The Most Important Skill for a Young Coach

I don’t typically like writing blogs with the headline, “MOST IMPORTANT…,” but I feel like this one is justified. If there was only one skill you could develop as an up and coming coach, I firmly believe it is what I am going to talk about here today. We are in the process of working with a few interns here at Lift Lab, which is why I think this topic is such a good one to write about right now. In my college experience I learned a lot about the science of exercise. Not much else. I remember taking a one credit hour weight training course and every single class the instructor would show us a new exercise and that was about it. At the end of the semester we had to put another student from another class through a workout. I was so lost. It was like trying to guess the amount of M&M’s filled to the top of a very large jar. Shortly after I started an internship and had to actually coach people. I was awful. It seemed like the most daunting task ever to actually talk to someone in a training environment. All I felt like I was doing was just telling people what exercise to do with a few corrections here and there. You could’ve programmed a robot to do my job at the time. I probably knew a lot about the X’s and O’s of training and a good deal of the science but was TERRIBLE at building any sort of relationship with a client. I wasn’t one of those hardcore, mean, militaristic style coaches by any means, but there just wasn’t any sort of oomph, for lack of a better word, in any of the training sessions I coached. Over the years, I have gotten better. Extremely better in my opinion. And, I think that’s what most coaches go through. I think you have to be pretty bad at one point to truly grow. Learning from my experience, I feel like I have to do my due diligence and inform young coaches as to what is most important when coaching. Brett Bartholomew calls this the “art” of coaching or “conscious coaching,” in which he wrote a really good book on the topic, but I am not sure if there is even a word that describes what it is I am talking about. I have used words like “empathy” in the past to describe it, but I don’t feel like that does it justice. So, I am just going to describe it in many words and let you take away whatever it is you want to take away. As a coach, you can know all there is about training. You can write the best programs, know all the science, talk about biology and physiology until your eyes bleed, but guess what….PEOPLE DON’T CARE. There might be 1% of the people you train that might actually find all of that fascinating, but for the most part, people just want you to help them reach their goals. And part of that is them liking you and wanting to train with you. As humans, we are all wired the same, but no two people have the same experience. Our perceptions of the environment will always be different. Two people can experience the same situation and come away with very different information about the situation. As a coach, you have to truly understand this and PRACTICE this. Everything I am about to say takes practice to get better at. You won’t read this and all of the sudden be a better coach. Practice it. It is easy for us as coaches to think all of our clients and athletes should understand the information we give them in the same way as we do. This is not the case. People learn differently. I always like to say that no two people have the same genes, childhood, hormones or the same state of the brain at any given time, therefore, how two people filter information is going to be different. We have to respect that as coaches and get better at communicating the information we want to get across. This not only applies to coaching and cueing exercises, but to also being a decent human being. Everyone’s personality is going to be different. The same type of energy you bring to one client may have to be a bit different for someone else. You may be able to express jokes a bit more freely to one client but someone else may be a bit more sensitive. Your job is to relate to them and serve them. If you can’t acknowledge their experience and relate to that in some way, you may not have them for a client for that much longer. Or, each experience with that client becomes burdensome on both parties. Your main job as a coach is to create an environment where people feel comfortable and can work hard. That is really it. When people are able to feel comfortable and feel like they have a coach that understands them, or is at least going to try, they are probably going to want to put forth more effort in their training session as well. If you coach for quite a while you may come across clients that just bother you more than others. They may just have very different personalities than you and don’t represent the personalities of most of the people you are inclined to hang out with on your free time. I really think this is a result of your own ego. It’s hard to put our lens of the world down and try to experience it through a different lens. Dropping your own ego can be hard and takes practice, but it is required to be a great coach. I have found in the past that the clients you might initially have a harder time working with end up becoming a great experience if you can drop your own self-image. I feel like I should acknowledge a small disclaimer. There will be people that are just not going to be worth working with. This might take shape in some indirect way, them trying to move you out of alignment with your values and integrity. This should never happen, because you still have to stay true to yourself. You should always think “win-win.” A win for you is being able to do the job you love within your set of values, and a win for the client is them getting one step closer to their goals while enjoying the process. As coaches, we are only human. We are going to screw up and we are going to say the wrong thing. That’s a part of life. It is a continuous process at becoming the best person and coach you can be. This requires failure. But, how you learn and how you grow from those failures ultimately decides the coach you become. I feel like this blog really should be a never ending one. But, if I could some it up very shorty for all you young coaches out there…Just don’t be a dick.

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