Creating a Culture of Excellence: SVSEF Benefits from Workshop with Dr. Wade Gilbert

Leading the discussion at the Community School Theater.

Continuing education is a widely-applied concept; doctors jet off to conferences to learn about new processes, new findings, new techniques. Graphic designers, business owners and chefs alike take advantage of similar opportunities to stay on top of the latest and greatest in their respective industries. For athletic coaches, it’s no different. Educational development in the field of coaching allows for a larger knowledgebase, and the potential for greater impact on athletes.

With this in mind, SVSEF hosted a two-day workshop on October 13 and 14, geared towards coaches and staff, athletes and parents. SVSEF Athletic Director Phil McNichol spoke to why the organization orchestrated the event. “Great coaches are those who view themselves as teachers and are on a constant quest for continued learning and improvement. We are just doing our best to provide quality opportunities for coaches to advance their craft.”

The aim of the workshop was to provide accessible opportunities for learning, and to open up discussion about how we, both as an organization and as individuals, can improve. “Our goal for the organization and staff was to explore our purpose, and why we provide programs and coach sport,” said McNichol. “This is the first step in gaining a deeper understanding of team values and how we can better apply a framework of coaching principles.”

The workshop was conducted by Dr. Wade Gilbert, an award-winning professor and internationally renowned coaching scientist in the Department of Kinesiology at California State University, Fresno. With 25 years of experience conducting applied research and workshops and being involved with coaches and organizations all over the world and at a large variety of competitive levels, Gilbert brought a wealth of knowledge in physical education, human kinetics and education to his workshops in Sun Valley.

McNichol expounded on the level of professionalism Gilbert brought to the talks. “Dr. Gilbert is a leading expert in the science of coaching, talent development and sport organization principles. His work is grounded in applied knowledge through scientific research. It provides the framework to build organizations around a culture of excellence and quality coaching. This workshop was all about what SVSEF strives to be.”

SVSEF Athletic Director Phil McNichol, board member Steve Porino, Dr. Gilbert and Lisa Dirksmeier at the parent discussion.

Two sessions were geared towards coaches and staff, and addressed the ideas of building a culture of competitive excellence and becoming a better coach. Gilbert opened up discussion by sharing his intention for the workshop: he wanted participants to leave with a good view of the patterns and principles of the organization and to engage in critical reflection, in order to better identify where and how improvements can be made. He explained ways in which, on both a personal and organizational level, we can shape behavior and mold a culture that is supportive, evolving and moving towards success. Gilbert drove home his argument that in order to instill behavioral changes, it’s the environment that needs to be cultivated and shaped, by bringing to light insightful testimony to this effect. Setting up a learning community, implementing detailed action plans and focusing on the quality of coaching are all key to making this happen. The workshop encouraged discussion and sharing, with individual and group exercises interspersed between lecture segments.

A separate session invited older SVSEF athletes to delve into their personal and team process and journey. It was intended to expose them to concepts and methods that, if applied, will help them improve as they continue involvement in sport. The series closed on Saturday night with a parent-focused talk, which provided access to research and information on sound athlete development. Gilbert started by asking parents why they put their children in sport – the answers varied from wanting kids to have a sense of sportsmanship and friendship, to hoping they learned about how the body works and moves, to simply wanting them to have fun.

Gilbert pointed out, in support of these answers, that involving kids in sports shouldn’t be thought of as an investment – that the return on investment is in the here and now. Statistics show a surprising drop in numbers of youths in sport; whereas 45% of U.S. kids ages six through 12 played team sports 2008, it has since dropped to 37%. In an industry that is unique from international counterparts (other countries have federal resources that govern sports, and along with that, governing bodies and restrictions), Gilbert encouraged an open mind and a focus on the top reason why kids start athletics in the first place: to have fun.

McNichol, who has worked at a national, elite level as head coach of the U.S. Ski Team, has been to many clinics, conferences and presentations on coaching and sport development. His takeaway from Gilbert’s workshop was that it was by far the most impactful he has attended. “This was not unexpected,” said McNichol,  “as I knew something of Dr. Gilbert and his material. However, I had not anticipated so much verification of what works in coaching and team management. Nor did I expect to learn so much about the science that is now confirming and supporting these principles.”

SVSEF is continuously looking to improve the quality of coaching, learning, and experience for its athletes; workshops like this one help the organization to continue moving in that direction.

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