Readers are leaders! In The War of Art, author Steven Pressfield dissects his life into two parts, “before turning pro, and after.” Contrary to mainstream thinking, he actually defines “professional” as an ideal rather than a title (1):
The amateur plays for fun. The professional plays for keeps.
To the amateur, the game is his avocation. To the pro it’s his vocation.
The amateur plays part-time, the professional full time.
This idea of amateur and professional applies to coaching as much as any other profession or art form. Learning detailed my call to coaching, while Mindset had me refusing that same call, leaving me at a crossroad: maintain the path many coaches follow, scraping to get along, or turn pro.
At that time, I fixated on the wrong aspects of performance, while not fostering a growth environment. I was either on the gym floor or in a book, consuming information irrelevant to my athletes and difficult to apply. This carried over to my first CFFB seminars. Excited to share (show off), I went full Keenbean, leading people to confusion instead of applicable understanding. This led to a sense of wasted time learning on my own without feedback or guidance on coaching. I wanted (needed) a more efficient process for learning practical knowledge.
Spoiler alert: I have those processes now. This article will venture into three that helped me turn pro in coaching. Let’s learn to accelerate your professional development into a Power Coach.
Coach Needs A Coach
As @Cali once wrote down, a coach needs a coach. Following that advice, I sought a mentor – the proverbial supernatural aid, and boy did I find good one: Raphael Ruiz, a.k.a Master Splinter, a.k.a. Raph al Ghul, a.k.a “the best strength and conditioning coach in the world you guys have never heard of”. With zero hyperbole, Welbourn’s tales of getting broken off with nothing but a PVC and mini-band is true… all of it.
Raph was the brutal, honest, brutally honest mentor I needed at the time. No shortcuts, and each day’s training brought invaluable lessons from day one. In an open-water swim navigating the (probably) shark infested waters of Indian Rocks, Ruiz illustrated a coach’s emotional quotient in real time as he recognized and led the mental, emotional state of an athlete (me) struggling at a training task (survival).
This apprenticeship was a full immersion into performance training, using swimming as the anchor, highlighting common performance fallacies strength coaches make in programming. The combination of training in the water and weight room concentrated components of body positioning, kinesthetic awareness, power output, efficiency, and genetics with information I could immediately apply to my athletes.
Trust me, you cannot learn it all on your own without guidance, that’s amateur. Studying, researching, and coaching solo may teach invaluable skills like organization, self-sufficiency, and grit, but it also slows education. Working under a mentor accelerates development by concentrating information and providing invaluable opportunities for conversations specific to your coaching goals.
Select a coach with experience working at all levels of athletic development for at least two sports. Learn not only what to do with athletes at different stages, but also how to coach them. While I spent a lot of time in the water with Raph, he didn’t specialize himself into ah sport – we trained high school ballers on the field, heavyweight pro boxers in the gym, and collegiate athletes in land and sea. Raph challenged me to think on a higher level to make connections among different athletes, arenas, and levels. From this, I learned the fluidity of coaching.
That said, choose wisely. Playing the polo-shirt game will look good on a resume, but how invested is that head coach in your education? Select a mentor with experience that best connects to your professional goals.
Learn How To Learn
I have had a number of mentors with varied experiences, teaching styles and most importantly, learning strategies. I gleaned a lot from their actions but nothing beats learning their thought processes. I focused on dissecting the principles underlying their way of doing things.
Exposure to divergent coaching programs forces you to embrace the learning process. Here are two ways to expedite this process:
Learning requires humility. Whether you’re working under a mentor, traveling to a clinic, or simply talking with another coach, empty your cup. There are coaches out there who have forgotten more than you’ll ever know. Be curious, inquire about their journey, and learn from their thought process.
Learn How You Learn
Emptying your cup also means changing your mindset. Learning strategies vary: visual, auditory, reading/writing, or kinesthetic. While we may fixate on one, we learn through them all. Regardless, approach learning identically to training: take….nay, SEIZE reps to attack limiting factors.
Applying different learning strategies makes you aware of your own level of knowledge, as well as your ability to understand, control, and manipulate the learning process. There are three variables with learning strategies (2):
- Personal variables: your strengths and weaknesses in processing information.
- Task variables: What you know about the task and the process required to complete it – for example, awareness that it will take more time to read and remember a scholarly article than to paraphrase a lecture you just heard.
- Strategy variables: learning strategies holstered to successfully accomplish a task – for example, using a glossary to look up words, recognizing the occasional need to reread a paragraph to comprehend, or activating prior knowledge by writing everything you Know about ‘What is Athleticism’ before starting lesson 1.1 of the Power Athlete Methodology – Level One course.
Find mentors that will challenge with an array of variables, not do the thinking for you. A great mentor will ask a lot and you may not see the forest when you’re cutting down trees. But if you approach each lesson with humility, seeking the underlying strategy, you will strengthen your ability to learn and problem-solve, which are invaluable for coaching career success.
Don’t limit yourself to a single coach, sport, or method. Learning under multiple mentors or coaching in different methodologies forces you to apply learning strategies specific to the mentor’s teaching style. Not every task or athlete will fit your strengths. Embracing variables prepares you to coach athletes of all abilities.
Fundamentals of the Fundamentals
“I’ve argued this with a lot of people in my life. When people say God blessed me with a beautiful jump shot, it really pisses me off. I tell those people, ‘Don’t undermine the work I’ve put in every day.’ Not some days. Every day.” – Ray Allen
I absolutely love Ray Allen’s mindset standing up for his work when a commentator spoke of his “gift”. Every season of every sport I played, from pee-wee to college, always began with training fundamentals. In college, the time invested working on fundamentals, pre-season through games, would predict the type of season we had.
I applied this to coaching. Instead of stick work and field positioning, we worked Primal movement patterns. As my grasp of the Power Athlete Methodology grew, I took another step back and emphasized the fundamentals of the fundamentals: body awareness, concentration, and deliberate practice.
Deliberate practice is purposeful and systematic. Its details and practical application comes from Anders Ericcson’s PEAK and Dan Coyle’s Talent Code. Coyle introduces three rules of practice (3):
- Chunk it up: break skills to component pieces. Master the pieces then link them into progressively larger chunks.
- Repeat it: repetition is important, but is only as good as execution quality.
- Learn to Feel it: reach for a target then evaluate the gap. Embrace the process, start over, and work through it.
Bring fundamentals back into your athlete’s training. Break Primals into chunks, and consistently train them year-round. No better time than the warm up – it’s the one consistent opportunity for fundamentals like Dead Bugs, See Saw Walks, and the Power Athlete Dynamic Movement Prep. The magic comes from tricking your athletes into valuing the process until it becomes habit, like Ray Allen.
And get on their ass and coach! This triggers deliberate practice.
To me, ‘When the student is ready, the master will appear’ is another way to say “turning pro”. Masters are always available and important teachers appear throughout life, but the student won’t notice until they decide to listen. The same goes for knowledge. Information is so readily available, but are we ready to invest in the learning process?
The three processes above are integrated into the Power Athlete Methodology – Level One course, the first step in becoming a Power Athlete Block One Coach. The course is built for the aspiring strength coach ready to turn pro, the gym owner building a rock star team of coaches, or the passionate individual wanting to crack the bone of Power Athlete programming. We guide you on your coaching journey combining the what – a tried and true set of principles for developing athleticism, and the how – a turn key program ready to implement.
Turn pro, enroll now.
John Welbourn is CEO of Power Athlete and Fuse Move. He is also creator of the online training phenomena, Johnnie WOD. He is a 9 year veteran of the NFL. John was drafted with the 97th pick in 1999 NFL Draft and went on to be a starter for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1999-2003, appearing in 3 NFC Championship games, and for starter for the Kansas City Chiefs from 2004-2007. In 2008, he played with the New England Patriots until an injury ended his season early with him retiring in 2009. Over the course of his career, John has started over 100 games and has 10 play-off appearances. He was a four year lettermen while playing football at the University of California at Berkeley. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in Rhetoric in 1998. John has worked with the MLB, NFL, NHL, Olympic athletes and Military. He travels the world lecturing on performance and nutrition for Power Athlete. You can catch up with John as his personal blog on training, food and life, Talk To Me Johnnie and at Power Athlete.
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