On Coaching

Ok, yup that’s the title of @stevemagness and @jmarpdx‘s podcast, but it is also something I’m pretty passionate about. Coaching. Coaches. We (hopefully) all had those people in our lives somewhere along the way; teachers, another parent, a coach – a mentor who ignited a spark in us!

Recently I asked my FaceBook community what they thought made a great coach. I put the comments through the magic qualitative analysis machine (ha!). First, and foremost, I wanted to say thank you to everyone who commented; re-reading the comments I was touched by the honesty and emotion that everyone shared.

These were the themes that arose:

1. Community – In each of the comments you could ‘feel’ the general sense of community. The community of Athlete-Coach. The community of athletes. The community to help one reach their very best, and whatever that very best was for the individual. The community each of us needs to be our best. Alone we can accomplish something good, but as a community we can accomplish something amazing.

2. Leadership – A coach should be a strong leader. They should lead by example. They should show the athletes respect. The should empower athletes. And they should be compassionate when the athlete is going through some struggles. “Kids don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care;” but isn’t that true of most people, you may not care until you know how much someone else cares?

3. Communication – Open, transparent, honest communication. Communication that goes from coach to athlete and vice-versa. Setting clear, mutual expectations and boundaries. It’s not just the verbal communication, the emails, the phone calls, it’s the non-verbal communication too.

4. The Person Vs. The Athlete – Oh this was so my favourite, a coaching philosophy I always tried to employ when I taught alpine skiing. Coach the person first, the athlete second. In the hierarchy of demands, when you coach to the athlete’s emotions you will get the physical work done. Please do not read this as the athlete gets to be an a$$hole, that is not at all what I mean. When you figure out how to speak to an athlete’s soul you will be amazed at what you can both accomplish together.

5. Life-Long Learning – I am a voracious reader, but I also spend an inordinate amount of time reflecting upon what I have read (which is probably why people think I’m sometimes not ‘working’ on my dissertation!). The notion of continuously trying to improve yourself as a coach was woven through the comments. ‘Are you a coach with twenty years of experience? Or are you a coach with one year of experience who has been working for twenty years? (because you’ve done the same thing every year). I live by the mantra of always trying to ‘be better’, and the only way to do that is to continue to want to learn.

I have been so fortunate to work with some amazing coaches through the years as an athlete and as a coach. There are a few that really stand out for me, ones whose lessons I carry with me, in my heart and in my head, every day. They inspire me to ‘be better,’ to push limits, and to love every minute of it.

I hope you have someone (or a few people) who do the same for you.