For me, coaching is about people first. Whether working one on one with a motivated triathlete or corralling a mob of teenage hockey players, my programming, cueing, and motivation don’t mean a thing if there’s no human connection.
Everyone can learn something from anyone. Having worked as a personal trainer and collegiate strength coach, I’ve seen how the lessons from one arena can inform and improve coaching in another. Rather than separating these worlds, we can become better coaches by sharing lessons across domains. Empowered coaches make empowered athletes, and empowered athletes win
Why Are You Here?
For some the answer is “To look better” or “So I can play with my grandkids” or simply to “have abs.” Targeting these goals is essential, but as you get to know your client, look for the deeper why behind those goals
Goals we share openly are easy to skip out on or just forget. Deeper motivations are harder to abandon. As a coach, you’re not a therapist, psychologist, or spiritual leader, but clients still look to you for life’s answers. Understand that behind an athlete’s physical struggle there is a complex of feelings. Being able to empathize and harness emotions towards physical performance will make you indispensable.
In sport performance, a common feeling is obligation, “I’m here because I have to be.” Athletes are working with you not to be better squatters, snatchers, or deadlifters – they’re in the weight because they’re told to be. Training is part of the job.
How do we connect our athletes’ why to the what of our strength and conditioning programs? Reverse engineering a sport to construct a kick ass block of training makes sense to those forged by the Power Athlete methodology – to a teenage athlete worried about practice, homework, and who she’s asking to Prom – SAID may as well stand for Shut up Andy, I don’t give a Damn.
But we can learn from training personal clients. Just as a grandma wants to fight old age and pick up their grandchild, an athlete needs to be better at their sport. Find a way to connect speed on the ice to speed in the squat. Demonstrate how success in the weightroom translates in the game.
We are motivated by what we love, be it a family, Instagram fame, a PR, or a pancake block – harness that drive and weave it into everything you do.
When the Going Gets Tough
Channeling an athlete’s intrinsic motivation is one thing; overcoming external challenges is another. Regardless of the program on paper, at some point athletes will have to do something they do NOT want to do.
With a client looking to “get bigger arms” his red line was leg work. For a collegiate football player it was running shuttles again and again. Different circumstances, different athletes, similar solutions – explaining “the big picture”.
I understood my client just wanted bigger arms but I explained the importance of building a superstructure to mount those guns on. Once he could see the “why”, we hit what he wanted and what he needed.
That same communication works with team athletes. Improvement is hard work. Even the toughest athletes buck against the pressures of progress. So give them the “why”. A mentor sprinkled his why mid sprint session; as the team gasped for breath, he gave them the reasons behind the running, inviting them into the process of their own growth.
As coaches, whether working one on one or with a team, we must value the uniqueness of our athletes. What may present as apathy is often just frustrated passion. More often than not, our monopolization of the “why” is what creates that frustration. Don’t keep your athletes in the dark, share the why early and often and see the results.
None Size Fits All
At Power Athlete we say there is no perfect program, and no single exercise for every athlete’s needs. That’s why we emphasize principles versus any specific method, program, or dogma.
When working with individual clients, it’s easy to go down the mad scientist rabbit hole. Sifting through exercises like Doc Brown tinkering with the flux capacitor – “rear foot elevated front foot activated laterally banded contralateral kettlebell swing to press and jerk…. Great Scott!!” Don’t fall into the fancy movement thirst trap. Your athlete is going to want to do the “sexy” movements and share them on IG. Fine, but don’t let it pull you from the principles of sound training. Steak and potatoes everyday isn’t flashy, but it works..
Team sport athletes exist in a web of disciplinary control; scheduled meal times, meetings, practices organized to the minute, what classes to attend and when. Attending lifting sessions is not a choice, but what they do in that session can be. Give your athletes options. Rather than dictating specific exercises, suggest movement patterns. Need an explosive movement? Cleans, snatches, med ball tosses, DB jumps, trap bar jumps, or anything else that gets triple extension is good to go!
When you are in charge of a large group, more power often feels like more control. However, empowering your athletes takes confidence and confidence shows real control.
Get a Cue
Whether you’re laser focused on a single client or flying about a weight room like a caffeinated cyclone, we all feel the need to show our worth as coaches. We do this through our cueing.
Working one on one with an athlete can be extremely rewarding as a coach. We’re all movement nerds and focusing on one athlete at a time can feel like a gift. We see fault after fault and we
want NEED to fix them. So we cue, and cue and cue again. Over-cueing creates confusion, not progress.
At Power Athlete, we think of athleticism as kinesthetic problem solving. If you always give athletes the solution to the puzzle, are they learning? No. Step back, shut up, and observe. It will be awkward, your client may feel like they’re flailing, but you have to give them the opportunity to discover their own movement fluency. Giving cues is like seasoning a steak: simple and effective ingredients should complement the flavors, not crowd them out. Cues should be the same – simple, effective, complementary – easy to consume.
In a weight room of fifty athletes, cueing has a different problem. With so much going on you do not have the luxury of correcting every single fault. Instead, we must perform drive-by triage. Identify the problem, cue, see the next rep – if it’s good, move on. If not, one more cue, watch one more rep, then tell the athlete you’ll be back.
Returning to an athlete who is struggling with a movement is essential. For a college athlete who has been the best since age nine, being told they’re doing it “wrong” can often feel like an attack. Circling back and taking more time to explain the movement, walking them through the process, giving them a path forward is essential to continued progress.
Coaching in large groups is often about an economy of effort, attention, and application. You cannot and will not fix everyone’s squat day one. Remember, marginal improvements on a regular basis add up, so stick to it.
Trust Me on This
Building trust is essential for any coach. The whistle around your neck and the letters behind your name garners surface level trust but that’s it. When a client finds your name on the Power Athlete remote coaching portal or a sports coach introduces you to the squad – that’s where you begin building real trust.
As a personal trainer, no one cared how much I knew about sliding filament theory. What mattered was how I made my clients feel. As a sports performance coach, understanding proper periodization was the expectation of my bosses; what mattered to my athletes was my ability to connect.
Coaching is a “people business.” Bret Bartholomew argues “no one cares how much you know until they know how much you care” – it’s cliche, but true. No clue who much Dale Carnegie squatted, but he understood relationships. In How to Win Friends and Influence People (a must read for any coach) Carnegie’s first tenet is – be genuinely interested in other people. It’s that simple
Be it a 45 year old mom looking to get back in shape, or a 20 year old running back with NFL dreams, showing genuine interest gets results. Don’t just coach to teach, coach to learn. By learning from our athletes we become better coaches who, in turn, can coach our athletes better.
Coaching, like anything else, takes practice. Hours and hours, rep after rep. But without a solid foundation of proven principles, that time is wasted. If you want to be a better coach for athletes of any stripe, invest in yourself, check out the Power Athlete Methodology and Trainers courses.
The relationship between a coach and an athlete is special. Our athletes help us sharpen our iron just as we help sharpen theirs. So no matter if it’s a single ten year old soccer player, or 100 division one studs, take a deep breath… then go coach.
Podcast: PA Radio Episode 369: The Language of Coaching w/ Nick Winkelman
Podcast: PA Radio Episode 308: Conscious Coaching w/ Brett Bartholomew
Link: Power Athlete Remote Coaching
Blog: Drop the Dogma, Make and Impact by Andy Holmes
Andy Holmes is a Power Athlete Block One Coach who has over the last decade worked with athletes from nearly every walk of life, sport and occupation. A college athlete Andy graduated and commissioned in the United States Marine Corps as an Officer. After leaving the Corps he began coaching full time working with both general, athlete, and tactical populations. He has coached collegiately at Georgetown University and The University of Texas working extensively with football, lacrosse, rowing, softball, and volleyball teams. Andy is a firm believer that better people make better athletes and better athletes win championships. He is currently enrolled in Denver University’s Masters of Arts in Sport Coaching Program and loves to chop it up about philosophy, Russian history, and obscure films between heavy sets. In addition to the coveted Block, Andy holds certifications from the NSCA, CSCCa, and USAW. He currently most likely drinking coffee or eating tacos with his wife and dog in Austin, TX.
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