Interview conducted and edited by Matthew Kleiman & Taylor Allison
Editor’s note: Courtside Conversation has always highlighted court administrators, focusing on their backgrounds, their management styles, and their relationships with judges and other administrative staff. This one is different. In this interview, we’re talking with an Olympic cycling coach to show how the elements of good coaching apply and have direct application to good court administration. Successful coaching is designed to bring out the best in every individual by assessing strengths and weaknesses, setting clear expectations, and encouraging effective teamwork. Because these goals are important in every work environment, the same techniques used to manage and motivate elite athletes can have direct relevance to building and leading a high-performance team of court employees.
Jame Carney is a two-time Olympic cyclist (1992 and 2000) and a coach for the U.S. Olympic Track Cycling Team at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. He is a 22-time elite national champion and is currently the varsity cycling coach at Piedmont College.
How do you define excellence?
For me excellence is doing the best you can actually do. It is identifying what is holding you back and continually improving.
What does it take to be a great coach?
I think a great coach is someone that’s into this for the right reasons. For me that means that the athlete is the most important person; not me. I had some great coaches during my career who gave me a lot of attention and direction. These coaches truly cared and were coaching because this was their passion. However, later in my career I could have used more help and structure. I found that the learning process can be tough without guidance, so I strive to help as many people be their best as I possibly can.
I try to do the best for each of my athletes. I treat everybody the same and they know that I will stand up for them at all costs. I will always have their backs. I do a lot of listening and try and find out what they really want and what is important to them. But if they make a mistake or go down the wrong path I let them know. In these situations, it is important for me to be able to sit in front of them and honestly tell them that what they are doing is not the best way or the best answer.
What is the role of teamwork?
I strive to create an environment where everybody is on the same page. This means clearly defining individual and team goals and ensuring that these goals are important to everyone. Success comes from everyone working together. It can’t just be the athlete. It can’t just be the coach. It has to be everyone working together.
What do you expect from members of your team?
I expect honesty from the people that I work with. By being upfront and honest with one another we can build trust. And when you trust someone it makes it a lot easier to work together and do more for each other. This relationship allows me as coach to know what is holding them back or what is getting in the way and identify how I can help them develop.
How do you assess what is holding someone back?
I personally ride with everyone that I work with. Through this one-on-one time, I get to see each person’s strengths and weaknesses. Unfortunately, too many people focus solely on their strengths. My job is to convince them that working on their weaknesses is going to help them achieve what they want in the end.
Can you provide an example?
I have always been a natural sprinter. And during my career, I did very little work in practice to improve this area. I always felt that I didn’t need to work on that area, but instead I needed to work on my weaknesses. Before the 2000 Olympics people were amazed at how much time I spent climbing in the mountains in Colorado Springs. I knew that to be competitive at the Olympics I needed to be tougher than I was and that I needed to build general strength.
I believe that it is important to always be improving. When something is holding you back you need to make a decision about how to overcome this barrier. Doing the same thing over and over, and not progressing and not getting any better, is not a good strategy.
In what ways do you use data to assess performance and how does this guide improvement?
For many years we used heart rate as our indicator of effort. Now as technology has improved we are able to measure how much power (watts) is produced with each pedal stroke. With this data we can know and track how people are improving and what works and what doesn’t work.
The data is an effective tool in communicating to the athletes how they are progressing and what they need to do to get better. Instead of just pulling ideas out of thin air and telling them that “you need to do this” or “you need to do that,” we can now show them what is going on with the data. For example, we can show them that during exchanges in team pursuit they are being inefficient and their recovery is not as good as it could be. By looking at the data we identify and clearly communicate to the athletes where there are problems and then work with them on ways to improve. When the athlete is able to see the data themselves, they are more likely to buy-in to the suggested change.
What is it like to be an Olympian?
For me it was unexpected and something that I will always cherish. I am extremely proud to have been able to represent our country and I feel really blessed to have had this opportunity. I think that it is one of the things that drives me to help others try and achieve their potential.
Any final words of wisdom?
Do what you do as best as you can.
ABOUT THE EDITORS
Matthew Kleiman, Ph.D. is a Principal Court Research Consultant with the National Center for State Courts. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Taylor Allison is a J.D. candidate at the William and Mary Law School.