David Benzel Interview


April 1, 2012

   In The Loop Articles

The following is an interview with David Benzel, founder of Growing Champions for Life. David Benzel has produced four webinars for the PSA, available in our online store, and will be presenting at the PSA Conference in Boston.

1. Briefly describe what you plan to share with the coaches at conference.

I want to spend time exploring and discussing several key issues:
• How coaches can create the most positive learning environment possible
• Why motivating athletes often doesn’t work and what we can do about it
• How coaches can gain high levels of commitment and loyalty from their athletes.

2. What experience do you have working with figure skating coaches?

The Skating Club of Boston has been my only experience so far. I’ve had considerably more experience with gymnastics, tennis, and soccer coaches.

3. Why is it important to focus on an athlete’s life journey and success in addition to their success in sport?

When we look at most sport careers in the context of an athlete’s whole life, it’s a relatively short chapter in a larger story. Yet, it is a chapter that often has defining elements for how an athlete thinks of himself/herself for years to come. For this reason a coach’s influence can have far-reaching effects on an athlete’s life journey. Many athletes battle emotional and psychological demons throughout their adult lives due to their youth sport experience during important formative years. Coaches have an important role to play due to their influence at that time. Secondly, if coaches want to win championships, they better get busy growing champions – and that’s a character building endeavor as much as it is a skill building endeavor.

4. How can coaches help an athlete think positive when they are struggling with a skill?

Many coaches have more expertise in the cause and effect of “doing” than in the cause and effect of “thinking.” Consequently, the proportion of time spent instructing “doing” greatly outweighs instruction on “thinking.” Coaches will be more effective in this area when their coaching includes how the brain works so athletes learn to use their thinking in the most constructive way. This includes a change in how athletes use language. Ironically, the truth is that many athletes are “thinking” way too much! In many cases athletes would benefit from learning to “be” instead of “do” or think. To think positively is better than to think negatively, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to using the power of our brains.

5. What advice do you have for coaches dealing with non-supportive parents?

Communicate, communicate, and communicate! Fundamentally, all parents love their children and want the best for them. When they behave in non-supportive ways toward coaching decisions or strategies, it’s always due to either the fear or the pride than from insufficient understanding. In the absence of good information, parents make up stuff. Parents are almost always supportive to the degree that they trust a coach. Coaches who choose not to communicate will have difficulty building the necessary levels of trust with parents. Frequent communication about strategies, expectation, boundaries, progress, and roles can help get everyone on the same page.

6. How can athletes keep a good balance of their sport and their life outside the sport?

The athletes who most successfully balance sport and life have been taught by their parents and coaches that skating is something they do, it is not who they are. In addition, they’ve been taught to appreciate who they are in the other arenas of life. For this reason, children perceive their true value in many social contexts and are not limited to defining themselves only by what they do on the ice. Balance is the by-product of that perspective.

7. How can coaches keep skating fun and increase retention rates as skills become more difficult?

Adults coaching kids can become the most UN-fun people on the planet! Kids know how to have fun – that is, until adults suppress the fun out of them. Coaches who build in “play time” and who ask their athletes how to make practice fun will discover that even hard work can be turned into fun. In that environment, retention rates go up and skating