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Talking Performance with Jay Carter

Jay Carter is NZ Golf’s National Coach. Recently, Jay, alongside celebrated sport psychologist and friend David Galbraith, started the community and podcast, Talking Performance. Jay sat down with Andy Rogers*, National Coaching Consultant at Sport New Zealand to talk about his coaching journey; what it’s like to be mentored by, Wayne Smith; and the early beginnings of his and David Galbraith’s foray into producing a podcast for coaches.

*N.b. this interview was conducted in June 2020. 

During the midst of lock down, Jay Carter and David Galbraith started a weekly virtual conversation on “mental skills and how they relate to coaching, sport, business and life.” Early on they were able to feature some significant guests (and contributors) to their discussions, such as Wayne Smith, and Laura Langman. Much of the sector has taken note. Andy Rogers, National Coaching Consultant at Sport New Zealand, caught up with Jay to discuss the venture and his coaching journey in general. What transpired, was a compelling conversation in its own right. 

The following interview is a must read for aspiring coaches. It includes advice and insight on: 

  • Transforming from coaching sport to coaching people 
  • Getting a mentor 
  • Jay’s beliefs about learning 
  • Various tips passed on to Jay from Wayne Smith 
  • The rationale for Talking Performance 

Provide us an overview Jay, what’s your back story? How did you get involved in sport and coaching? 

I grew up in Tauranga. I grew up playing, like most Kiwi kids, every sport possible, partly as a way to not have to engage too much in school. My main sport when I was young was cricket. Played cricket, loved cricket. Played rugby, though I didn’t like contact, so rugby probably wasn’t the game for me. I played first five, so got to minimize the contact. 

When I was about 12, I took up golf. And… I fell in love with it for a whole lot of different reasons. And I wonder now, when I reflect on what I fell in love with, whether it is accurate or whether its influenced by my current mindset. 

In the 90s I moved to Wellington to work with Mal Tongue and it was fascinating. In hindsight, I was always okay as a golfer but I was never great. I would look at other guys and think, What are they doing? What can they do that I can’t do? Did they swing it better than me? I was working as hard as them and was going to the gym, I felt like I was all in, I felt like my swing was as good. And it sort of struck me, why did guys that have worse swings than me, beat me? It never really landed.  At the time, all our development work was on golf swing and videoing golf swing and changing golf swing. 

Looking back at that time, at the end of the day I got really burnt out of golf. I got to the point where I just put the clubs in the closet and didn’t touch them for ages. I see that nowadays and that’s the bit I reckon that breaks your heart as a coach, regardless of how someone’s performing, when someone falls out of love with their sport. It wasn’t until a good friend in Wellington said, “We’re going out golfing”. I said, “we’re probably not mate because I don’t know where my golf clubs are”. He said, “I don’t care, you’ll find them, we’re on the tee.” That probably re-instigated my love maybe after about a year of honestly not even knowing where my clubs were. 

So, when I got into coaching, I was in love with golf. So, I thought I’ll be a golf coach, you know, ‘those that can’t teach…’ whatever that saying is. I thought, I love golf, so I’ll be a golf coach. And then I started to love golf coaching. You know, not just golf, but I love the golf coaching and then it evolved into… I just loved coaching. I didn’t even really care that it was golf because now I’m thinking, I’m not coaching golf, now I’m coaching people who happen to play golf. 

Now I still love coaching, but now I also love learning. And look, at school I was not academic. If you know my mates that I went to school with, they could attest to that – I didn’t love learning then. I think once you find what you love doing, it is easy to learn. Now in terms of coaching, I just love the development process and diving into deep dark holes and learning. I still love what I do. I love it. I still love golf, but I love it in a different way now, I guess. 

I love the concepts you’ve just talked aboutYou don’t coach sport, you coach people – it’s something we talk about often.  I’m pleased that you didn’t throw it in when you had that opportunity and that you turned to coaching. It’s actually a path you hear often from great coaches that lose a little bit of love in the game as a competitor, but still had enough in there, still inquisitive enough, with enough motivation to stay in contact with the sportThese people then end up in that coaching space, and all of a sudden, their asking themselves “why did those things happen to me and maybe how can I best support the next generation coming through? 

In the small amount of time I’ve spent with you, get the sense you’re a real avid learner. Can you share some of your beliefs around learning? I know one of the things that you embraced in your development is the role of a ‘more knowledgeable other or what some would call the mentorHow have you built your own processes around learning as a coach and as a person? 

Yeah. It’s interesting. The learning. There’s the part of it where you start off and it’s all structured, where you’re told or instructed. Maybe you do your PGA qualification at level one or year one. You just sit down, shut up and listen, and you’re being told. And if you look at the Dreyfus Model, at that point in time, you need that. You need rule bound stuff to help you start to grow your framework and your understanding. 

Then, you have also got to go through that transition where you go, “Okay, I’ve got a framework now I want to start to challenge some of this status quo”. And I remember, just to go back a step with what I was saying earlier about the swing, there was always that nagging bit in the back of my mind that there’s more to this than the golf swing. I needed to learn more, because I felt like I had a good swing or a good enough swing to perform at a higher level than I did. 

Dave Hadfield did some work for New Zealand Golf. He had this slide which said, “most coaches will copy and paste. What I want to challenge you guys to do is copy-edit-paste.” And that “edit” bit for me, that really resonated. I was like, ah, yeah, that’s the bit! I want to be able to critically think about things. 

I’m blessed in the role that I’ve got with New Zealand Golf. I’ve got an awesome leader. Gregg Thorpe, he lets me go down, actually he encourages me to go down, rabbit holes. I think as a whole organization, NZ Golf, Dean Murphy, they’ve been unreal. I think that’s part of it, you know, I’ve got permission. Just through their actions and their behaviours it gives me permission. I think a lot of learning is risk. If you want to implement something new, you’ve got to learn, you’ve got to risk. 

At the moment I’m doing this thing, it sounds a bit weird – I’m creating PowerPoints for myself. So, if I’m really struggling with something, or I’m trying to get my head around something and how it fits into my framework, I create a PowerPoint for the purpose that I have to be able to present it because if I have to present it, I need to know it. And seems a bit random but I found that to be a really useful tool.  

And what about the mentor side, what’s the story behind Wayne Smith becoming your mentor? 

In terms of the mentor side… I met David Galbraith, maybe 2008. A few years into a pretty good relationship, he said, look, “I think you need to get a mentor”. And the golf industry is so small, I threw a few names out, and he would say, “How well do you know them?” I said, “Pretty well”. Dave would always respond, “No, no, he needs to be someone that is really going to challenge you and get to the heart of you developing”. 

At the time Dave was at the Chiefs and Wayne Smith was at the Chiefs, but I didn’t want to lean on that leverage. As a side note, I’ve always been fascinated with the after-match interviews on sport.  Even before I was coaching, I always wanted to hear what they coach had to say in the after-match press interviews. And so, with Wayne Smith, I always thought he seemed like an articulate thinker and had really clear ways in which he viewed the game. And the reality is the man that he is quite different to the man that I thought he was going to be. You know, he’s called the Professor.  So anyway, it’s probably 2012. I send an email to [email protected] or whatever their email address was and said, this is who I am, this is what I am trying to do. I’m looking for a mentor. I appreciate you probably are not going to pass this on but if you do thanks. And I didn’t reference Dave Galbraith in there because I didn’t want Smithy to think I will do it as a favour. The next morning, I was having breakfast with my laptop open and seven o’clock in the morning an email from Smithy came through saying bring your stuff over to Cambridge on Friday. At which point, there’s a whole lot of panic setting in because I thought I haven’t got any stuff, what am I going to do? So, yeah, that led on. And ever since then, he’s probably had the most influence on me as a coach. 

In our very first meeting, I remember him questioning me. He said, “How does your week look?” I said “I coach. The boys will go play a tournament or girls will go play a tournament and then they’ll come back and we’ll check in”. And he said, “Oh, do you not go watch them play?” I said, “No.” And he’s like, “how do you coach if you don’t watch them play?” And I said, “No, that’s not how we do it in golf. Golf is not like that, we go to the range, and we just fix their swing, you know.” And so I was driving home from Cambridge to Tauranga, it was about an hour drive, and I was thinking, oh that’s interesting actually… he was asking me all these questions…”how do you know this and how do you know that?” And I was thinking, “oh wow, I don’t”. And those questions stimulate more learning. He still does that, to this day.  I was on the phone with him last week, he posed a great question and sometimes they are out of context, because you’re like, you can’t do it that way in golf, but there’s bits where you go, oh, actually, I could grab that and I’ll use that. Like Dave Hadfield’s thing – “copy-edit-paste”. 

So, there are probably a lot of coaches that will read this and go, “WOW. How brave to just send an email off and ask someone of that stature to jump on board!” What messages would you have for those coaches considering whether to ask someone to be their mentor? 

My message would be absolutely, ask. I think as coaches, most of us are wired that way. We want to help people and to want to give back. Smithy’s been mentored I’m sure, whether formally or informally, and was more than happy to give back. If someone asked me to mentor them, well, then I’d love to. You know, if you think about golf and rugby, they are probably on the opposite ends of the continuum, in terms of skill dynamics and sport, but going back to that human bit, we’re both coaching humans. 

I would warn it is scary, especially with someone likes Smithy, who asks really strong questions. You know, I feel nervous and I know him pretty well. Even now there’s still a little bit of elevated heart rate if I’m going to catch up with him. But just reflecting, the learning there is massive. And if a coach can’t, most will say,  “look, hey, I’m too busy, but I do know someone who could help and here’s their number, here’s an email address, why don’t you try connect, or I’ll try connect you guys in.”  

Furthermore, seeing the world through a different paradigm I think is useful as well. Like I throw stuff at Smithy, like why don’t you try this. And he’s probably just thinking, “mate, you play golf, stick to your knitting, don’t try and give me a rugby coaching tips.” But there might be something. What’s that saying, you can’t see the wood from the trees, if you’re stuck in your own lane all the time. So, I would encourage people to get a mentor outside of their sport and once you’re further down the track, try find someone that thinks differently to you. I think we get stuck in echo chambers. I reckon that would be a great challenge, to start to understand some of the top of the polar opposite beliefs. See if you can understand those beliefs that are opposite to yours. 

You’ve got a record of showing good leadership through your coaching and we talked the other day around your motivation now to give back. You’ve been very privileged to have some great development, and now you’re looking to of give back and support other coaches across different codes. Talk us through that. 

It’s probably a bit selfish to be honest, Andy, like, I just love talking about coaching. So yeah, there’s a lot of it in for me when I’m talking to other coaches. During the lockdown period there has been some really cool stuff happening. There’s Kyle McLean at Bay of Plenty Rugby, they’ve been doing Zoom stuff for the club coaches, I just reached out to him. I saw it on Facebook and I said, “Hey Kyle, any chance I can jump on, I’m not a rugby coach.” And he said, “yeah, great.” Zane Winslade, another coach in Tauranga here, he’s done some online stuff. So, I jumped on that. I think there’s so much to be learned. And everyone seems pretty open at the moment. 

A couple of years back, I got asked by Dave Clarke at Sport Bay of Plenty to mentor a rugby coach. Man like, I went along as a golf coach, mentoring a rugby coach, but I reckon he did the mentoring of me, it was wicked, he was an amazing coach and still is an amazing coach. And I think it’s always two ways. It’s like what Smithy said to me, “Every time you connect with anyone, you’re going to learn something, regardless of age and stage.” 

Another thing Smithy taught me, which really challenged me is, “Nothing you have is yours, you don’t own anything. So, anything you have, you need to give it away. In terms of coaching, whatever. You know, some people will call it IP. Well, there’s no such thing as your own IP, you need to share that. So, if someone asks you for some training games or some drills, give them away.” And sometimes that’s hard to do. Especially when you’ve worked hard and it could be your point of difference. But Smithy said do it because it will do two things. When you give away, you will get things back in return. Also, it’ll make you work harder, because now you’ve gone well, I’ve given away my IP, now I’ve got to jump back in the learning pit and get stuck in again. So that was pretty cool. 

So, Talking Performance is born. Talk to us about Talking Performance and the rationale behind that. 

I feel blessed to have Dave Galbraith (DG) as one of my closest mates and I talk to him weekly on the phone. And I often think to myself, man, like the world needs to hear what DG has to say. DG, I always describe him as the Ghost in the Machine. You know, he’s just The Guy. He’s not on social media. He’s not promoting himself to the planet, but he should be. So, I’ve been asking him for a while, I’ve been telling him for a while, that I wanted to do a podcast. He always challenges me, and this can be bit of a trap of mine, that I can hide behind learning. Like, I can just keep reading and keep trying to grow. And his point is “at some point mate you’re going to have to act. You’re gonna have to bring some of this stuff to life.” So, we were just chatting, literally three days I think, before our first one. I said “do you want to do a podcast with me.” He goes, “yep, we will do it tonight.” I was like, “No, not tonight!”. He goes, “yep, we’ll do it live on Facebook”. Or maybe it was live on YouTube. Anyway, I said I don’t know how that works, but give me a day and I’ll see how I can work it out. 

That was on a Saturday, and so on Sunday, I spent the day trying to work out if it was even possible. Worked out that it was so I rang him up and said, “Righto mate, on Monday at 8pm”. And so, he was doing it to push me. I was doing it to push myself because I was massively uncomfortable. There was a whole lot of nerves and you know, like, I don’t really want to throw myself out there and like, you don’t want to be perceived as being the guy, “Oh, look at me. I’ve got all the answers”. But we were really clear on what we wanted to get out of it – to get interaction with people and coaches. That’s why we wanted to do it live, so if a question popped up, with no real structure we could take it on whatever tangent we want. So, we had no goal, we had no metric that we were trying to hit. What was just there was our purpose. And largely, I think DG’s message is so strong and so valuable for life let alone sport, it’s like how do we get that stuff out there? 

So that was the main motivator. And the podcast has evolved now, even in the short space of time. I think we’ve done four or five now. We got Smithy on and I thought, oh, have we played the trump card too early, what’s gonna happen now? And then last Monday we had Crystal Kaua on, and, man, she just blew my mind and, and the amount of feedback I’ve had, both on the page and direct messages about her work is just phenomenal. We’ve had some amazing messages come through. 

We really want to try and make it as interactive as possible. So the plan as it’s evolved to now, we want to try and interview someone on a Monday night. And then the next week, DG and I will do a reflection together, hopefully using the follow-up questions that have come through. Then the following week we will get another guest on and so on. We think it’s important that we dig deep into some of the learning because people hear different things. 

Thoughts on where to from here? Is Talking Performance something you are keen to continue for a while? 

Yeah, hopefully for a while, like I was chatting with, Crystal the other day about her journey, she had no goal to be a professional rugby coach, she just loved coaching. And there’s the story of the Metallica guitarist who’s obviously you know, in terms of playing the guitar, probably ‘quite’ good, but all he ever wanted to do was play guitar and be good enough to play with his mates in the garage. He didn’t have these aspirations of being a superstar, he just wanted to play guitar because he loved it. And then you potentially have all these other guys that are playing festivals, being really fixated on being a world dominant guitarist, but they’re missing the point of actually the love of playing the guitar. 

I’ve recently had an interesting personal insight on the whole podcast thing itself. So, I really enjoy stoicism as a philosophy. I read a lot about that. But then, with the podcast, you’d start to see the numbers. And you go, oh, well, we’ve had 100 people watch that. And then 200 and then 1000. And I found myself waking up going, oh, I wonder how many people have watched it? And then I had to sit back and I looked at my notes before we started and my note to myself was the measure of the podcast is not to do with views or numbers but whether we stuck to what we were trying to achieve. So it’s interesting, I spent the first probably 10 days, just checking Facebook. But for what? You know you can do a thumbs up and a smiley face or a love heart and an angry face. One post, there was one angry face here. I started questioning Who did that? Why? What was it? And you know, you started to get fixated on these things and I had to remind myself that wasn’t the purpose of this. If we have three people watch it that’s three people that have heard DG. 

What’s the most powerful comment that you can think of that’s come back in from the audience? 

So Talking Performance, all it is a Facebook Group. One of the members is Grace Kukutai who was playing netball, like proper level netball here, Magic and a couple of other regional teams, played New Zealand U20s and now she’s playing rugby. She was interviewed by Newsroom about her athlete journey and mentioned the podcast. She sent me the interview, I chucked it up on the Facebook Group, and in the comments, she said, “This page has been life changing”. And you think, wow, that is powerful. Even if it is just one person. 

Readers can follow Talking Performance at: 

Facebook & Podcast 

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash