Coaching: An Acquired Flavor

I make no bones that my coaching style is not everybody’s cup of coffee (mm… coffee). As with any discipline or profession, there are folks that respond differently to instruction and the way it is communicated. Even amongst coaching staff at B&R, we all have different flavors, some of which agree with a subset of folks, some of which may not be as tolerated. In the end, every flavor offers value and creates a diverse atmosphere for educating, motivating, and supporting the development of both an athlete and a coach.

I will sum up observations, mistakes and failures, and successes all in the following nebulous words: Every approach works to some degree (more on this as a general philosophy later), and some combination of them work very effectively for almost every athlete. But, when to apply what depends on you–as a coach–possessing keen observation skills and the ability to adapt to the situation or set of circumstances with a given athlete. That said, I currently tend to default to a position of coaching that seems to work really well most of the time and has become my standard practice until we need to change lanes temporarily.

Let’s establish that coaching is a two-way street and hinges on effective collaboration with the athlete. Call this the social buy-in. You have to earn your trust with an athlete and show that you are invested in his or her success. In turn, the athlete needs to trust you and your ability to measure (many things), observe (many things), and respond to his/her needs with urgency and candid truth.

With the partnership established, the team picks aspirational targets and milestones to help define the parameters of what how the program will be shaped. This strategy focuses on coaching for maximal performance. As coach, you help set some targets, you check in with the athlete at a regular cadence, look at things to measure and observe like mechanical efficiency, strength, ability to handle workload volume, etc., figure out gaps to fill, and then offer coaching to help the athlete meet or hopefully exceed expectations (hopefully his or her own). No need to punish with accountability, just the implicit expectation of success and the relentless drive to ruthlessly give maximum effort, every rep, every exercise, every day. In some ways, the coaching almost seems a little lightweight and not as heavy-handed as other approaches.

The target goals might be a little overreaching, but still achievable. At the end of the day, we are here to help athletes think big, want big, and achieve big–within reason. There are always more goals to reach and more milestones to overcome. A coach should help an athlete develop the mental fortitude and constitution to find the drive in him or herself to keep driving towards them. This is another implicit expectation… the assumption is you are working with high-functioning individuals that don’t need to be coddled and want to demonstrate their ability to work and refine their craft. In other words, they should already want to be there and work so you don’t need to add extra motivation and put a whip to them.

Additionally, the continuous oversight (technology makes this easy and convenient) coupled with appropriate amounts of instruction and mentoring makes it so we as coaches can keep the program moving forward, swiftly. Bad technique can be detected early and addressed. Learning can be internalized and hotwash lessons can be layered in future training blocks to address future goals. High success in areas of athletic development can be examined and exploited.

Why waste time on old methods designed for recalcitrant individuals when most folks are inherently motivated to do the work they need to do to succeed? Focus on earning trust, then focus on what matters at the end of the day: driving athletes to succeed in all aspects of their endeavors.

Whether you have a charismatic and charming personality, or have a flatline and borderline grumpy demeanor, athletes will know whether you care or not.