values around compassion and connection with others, as well as growth, both growth for myself personally, and growth for the people that I’ve been fortunate enough to coach the last 25 years or so.”
While helping others grow has always been a priority for Stuart, the process of self-discovery enabled him to now be more consciously aware to live through these values through his daily interactions and relationships as he continues coaching and mentoring. Every interaction is a possibility to support and encourage, whether it be a conversation with someone who has come for help, or whether it be with the host handing over the takeaway at the weekend.
“When I think about how I’ve coached sporting teams, sometimes it’s about telling them what to do, sometimes it’s about guiding them – you still know what the answer is but you still want to give a bit of authority to the player and to the team. Finally, it’s about exploration, as the individuals and the team become far more mature you give the vehicle to the team and they explore those avenues by themselves. Then as a coach you then set them free onto the pitch.”
When I asked Stuart about his coaching style, it piggybacked off of us talking about his parenting style towards me and my sister, Shelley, that he shares with my my mother, Linda. Firstly, important to note is the fact that coaches will not have the answers and the appropriate style for every single scenario and individual that they will encounter. However, through building knowledge and experience, coaches are able to grow their toolbox in terms of interpreting situations and adapting their communication style based upon this.
Stuart’s description of tell, guide, explore and set free is something that I have discussed at many workshops and with many coaches since our conversation. It involves increasing your situational, emotional and personal awareness and adapting your coaching based upon the information gathered in a constantly evolving environment.
“What’s their body language when they first walk through the door? Are some of them really up and their ready for it, others are just rocking up because they’ve been told to turn up. It’s going to tell you a lot about the individual athlete before you’ve even asked them a question or even asked them to perform in any way.”
In the podcast Stuart asked me about the work that I do with individuals and teams and this led into a conversation about observation and connection. Observation is facilitated by the foundation of getting to know the athlete and building that relationship. You can then begin to understand their personality, know some of their world outside of sport, and recognise tendencies.
This enables you, the coach, to identify if there is something awry at a session or competition. It enables you to tap into their motivating forces to power their consistent elevated performance. It enables you to be a support system, a teacher and a cheerleader in one.
(Caveat – this is speaking about when you have the opportunity to work with the same person/group on a consistent basis; on a one-off basis, this process happens on the fly as you try to learn about the individuals and group as quickly as possible)