Coaches play a pivotal role in the overall mental, physical, and even social development of an athlete, often wearing many hats. As a coach, I have come across numerous coaching and athletic environments, each educating me on how to become a better coach.
In this article, I will share my perspective on what it takes to become a better coach. Through coaching at the local YMCA, owning and operating a strength and conditioning business, and even climbing my way back into NCAA Collegiate strength coaching, I have come to recognize the following behaviors that have allowed for growth and development as a coach. Below are 10 questions that I feel strength coaches can ask themselves to truly become better.
1. How Well Do I Know My Athletes?
This is deeper than knowing their names, pre-existing injuries, or what sport(s) they play. One of the the most important things a strength coach can do to establish trust within his/her athletes and teams is to spend time with them, learn who they are, their tendencies, fears, and motivations.This is also one of the most challenging and timely pursuits as a strength coach, however, when you start to truly know your athletes, they most often reciprocate with a mutual level of respect and trust in your abilities as a coach and leader.
2. Can I Explain My Programming To Other Coaches?
I am still amazed at how many trainers and coaches fail to have a plan for success. Coaches need to individualize training programs based upon an athletes/teams abilities, goals, and environmental factors (time constraints, equipment available, etc). Having a systematic plan also allows you to better assess the effectiveness of your programming, ensuring that you are doing the most/best you can to help your athletes become better. Furthermore, coaches should be able to translate the importance of their programming to their athletes and sport coaches to maximize buy-in.
3. Am I Prepared For Unforeseen Circumstances Within My Programming?
I must admit, I am a chronic “over-programmer.” My time spent as a football coach and business owner have made me a very good at micro-managing every minute in a training sessions, however I somehow always underestimated the effect of unforeseen events on my plan. As strength coaches, we need to be flexible with training regimens, allowing for unforeseen variables to shift the day’s training. Teams/athletes may show up stressed, physically run down, or even in an elevated state of readiness; all of which may warrant a coach to manipulate the training for that day to allow for continual growth and development of their teams/athletes.
4. Could I Manage 40+ Athletes At Once?
One thing that has helped destress my role a solo strength coach leading 40+ athletes through a baseball workout is having a format in which to carry out the training day. Understanding where equipment is, what exercise pairings make the most sense given the layout of the space, and how to group athletes together so that everything runs smoothly can greatly impact your effectiveness as a coach. Being able to control variables (athletes, exercise orders and pairings, and overall flow) for a training session is a learnable and highly useful skill both in the gym and life.
5. Do I Instill A Sense of Belonging and Self-Pride In My Athletes?
When I began at CrossFit Union Square as the weightlifting coach, I was taken by the community aspect of the gym. When we established our formal USA Weightlifting Club, I was dead set on creating an identity for my lifters to rally behind. When you give your athletes something to be a part of and actively influence the characteristics of the team/club, you can instill a deeper sense of belonging and community, which I have found not only keeps people coming back, but also helps them dig deeper when it matters the most.
6. Am I Holding Myself to A Higher Standard?
Simply put, you need to be your best in order to expect the best. For me, the two most influential things that I have done on a continual basis is self-education and training hard. When my athletes walk into the gym during my training sessions or follow our social media accounts, they get a snapshot at the level of intensity and focus it should take to reach their goals. Additionally, by continually learning, writing, and conversing with other coaches and athletes we are able to create a deeper sense of trust and understanding on the nature of training and coaching.
7. Do I Actually Listen To My Athletes Concerns And Feedback?
Without athletes and clients to coach, we would be out of a job. Listening to the feedback, both good and bad (often that is actually the best kind of feedback, as it promotes positive change), can help you retain athletes and clients longer, allowing for long term development. Coaches need to listen to their athletes concerns, address them in an organized manner, and come to a solution.
8. Am I Encouraging All Athletes Equally?
It is very easy to unintentionally neglect athletes that may not be your “star lifters” or “starters”. I remember at a NSCA Strength Coaches Conference when a speaker said that one of the best ways to determine if your programming is legit is to produce results in the less-gifted athletes. I have always remembered that. Coaches need to encourage and hold a certain level of expectations (not always based on performance metrics but rather effort and work ethic) for all athletes to follow, and should hold themselves to that same standard.
9. Have I Prepared My Athletes To Compete at Their Best?
Before competitions or season openers I often get butterflies for my athletes, much like I would if I was actually competing. As coaches, our athletes and clients put their faith in our abilities to safely lead them to become better lifters and athletes, both mentally and physically. Coaches need to truthfully be able to answer this question, often by coming to the answer through documented programming, feedback, and continual evaluations leading up to the event or season. Preparing athletes to do their best can be one of the most rewarding aspects of our crafts, and can be the difference between long-term success or repeated failures.
10. Could I Picture Myself Doing Anything Else?
As cliche as it may be, most of the successful coaches I have come across have an infinite amount of passion for the art and science of coaching. Truly being happy with who you are as a coach and what role you play in life allows you to go above and beyond. Early mornings, late nights, and passionate coaching sessions that leave you voiceless (yes, I have lost my voice a few times from going HAM coaching) are all a part of the wonderful world of coaching.
Coaches should take more time to self-reflect upon their work to truly become better. By no way are these the end all questions, rather, I challenge all coaches to search for questions that promote thoughtful reflection and ultimately growth.
Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.
Featured Image: TheFittestLeague.com