Two thinking structures and a full toolbox for successful work with athletes

Philipp Seipp, professional coach, revealed in our webinar last week how he works with athletes. After blogging live in German at the event with subsequent Q&A, we brought Philipp’s insights together for you.

Open your thinking space

You will get a more complete picture of your athlete if you master two thinking structures. You already know that the more you understand about your athlete, the more specific you can be in your training planning to address his/her potential. With two different thinking structures you get on the one hand to the heart of the matter and make decisions precisely. On the other hand, you manage to deal with the variability of, for example, environmental factors.

Convergent thinking gives structure and inner peace

Convergent thinking is the type of thinking that collects data and/or knowledge. It is focused on finding the only and best grounded answer to our question. Think back to your school days: In most subjects you were taught to think convergently to find one single solution. You still apply this today in your work with your athletes: You analyse hard and high quality facts like lactate levels or heart rate. Based on these you derive the next steps. For example, if the training program specifies that the next week’s sessions are for improving VO2max, the athlete has the answer to what he/she is working for. The sessions are the connection between the starting point of the athlete and the goal you want to achieve. The path to this goal is linear, the sessions fit together like building blocks (read more in our blog post Sebastian Weber’s tips on how to set up efficient training programs). The structures can be quite unspectacular. Of course, this does not imply that convergent thinking is unsuccessful. You as a coach have taken the decision off the athletes and they can concentrate on their work to improve the VO2max. Besides, it is the basis of every decision. However, you can increase the quality of decision making and implementation when you apply divergent creative thinking in your daily life. Especially because an athlete’s learning (motor and physiological performance) is never linear.

Divergent thinking captures even interpersonal details

Divergent thinking focuses on generating creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions. The thinking patterns are typically non-linear. This means that more spontaneous and unexpected mental connections are made. Spontaneous means that you may not be aware of the process. This is great because the ideas flow in a natural and fast way. To apply this type of thinking, you take a step back from the hard facts and form an integral picture of the athlete, including what is going on around him or her. You also change to an empathic level instead of staying on the analytical one. You achieve this by entering into a dialogue with your athlete – also asking him/her about the mental state, stress levels or subjective exhaustion. Through this interaction you are also held up to a mirror that gives you an additional push to improve the performance (both your athletes’ and your own). By the way, divergent thinking precedes convergent thinking. This way, you are able to develop a large number of new impulses in a creative manner that will benefit your athletes. From this pool of information you can then develop via convergent thinking strategies that make sense for your athletes’ goals.


In combination with these two thinking structures, you open the horizon and perhaps even hit the pain points that would not have been primarily considered, but which can be decisive for your athletes’ progress.

Pack your “toolbox” as heavy as possible and create a win-win situation

To apply divergent and convergent thinking is like increasing your watt count on the bike: it requires training! The more often you open yourself to new impulses, the greater the relationship of trust between your athletes and you are and the better you can draw conclusions from the multitude of information, the more you increase the quality of the key factors of good coaching: the one of information, decision and implementation. To achieve this, order is important. This may sound trivial, but it is the way to create coherence. It structures the training program and answers the questions of what happens today and what the athletes train tomorrow. If you look at the athletes as holistically as possible, you can use your personal toolbox to create a unique program that works for them personally. By the way, you won’t find out whether it is successful during the competition, but in conversation with the athletes. Asking more questions rather than prescribing will improve the relationship between your athlete and you as a coach. You will automatically receive a greater number of clues from him or her over time, which will fill your toolbox with new tools and ultimately help you in your planning because you have acquired more skills for a variety of situations. This gives you not only the nail at hand, but also a set of different tools for problem solving. Thanks to the intensive communication, the athlete benefits from a better understanding of your recommendations and tailored sessions – you create a win-win situation.

Would you like to hear the tips in Philip’s words (in German)? Then take a look here: