I’m certainly not someone that deliberately planned to become a coach at any point, in fact all the way through my life’s journey up until now I have generally responded to external calls to coach from others and have entered into the world of performance coaching with some trepidation. Before my transition into full time coaching my biggest doubt was whether I had really achieved all that I wanted to in my own pursuits before committing to help others with theirs. I sincerely believe you cannot coach others effectively if you are still cultivating your own personal ambitions in a parallel field at the same time. This doubt kept me at arms length from going full throttle with coaching for some time before I finally decided everything felt right to make the move. In that sense I fully support the assertions that some coaches have made that coaching is something that calls you, in a way that you can’t ignore. For me this has always been the case.
When I’m coaching athletes to enable them to perform to the best of their ability in competitive environments I essentially pull on 3 key areas that are heavily woven into my background. These are:
1) my own personal experience of elite level competition and high performance
2) my deep background in applied science and applied data analysis
3) my intuitive sense of how to get the most out of others around me
The third area pulls together a number of innate traits linked to my personality that in my opinion cannot be taught. These traits include fantastic communication skill (in all methods of communication), high levels of emotional and situational intelligence and a natural ability to motivate, inspire and act as a role model. So where do these attributes come from? Well largely from upbringing and background experience. Here’s more on my slightly convoluted background.
emotional and situational intelligence
Some authors and commentators have suggested that extra-ordinary performance can often come from people who fought their way through adversity or just plain unique childhoods. Although the home I grew up in was stable, learning to develop in my early days in a white neighbourhood as a mixed race, part British and part Kenyan kid wasn’t easy. Racism, bullying and fist fights were common. And I as many did, I saw just two choices. Get trodden on and go on to achieve little, or fight back every time, give as good as you got and go onto achieve something. Having a significant excess of psychological resilience as I grew older helped me to battle through where others gave up and walked away.
At the age 11 I was very fortunate the be the right kid, of the right age, in the right place, to pass the necessary exams and interviews and be accepted into one of the oldest and most prestigious top 10 ranked schools in the UK at the time, Maidstone Grammar School. From 11 I was immersed, 5 days a week in a culture of educational ultra high performance, learning and competing alongside some of the smartest and most successful teenagers imaginable. Thanks to incredible guidance from amazing teachers with PhD’s in the subjects they were teaching and the camaraderie of fellow students, I went on to win multiple national titles in numerous events and sports. Something that in most schools would have been extra-ordinary but in mine were considered status quo.
a culture of ultra high performance
Before I eventually decided to go to university and get an extended education I had a long love affair with the air force and flying. I first went flying in a Dehavilland Chipmunk twin seater when I was 12 with my first ever air force instructor. By 15 I had flown several ‘dummy’ solos in British Aerospace Bulldogs. On turning 16 I flew my first full solo in a Grob Tutor. I loved flying like nothing else but flying with the air force was something different. Fast jet pilot training in the UK is one of the most intense, high pressure roller coaster rides you can embark on. From 4000 applicants at the start of the process, only 1-2 in my stream made it to the end of single seat training. The other guy that made it was a buddy of mine, Brad. Whilst school taught me a lot about about being immersed in a high performance culture, it was my time with the RAF that taught me what it takes to be the best of best and realise your childhood dreams. After winning numerous scholarships and later a cadetship, the Air Squadron Trophy 3 consecutive times, a Dehavilland medal, the Sir John Thompson Sword and the Sword of Honour I guess I must have picked the right path to pursue in my life at that time. If nothing else pilot training experience definitely separates out those who switch on when the pressure mounts versus those who don’t or can’t.
what it takes to realise your childhood dreams
Although I had climbed for most of my life and, as I learned later, also came from a climber family (back to my grandfather) outdoor adventure climbing for some reason didn’t give me everything I craved on its own. I needed more pressure and more head to head competition. So in hindsight it wasn’t in any way strange that I gravitated more and more toward competitions over time. I first started competing in climbing in UK regional events at the age of 15. In my first year of university whilst living in Leeds (a major climbing mecca of the time) I started to compete nationally and then later internationally. Then at 27 I began immersing myself in World Cup and World Championship competition with more and more intense focus on one goal. Becoming world number 1. In the end when it came to the time of making the decision to retire from competing I hadn’t achieved that target, however I had at least put in some world champion like performances, pushed forward standards in training and racked up 31 international appearances in total over the years representing GB. From all the years of competing I learned more about high performance thinking and methods than I could ever write here. There were big highs and real deep lows and some ridiculously intense experiences all of which to some extent shape the coach I am today.
big highs and real deep lows
After 12 or so years as a scientist working in different industries at different levels of seniority I’ve had the great pleasure of meeting many thousands of people all over the world, all of which had deep educations, a thirst to understand and explain the world and very high levels of professionalism. The need to communicate effectively is paramount, especially when the decisions you are making are worth $100million or even $1billion dollars. The importance of performing data collection and analysis thoroughly is also extremely high. Just one simple error that goes unchecked could be $100million sunk into the wrong business opportunity. During my most prolific period in professional scientific work I was the global focal point for assessing possible investment decisions. My task was to go to some international location and sit in a room for 2-5 hours with stacks and stacks of data, sort through all of it, makes sense of the critical bits and analyse if this was a huge opportunity worth investing millions into or whether it was just a waste of money that should be avoided. As you can imagine this was a job that was swamped in risk and uncertainty and the constant weighing up of risk and uncertainty against the chance of a future stellar success. This was for me by far the biggest attribute I developed over the years of performing this work. The ability to operate in an environment of high future uncertainty and still make solid decisions that result in long term success.
high uncertainty but still make good decisions
I began coaching originally back in 2007/8. I was working out in the climbing gym and someone approached me, wanting to learn how I was training and wanting to train with me. This climbers dream was to compete internationally. A year later that dream came true. A few years later whilst taking a time out from competing myself I decided to go to Switzerland and watch a competition from the ‘outside’. I wanted to figure out what was making the best climbers in the world so good and so consistent. So I ended up spending 3 days shooting slow motion video, collecting data and making notes to pull apart why some climbers performed better than others on the day. Although I didn’t appreciate it at the time this was my natural tendency of blending science and coaching together that was to become my trademark coaching style.
blending science and coaching
On moving to Denmark in 2009 I decided I wanted to create my own training lab and to test and develop new advanced training methods. That gym went on to run for almost 4 years and was later relocated to Canada where it ran for another 2 years in close to its original form. During this time of experimentation and innovation I began using wearable technology not yet available to consumers (sent from a university research department) to assess movement biomechanics and efficiency in climbing. A field that I’ve spent the last 5 years developing. The last 3 years in running. This is one theme that still holds true today. Even now, I still have to have a training lab, slash gym, slash incubator space where I can run tests, collect data and develop my coaching skills in a hands on empirical way.
an incubator space to developing coaching skills
That said data collection and innovation was not enough on its own, I had to be able to apply it. And so whenever I was approached by athletes to coach them I inevitably took up the offer. In 2014 I had my first break through moment, when a climber I had been helping for 18 months took their world ranking from 33rd to 4th. This was a major milestone for me. Although by this point I had coached a variety of people in sport as well as individuals and teams in the work place I didn’t yet have any evidence-based validation that I could help someone go to the top. This was likely the time when I knew in my head that I could and that high performance coaching was where I could have the greatest success. Since then I have gone on to help numerous athletes across various sports to break PR’s, win events or step-up to national or international level. All with a sense of inner confidence that had taken many years to build and accumulate.
So this was a long winded hike through my background in high performance and in coaching. For fear of making this post unreadably long I’ve omitted some other jobs and experiences that occurred along the way. But these are the key highlights that steered me to where I am and who I am today. These are my ingredients into my personal coaching style. My own biased view on coaching in sport is that if you can blend some personal background of having been there and done it yourself, with a rigorous scientific appreciation and understanding and most importantly an innate gift for communication and emotional intelligence then you definitely have a great shot at being a fantastic high performance coach.
Malc Kent. Coach. Cochrane, Alberta