Just the other day, I had some really awesome coaching experiences with athletes that had little to do with the kilograms lifted, the meters run, or the physiology of training.
I have been coaching for a few years now, but in terms of communicating with athletes—really getting underneath the hood and understanding what makes them tick—and getting the best out of the person and the athlete, I am still learning. In this respect, I will probably always be learning.
I frequently see and read about the work of coaches like Brett Bartholomew and Bryan Mann, who talk about the need to connect with the individual. We all know athletes are not unfeeling robots, or just numbers on a spreadsheet. But you only get better at this aspect of coaching by experiencing more situations that challenge you to coach the person, and not just churn out programs and generic cues.
Don’t Take Away the Fun
The first big conversation was with a racket sport player about his competition schedule. We discussed whether he was over-competing and was, as a result, underprepared in comparison with his rivals. I had computed a load of data and research, and drawn up comparisons with his direct rivals, his own previous schedules this year, and his performances in seasons past. I highlighted every little aspect that supported the reason I thought my opinion was the correct one.
Over the course of the conversation, I was enlightened to a very significant point: A point that is sometimes too easy to lose sight of. As a strength and conditioning coach looking at the optimal way to plan training and competition for the greatest chance of success, I look solely at the science and application of this information and data.
When I spoke to the athlete about why he had entered certain tournaments at that point in the season, when I would have recommended traveling less and staying home to train more, he told me that he wanted to enter these competitions because he had played in that country before and had fond memories of the fun that he had. Athletes training for their sport because they like to compete and have fun. Who’d have thought it?!Coaches need to remember that athletes train for sport because they like to compete & it’s fun. Click To Tweet
I still think my strategy for the coming seasons is more valid, more viable, and more appropriate for delivering success. My view on the over-competing issue hasn’t changed. But I had been so wrapped up in helping this athlete achieve success that I had forgotten why he plays his sport in the first place: Because it’s fun.
He is driven, he is motivated, and he is successful. He really wants success. And if I deliver information on the best way to achieve this, then he is smart enough to listen and follow it. It’s good to take a step back sometimes and remember why any athlete gets involved in their sport and continues to play it. If we take them to a place where it isn’t fun anymore, then they will eventually stop competing.
Help Athletes Understand Changes to Training
The second conversation I had was with a track and field athlete. She had been training in track and field for a number of years but, in terms of training in a high-performance program, this is Season One.
Talking to her, it was clear that she was struggling to get her head around new ways of training. The training is now more focused, more structured, and consistent but progressive. She needed to know why things are done a certain way and why she can’t train the way she used to.
I thought she might be frustrated that, with the change in the way things were done, there was currently less consistency in the motor output. This is basic Motor Learning theory, right? Her performances are going to be less stable as we change from old bad habits to newer, and hopefully more-efficient, performances. This is obvious to me and the coaches reading this. But it’s a strange and uncomfortable place to be for an athlete who had been used to “success” and achieving that success a certain way.
Year One of a high-performance program is going to be as much of a mental as a physical challenge for her. Her questions were about whether this is the way in which other elite athletes train. The short answer is “yes.” While there will be differences in the nuts and bolts of the program, the fundamental philosophies, structures, and patterns will have a lot in common.
Initially, the conversation was somewhat challenging, but I think it proved beneficial for both of us. Sometimes it is good to be challenged or questioned, with the athlete searching for answers and a greater understanding of the “why” behind the “what.” It made me really think about what she is doing and where she is going, and the small part I play in that.
Connect With Athletes as Individuals
These two conversations gave me a good opportunity to make a deeper connection with the athletes involved. They helped me understand each one’s individual motivations as an athlete, and what makes them tick as a person.
These are the real moments in coaching. The moments when you get to connect with people, educate athletes, and, hopefully, give them a greater understanding of where they are going, what they are doing, and why.