Book Review By Chris Gallagher
Most popular books among the Strength and Conditioning community or athletic development professionals focus upon the minutiae of training: percentages, exercises, periodization, and programming. Aspiring coaches and those already taking steps along the path want to read about how past masters or contemporary mentors design and deliver effective training plans to create and develop world-class athleticism.
Brett Bartholomew’s Conscious Coaching: The Art & Science of Building Buy-In aims to delve deeper into the human aspect of coaching; teaching you how to connect with the individual, the person—and not just the athlete. It points the reader down a path of self-discovery and self-awareness, and the route to becoming a more effective, more impactful coach. This book delivers in spades!
We all know that coaching idiom: “It’s not what you know, it’s what you can get your athlete(s) to do.” Conscious Coaching is all about this! Brett quite correctly points out that many people in the field of strength and conditioning are experts in the hard science of performance. We know all kinds of training theory and planning models, and the mechanics and physiology of movement. Where many of us may be lacking (and I concede after reading Brett’s book that this is an area in which I can more consciously focus on my development), is in getting our athletes to believe in what we are trying to sell them.
The sports performance and coaching library is awash with books on the science and practice of training. How to run faster, jump higher, or squat more. How to organize training, recover more effectively, and enhance physical performance. Our field is not deficient in books that provide technical and scientific information to coaches. Instead, there is a dearth of accessible knowledge and tools to help intelligent and insightful coaches connect more effectively with the people they work with. Resources that help coaches understand the mind and the drives of their athletes, and then help these coaches develop their skills to bring alive their technical knowledge and intricate programs for the diverse populations they work with daily.
Now more than ever, coaching and great communication must be synonymous. ~ Brett Bartholomew
Throughout Conscious Coaching, Brett repeatedly highlights how authenticity, personal stories, and trust are vital to achieving buy-in from athletes. When you share more of yourself, your stories, and your experiences, or when you can highlight a specific example of how your coaching impacted performance and success for another athlete, you will get greater adherence and belief in your program with the present trainee. There are parallels in Brett’s writing in this book that reflect that in an uncanny way.
Brett opens up early in the book with an account of one of the defining moments of his life, and then throughout its pages continually drops in short anecdotes from his coaching career. Allied to this, there is the whole chapter on “Archetypes” and the individual “coaching clinics” from high level coaches within Brett’s network. These personalized stories bring the greatest degree of credibility to, and trust in, the value and effectiveness of the information, skills, and tools Brett shares in Conscious Coaching. This is trust and buy-in from the reader that would not be generated by the standard cold facts of a typical coaching manual.
One of the great strengths of this book is that it makes you think more deeply about what you are reading. This is not a mere strength training manual where you read and absorb facts and methodologies that, once understood, can be almost mindlessly replicated. Conscious Coaching asks you to reflect on and self-analyze your coaching practice. To question what you are currently doing. What do you do well? What can you do better? Where are your opportunities to grow?
A common criticism of sports science students coming through the innumerable undergrad courses around the time I completed my first degree was that they had great book smarts but often didn’t know how to apply it. Brett has identified that this is an issue and Conscious Coaching can be a resource to help bridge that gap.
As coaches, we all have experiences with athletes for whom our strategies and interventions have been more effective and those for whom we have not been so successful. Being more mindful of the impact of different individual’s personality types, attitudes, behaviors, and drivers can help you to mold your coaching to the individual and the individual situation. What is maybe less obvious is how our own version of “reality” impacts the coaching and learning process, and how we need to delve more deeply into our psyche and motivators and not just those of the young people we coach.
This is not some overnight fix or cure. It is a long-term process. The initial steps are reflection and awareness. Reflect on your current practice and become more aware of strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities. That is the easy part. The next step is to use this knowledge to impact your coaching for the better.
The conscious coach needs to appreciate that it is not simply how you connect with athletes, but how your own personality, feelings, and behaviors will shape and affect these interactions. If you understand yourself better, then you can affect everything else more effectively. Ultimately, your interaction with athletes and your interventions will be positively enhanced.
The information in Conscious Coaching is invaluable here. Brett provides examples and guidelines on tangible things you can actually do to improve as a coach; once again, above and beyond the basic knowledge collection and experience of delivery on the shop floor. It is not just theoretical knowledge spread throughout the book’s pages. There are practical ideas, suggestions, and applications to inform and enhance your coaching.
“Brett provides examples and guidelines on tangible things you can actually do to improve as a coach.”
This book has made me think about specific situations I have experienced with the different archetypes, as identified in the book, and how an increased awareness of individual personalities, behaviors, and drivers will ultimately allow me to be a more effective coach as I consciously work at it.
In fact, even in the two weeks spent reading this book, there was an influence on my interactions with athletes. I can think of a specific scenario where I sat down and really tried to get to the heart of the issue with an athlete and understand their behaviors and drives in a way I may not have had I not been more consciously thinking about my coaching. This book is not a stand-alone answer. I understand it will require more conscious application of the lessons within, allied to challenging introspection. But Conscious Coaching is a vital addition to any and every coach’s library.
One aspect I have not touched upon is the obvious amounts of extensive research that went into writing Conscious Coaching. The material in the book is drawn from a broad range of history, culture, fields, and backgrounds, to educate the reader in all the various facets of what being a conscious coach means. The wealth of information and the diverse topics it is drawn from once more add to the quality of what you are reading and ultimately should aim to apply.
Overall, Conscious Coaching is an excellent book for the motivated, intelligent, and forward-thinking coach. It “does exactly what it says on the tin.” The major themes are: awareness, self-reflection, growth and development, communication, connecting, and relationship building. The real value will be in exploring and developing these areas as you move forward in your coaching career.