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On Coaching: Part 1

Where Do Great Coaches Come From?

Coaching is something to which I have devoted many hours of thought and practice over the years as a yoga teacher, jiu-jitsu instructor and CrossFit trainer. At the outset, I want to be clear that I am not talking about coaching as it applies to game strategy like an NFL or NBA coach. I am looking at coaching athletics as it pertains to the training of the general public that walks into your gym. Some people call it personal training or teaching, I’ll just call it “coaching” and then hope to clarify what it means.

Spotting Handstand Pushups
Spotting Handstand Pushups

It has been observed that the best coaches were often athletes of modest ability. This is because they often had to work the hardest to learn the movements and work the hardest to get stronger. Thus they have an appreciation of the journey from poor to good: the journey that most people find themselves on in the gym. Natural athletes that had short learning curves tend to display an inability to teach those people whose learning curve is longer. Occasionally there are athletes and coaches like Dan Gable who were able to transform from a modest athlete into a great athlete and then into a great coach through sheer determination and force of will. Also there are some naturally gifted athletes that are also remarkably great coaches. By and large though, coaching is a skill that is developed through lots of practice on the athletic side as well as on the coaching side.

The coach must be able to put the athlete first. A coach should hope that his athletes surpass him and encourage them to do so but at the same time realize that not everyone will. So there is a delicate balance that must be struck between encouraging the athlete but also letting them move at their own pace. I often tend to push a little too hard and thus turn some people away. As I refine my own skills, I am learning to take it slower with some clients and let other clients run wild.

I also believe that the coach should lead by example. As a general rule, whenever possible, I believe that the coach should be willing to walk the walk. Knowledge in the realm of physical training is gained not only through books and articles but also through personal experience. A coach that has suffered through arduous training has first-hand knowledge that cannot be gained any other way. This is not only true of the physical work but also the nutrition, the recovery and, most importantly, the attitude in the gym. A coach that acts like a jerk when they work out, doesn’t sleep, eats poorly, and drinks too much sets a bad example for his athletes. Sure there are great coaches that are past their athletic prime and have taken themselves out of the running. However they often have enough years of experience under their belt to draw from. I don’t always compete side by side with my clients but I try to make my workouts public enough that they can see that I’m not afraid to get dirty.

Demoing the squat
Demoing The Squat

If you want to be a coach, take the time to be an athlete and experiment with your own training and diet first before turning your attention to others. Rushing into coaching before you have spent a good long time as athlete is often a mistake. Your best asset as a coach is your own personal experience. I see a lot of coaches advise their clients to do exercises or try diets that they themselves have never tried. While it is possible to do that with some success, a lack of personal experience is ultimately irresponsible. There is no substitute for time and experience.

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