If you want to become a better golfer, you head over to the club shop and enlist the services of a pro to coach you. Likewise, if you’re struggling to keep your head and make the right plays at the poker table you invest in a poker coach.
Asking for expert help when you’re a beginner seems like a logical step to take, but what about when you’re the best of the best? Surely Cristiano Ronaldo, Lewis Hamilton and LeBron James have nothing to learn from coaches that are not and were never as technically gifted as them? Wrong.
Even the best sportsmen in the world have something to gain from working with a personal coach and in this article, we’ll show you exactly why elite performers rely on coaches to keep them at the top of their game.
The Jockey & The Horse
In 1973 Secretariat won the Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths, the largest margin of victory in the racecourse’s history. The horse’s winning time of 2 minutes and 24 seconds still stands to this day as the American record for a mile and a half on a dirt track.
Prior to the race many experts and bookmakers predicted that the horse would lose the race, despite the horse being by far the fastest animal on the track. Whilst Secretariat’s speed was undoubted, question marks remained over the horse’s ability to regulate its pace successfully and not suffer burnout.
The horse managed to navigate these problems well, conserving energy on the slower parts of the course before displaying its explosive pace on the straights. The credit for this performance went to jockey Ron Turcotte.
Without his tactical mastery, Secretariat would have burst out of the blocks and blown up after a half a mile with fatigue. The horse may have had all the physical attributes and natural talent to win the race, but without the guidance of the jockey it would not have set an unbreakable racing record.
This analogy is true of all sports and is of course why we have coaches, the people that harness natural talent and guide those who possess it to great heights.
To explore this idea of coaches harnessing natural talent further let’s travel back to 1999 and the Italian city of Turin…
Thierry Henry & Arsene Wenger
In 1999 French winger Thierry Henry made the move from Monaco to Italian giants Juventus. The fanfare surrounding his arrival was palpable, known for his blistering pace and raw finishing ability, Henry was one of the hottest properties in European football.
His coach at Juventus, Carlo Ancelotti was unimpressed with his finishing ability though and deployed him either out on the left wing or on occasion as a much deeper wing-back.
Henry’s relationship with his coach and the Juventus hierarchy quickly soured and just 8 months after his arrival in Turin, Henry was promptly shipped out to English Premiership side Arsenal.
There was consternation amongst the English press about Henry’s signing, with many seeing him as an expensive European flop. However, his coach Arsene Wenger had total faith in his abilities, but not as a winger or a wing-back, instead as a striker.
Wenger had worked with Henry before when he was managing Monaco and recalled how the player had all the attributes to become a world-class striker. Almost immediately on his arrival at Arsenal, Henry was deployed as an almost inside forward.
Dennis Bergkamp was primarily used as a central foil to allow Henry to drift in from wide positions and use his pace to burst past central defenders. This role proved to be highly effective with Henry notching 28 goals in 48 games in his first full season with the Gunners.
Over the years the French forward would go on to master the role given to him by Wenger, becoming the club’s all-time leading goal scorer by the time he left for Barcelona in 2006.
Without this guidance from Wenger – the recognition of his attributes and the reshaping of his role – Henry would not have gone on to score 226 goals for Arsenal and be regarded as one of the best to have ever played in England’s topflight.
However, it is not always the role of a revolutionary manager that helps to harness a player’s ability and shape their careers. Sometimes, it is the lesser heralded personal coach that makes all the difference to a player’s career.
LeBron James & Mike Mancias
The King as he is known has racked up four regular season MVP’s, three final MVP’s and is the only player in NBA history to rank top 10 in all-time points and assists. There’s no question that LeBron James is one of the greatest players to have ever played basketball.
Even though he is naturally gifted, LeBron James still recognises the importance of a personal coach in his career development. In the autumn of 2003 James enlisted the help of Mike Mancias to improve his fitness and has been working with him ever since.
Mancias plays a pivotal role in ensuring that James is at the top of his game physically, looking after his strength, conditioning, recovery and even mental preparedness. James has credited Mancias with giving him that extra 5% that makes all the difference in crunch games.
Without the guidance of Mancias, we wouldn’t be speaking about LeBron James as one of the greatest players of all-time.
Whether it be a tactically minded coach that discovers a player’s best role, a fitness coach that keeps a player fighting till the death or a psychologist that resolves a lack of confidence, personal coaches are vital in elite sport.
The differences between a player plying their trade at a mid-table Premier League club and a European superstar are minimal. Personal coaches who can get marginal gains out of players are therefore so important at the highest reaches of professional sport.
Without them, the world could very well be devoid of some truly great and inspirational sportsmen and women.