Understanding High Performing Athletes

A Research Paper By Florence Schelling, High-Performance and Development Coach, SWITZERLAND

High Performing Athletes Florence Schelling_Coaching_Research_Paper

High Performing Athletes Journey at the Ochsner Hockey Academy

Franco Collenberg is a former professional ice hockey player and is now a certified brain trainer, integral, mental, and fitness coach. He developed the Academy M.A.P. model for athletes in ice hockey. The model is based on the fact that athletes are much more than robots in equipment. The Academy M.A.P. takes care of the person in the equipment: with all daily development issues, personality and mentality, performance and lifestyle, goals and dreams. But also with any blockages, hurdles, and problems. And lastly, it keeps in mind the complex environment and the expectations in which the athletes operate.

For the last two years, Franco worked at the Ochsner Hockey Academy, where there are yearly over 2’200 ice hockey players participating at different hockey camps throughout the off-season. The hockey camps are packed with different programs such as brain training, yoga, personal development coaching, and so on. It’s all about developing the ice hockey player in a 360° perspective on and off the ice. For the past three years, I was an on-ice coach at these camps and therefore met Franco when he started his journey at the Ochsner Hockey Academy.

Since I have a high interest in high-performing athletes and my ultimate goal is to have athletes as my clients, I interviewed Franco on the topic of high-performing athletes. The goal was to get his input on his experience and observations he made as an academy coach but also the same on his playing time as a professional. The interview was conducted in a very laid-back environment in German and is now being translated into English. It took place during one of those camps we both worked at.

What comes to your mind when you hear High Performing Athletes?

Franco: I would not want to generalize what comes to my mind. Every single athlete is different and high-performance looks different for a professional hockey player than a high-performing youth hockey player.

Although you don’t want to generalize it, what are the similarities between a high-performer in professional hockey and a high-performer in youth hockey?

Franco: A vision and determination. All of them have a vision of where they want to go, mostly the NHL. Then they have the determination to do whatever they need to do to achieve this vision of theirs. They behave like sponges when they are around coaches and in situations where they can try things outside of the box. At this camp, we invited Roger Müller who’s become an official Shaolin student at the Shi Yong Xin temple in China. He told his life story about being Swiss and becoming a Shaolin student in China. Additionally, he did a kong fu lesson with all the hockey players at the camp. People might think this is weird, you want to play and learn about hockey at a hockey camp. Now somebody is talking about and doing kong fu. High-performers soak this up, they ask questions and want to figure out the synergies the two sports have, and much more. This is something I have observed with professionals and youth hockey players that are high performers.

Ice Hockey Player Support System

That sounds great, thank you for sharing that. To finish it up, what advice would you give to a young hockey player or their parents to reach high performance?

Franco: At the professional level, it is clear that you need to have the right on-ice skills. If you’re not skilled, you’re not going to make it. So at the NHL level, every player is skilled. The difference between a first-line player and a player that only plays a couple of minutes a night, if at all, is his ability next to the club’s resources. Every player has to have a support system around them. This needs to be created with the people that they feel they need the most. For some, that’s a sports psychologist, a masseuse, a strength and conditioning coach, skills coach, nutritionist, etc. You name it, some even need a personal stylist.

Understanding High Performing Athletes 1

When joining a team, as an ice hockey player, you have little to absolutely no say in who the coaches are going to be. You have to accept whoever it ends up being. Sometimes you are lucky and you get a coach that is right up your alley and works with you and believes in you. The coach’s philosophy is your philosophy and all that. Other times you might be unlucky, and the coaches are not your favorite. You feel like you cannot get his trust, you don’t develop, and so on. As a professional, you need to be able to handle these different circumstances and therefore a private support system is so essential. This support system is put together and chosen by the player. It can also be replaced if things don’t work out as planned.

This is very insightful, thank you. As a former professional yourself, how did you deal with situations when you were not on the same page as the coaches?

Franco: I don’t see on the branch I’m sitting on.

So, did you have your support system?

Franco: I had some people outside of the club. Unfortunately, I realized it too late that this could have helped me develop more. The last couple of years in my professional career I had a support system that was good for me.

Ice hockey is a team sport. With the Academy M.A.P., you want to develop the athlete as someone more than just a robot with equipment. What approach do you take in terms of team development versus individual development?

Franco: It’s a fine line between individual development and team development. At the professional club level, nobody cares about individual development anymore. It’s all about team performance and the sense of result-orientation. Results are all that matters at the professional stage. When you don’t perform, you’re out. So, at the professional level, individual development takes place outside of the club practices and so on. It becomes your responsibility.

At the youth level, or even in non-results-oriented clubs, you can work a lot more with individual player development, on and off the ice.

At the youth level then, how do you go about having high performers on the team and some regular ones?

Franco: That’s a very difficult task. I don’t think anybody has found the right path on how to go about this issue in youth hockey to ensure that there’s a good balance between high performers and regular players and how to promote their development.

When talking about balance at the youth level, what ways are there to balance the team development in terms of tactics and the individual player in terms of technique to reach high performance?

Franco: That’s difficult to balance. Both should be very important, but time is limited. There’s a certain amount of pressure on the coach to win games – even at the youth level. There are coaches out there that emphasize individual player development but I don’t know what kind of contracts they have. In sports, coaches worry about losing their job when success doesn’t come promptly.

In your playing time, how did you experience this balance?

Franco: There was no balance. Individual player development was something that came up later when I was already at the professional level. We usually call it the old-school hockey coaching. That’s when the coach was just screaming and yelling at the players and you were not able to talk back. Either you did what the coach said or you were punished. Those coaches are not around anymore, or they completely adapted their coaching style to the newer generations of hockey players.

At the youth level though, I did not receive that individual development coaching. When it started, I was a professional, and the results mattered.

Looking back, what could your career have looked like if you would have received that individual development with the knowledge you have now?

Franco: I could have benefited greatly from it. That’s the reason why I’m a coach now. I want all hockey players to benefit from the Academy M.A.P. and see their value beyond the hockey equipment. I can’t say if I would have been more successful with the individual development, but the mindset and the determination and vision were there. It would surely have helped me in breaking down the vision and creating smaller goals along the way – so preaching what you coach (he knows my philosophy and referred to it here).

How’s your work at the academy impacting those hockey players in becoming high performers?

Franco: The work that I do at the academy camps is the start of a potential future partnership with the athlete. During a five-day camp, all players have one mindset session, two academy m.a.p. sessions, and one session of brain training. These different sessions give the athlete a broad insight into what kind of options are out there to improve their on-ice performance and become that high-performing athlete.

Some athletes will make major improvements already during those couple of sessions, others might make minimal improvements. All make improvements though. It’s about showing them different ways of training, that ice hockey training doesn’t just happen on the ice but also off the ice with a strength and conditioning coach but also on the mental side with your brain.

During the mindset session, we talk about their expectations of the camp, creating this awareness on why they are here and what they want to have achieved by the end of the camp. We talk about potential threats and distractions to this goal and so on.

In the m.a.p. sessions we talk about the visualization of certain emotions and how the same thing looks completely different for every athlete. An example I usually like to bring up that creates a lightbulb moment for the players is when I wear a watch on my left wrist. And I ask somebody that stands diagonally from me on the right side, is the watch on the left or right of you? The person would answer to the right. If I flip that person to the other side – diagonally to the left, the watch would be on their left side. A simple example of how 2 people look at the same thing, yet have a different perspective.

This example is usually very insightful and the players realize that rather than looking left and right at what others are doing or not doing, they should keep the focus on themselves.

In brain training, we work on coordinating the brain with the body movements. Lots of colors and balls are involved. For example, when you hear red, you have to do a burpee, if you hear green, you do a jumping jack, etc. The more colors and movements that are involved, the harder the challenge for the player. You add some speed to it and maybe sometimes throw some balls.

In those sessions, we only touch on the surface of the different topics. The goal is to see what they like and what works for them. In the end, it’s their decision whether they want to continue to work with me and the academy m.a.p. or not. At least now they know that they have this kind of option.

That sounds great, thank you for sharing that. To finish it up, what advice would you give to a young hockey player or their parents to reach high performance?

Franco: My best suggestions or piece of advice would be to from a young age up, create your support system so that you can continuously develop yourself and not depend on what the club is doing. The more you do for yourself, the more you do outside of the box, the more you will be able to grow. Even if you try something for just a couple of sessions and then realize that this was not it for you, you can drop it again. At least you tried and now you know. Stick to what you love!

That’s a fantastic piece of advice. Thank you very much Franco for taking the time to answer my questions and I wish you all the best.

Franco: Thank you Florence and all the best to you as well.

Original source: https://coachcampus.com/coach-portfolios/research-papers/high-performing-athletes/

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