| Building Your Athlete’s Trust – Part 2

Author / John Durrett

5-7 min read

Last time, we discussed how and why everything you do as a coach revolves around the trust you are able to build with your athletes. In this second piece, we’ll discuss some of the different ways you can foster a powerful feeling of trust with your athletes. You can think of these as the “5 Do’s of Trust Building”.

1. Do The Little Things Right

Show up on time. Remember their names. Show an interest in their lives: ask about work, their families, their classes if they’re still a student. Dress well, look professional. If they have questions, you have to have answers, even if the answer is “I’m not sure, but I’ll look into that and get back to you”, which is a promise where you must follow through.

If you see them doing well on a set of walking lunges, grab them the next set of dumbbells instead of just hollering across the weight room that they need to increase weight. Have patience when they’re stumbling and commit to helping them figure things out the right way. When they improve, tell them. When their movements aren’t getting better, be honest and work with them to find the solution. Consistency is one of the biggest building blocks of trust.

2. Do No Harm

This is a big one. The fastest way to lose trust with an athlete is programming a movement you can’t coach well or one that has a high risk to reward ratio and gets them injured. They’re coming to you to get better at their sport, so unless their sport is Weightlifting, it’s likely that you’ll want them on Bedrock or Field Strong, and not on a 12-week Snatch cycle that was run by the Bulgarian National Team. When in doubt, a “less effective” program that is coached well and prioritizes athlete safety is better than a “more effective” program coached poorly and will help you win big points in the trust category. Harm isn’t just physical: pushing an athlete too soon or too often can cause them to fail, dramatically decreasing their confidence in themselves and their trust in you. 

Additionally, coaching something you aren’t qualified to instruct will cause a decrease in your athlete’s performance (even if they don’t get injured) and will erode their trust. To feel more competent in this regard, you need to learn how to coach movement. You will dramatically increase your ability to do so after investing time in the Power Athlete Methodology Course. Finally, this should go without saying, but the days of berating athletes are long gone: if an athlete is under-performing, yelling at them won’t fix the problem. Building trust with them and creating a sense of unity will inspire them to perform better in a way that screaming at them never will.

3. Do For Others

I have had the distinct opportunity to train with the teachers who taught my own coaches. I immediately give them as much or more trust than I give my teacher. This trust is the result of what that coach had done for others: their reputation precedes them. You don’t just get this by creating coaches, but also by creating good athletes and strong programs. It is one of the reasons that good schools develop winning dynasties: athletes fight each other for spots in good programs because there is already an inherent trust they will find success there. This won’t be as strong a level of trust as the one that you get by influencing an athlete directly, but it gives you a tremendous head start. In the private sector, this is often displayed by referrals, when a person comes to train with you because of the success you’ve brought about in the life of someone close to them.

4. Do For Them

Creating success for your athletes is the most effective way to build their trust, but it isn’t always easy. Growth and progress can be slow. I have a few little hacks I use to push this along, and I’m sure you do as well. The key is to use small successes. An example would be teaching a better start for a sprint, improving arm swing or hip mechanics, teaching more efficient change of direction, and doing before-and-after tests to show the fruits of the instruction. When teaching martial arts, a simple cue to angle the hips differently or turn them over on a punch can translate immediately to more power or a tighter submission hold. Every time you create success for your athletes, future successes are easier to bring about since your athletes will trust you more and be willing to train harder and more consistently.

5. Do For Yourself

I’ve said this in other articles and I’ll repeat it until I’m dead. Walk your walk. Invest in your health and fitness. If my coach doesn’t look like he trains regularly, I already don’t trust them to train me well. Invest in your education. To some, certifications and accreditations aren’t important, but to others they mean a lot. Having a sharp mind will help you stay up to date on the science. You’ll lose trust quickly if the answers you give to training questions can be proven outdated by a quick Google search. As I stated earlier, being able to coach well and speak on your subject matter is also an easy way to build trust. If the thought of coaching in a weight room makes you feel insecure, beef up your brain with the Power Athlete Methodology course.

This is an ad. Please consider our shameless self promotion.

Now, let’s loop back to our Starbucks order from Part 1 of this series. Do you remember it? Half-fat, triple whip, caramel rainbow unicorn macchiato (shaken over ice). I’m not sure if this is a real Starbucks order, but it might be. What I can tell you is, if I ran a coffee shop, we wouldn’t serve that. We’d be slinging black coffee, double or triple shots of espresso, and slaps to the face for those who really need to wake up. If someone walked in and ordered that, I’d tell them they need to look elsewhere.

This is the final element of building trust, and it is one that is all too often brushed under the rug, ignored, or forgotten: sometimes you aren’t the right fit for your athletes. They could come to you with an issue that isn’t in your scope of practice, or it’s possible they just aren’t the right fit for you and your culture. Knowing when to let go and put an athlete in the care of another coach is a big part of trust. In a situation where you’re a coach at a high school or college, this could take on a different form, where you’re having an assistant coach take over for a particular athlete or seeking help from a teammate or sport/position coach that has a good attachment with this athlete. As coaches, our ego can get too involved in these situations, and we feel diminished if we are not the solution to every problem.

It is possible that an athlete will no longer be working with you. In that case, why worry about trust? Here’s the truth of the matter: all of your athletes will leave you one day. Regardless of their situation, they will age out of their sport, move on to other life priorities, or simply find a different coach. You can’t control that. What you do have control of is what they say of you to others when they’re gone and how they remember who you were as a coach. No matter how long your magic carpet journey was with them, be sure that they speak of it fondly. However, the second they screw up your half-fat, triple whip, caramel rainbow unicorn macchiato, there’s only one phrase that can describe that situation: TAKE A LAP!

Related Content:

Blog: Drop the Dogma, Make an Impact by Andy Holmes
Blog: Building Your Athlete’s Trust Part 1 by John Durrett
Blog: Coaching Kids to Fail by David McKercher
Podcast: PA Radio Ep 610: The Good, The Bad, The Coach
: PA Radio Ep 602: Building Humans for Sport and Life

Share this article



John Durrett

John is a Coach at Underdog Mixed Martial Arts in West Hartford, CT, where he teaches both martial arts and strength & conditioning. For over a decade, Underdog has built several professional fighters, even sending some to the UFC and Bellator. John began training martial arts at a traditional Karate dojo at the age of 6 years old. This was the start of a lifelong journey which has seen him log countless hours in a myriad of styles, including Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Wrestling, Kali, Eskrima, and Jeet Kune Do. In addition, John has spent over a decade working as a professional strength and conditioning coach, coaching at the High School and D-III Collegiate Level. Along with over a dozen other certifications, he holds the distinction of being a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the NSCA and is honored to be counted as a Power Athlete Block One Coach. He is intensely passionate about empowering athletes to find their max potential and explore their body’s unique capacity for the martial arts.

Leave a Comment


Never miss out on an epic blog post or podcast, drop your email below and we’ll stay in-touch.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.