Coaches are a weird bunch, in that we simultaneously operate in a growth-oriented and close-minded fashion.
We obsess about learning and getting better, but scoff at advice not asked for. We’re allergic to dogma, unless it’s our own, in which case we can’t get enough of it. We’ll admit how challenging it is to become good at the craft, then feel slighted by offers to help.
It’s kinda like this:
I coach. I want to learn everything I possibly can, but I’m going to do it my way. And I’m sure as shit not doing it your way or anyone else’s way until you prove to me it’s a better way than my way is.
“I’ve gotten results with my methods as-is. Why should I listen to you?”
— A coach, probably
But to make a living as a coach, investing in your education isn’t an option. It’s a necessity. Outdated scripts = ignorance and a slow career death.
The key, then, is to give coaches- or, really, anyone who instructs for a living- a safe environment to absorb information in. It’s up to them what sticks and what bounces off.
But where do you start? How, then, should coaches strive to grow?
As online courses continue to be the soup du jour of internet businesses, it’s increasingly getting harder to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Mac: “Why would anyone want to be wheat?
Dennis: “WHY WOULD ANYONE WANT TO BE CHAFF?”
The only real way to find the good stuff is by asking: colleagues, peers, mentors. How did you like it? Did it change the way you do anything?
But utilizing your network for your own personal development poses another problem. You’re growing, but you’re learning the exact same stuff as everyone else.
“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.” — Haruki Murakami
That isn’t to confuse the importance of keeping up to date with industry standards, of course. A football coach that can’t beat a 3–4 defense doesn’t coach football for long. A fitness coach can’t stare blankly at a prospective client when asked about their opinion on PRI if they hope to make a living.
We must strive for growth, but also find ways to differentiate ourselves.
And we can accomplish both things by assessing our performance, by figuring out how to deepen the pails of water we draw from our own well.
Back To The Drawing Board
Say you have $150 to invest in your education as a coach. What would you spend it on? An online course? A Mastermind group? A networking event?
All helpful, but all geared toward the same thing- deepening your understanding of the tactics, strategies, or applications of your sport/arena.
We’re so gung-ho about deepening the trenches and fine-tuning the Xs and Os that our #1 responsibility as coaches is often forgotten.
We forget that, at the core of our responsibilities, we’re responsible for delivering quality instruction.
We all had a coach that made our favorite sport suck. Conversely, we all had a teacher that made learning a subject we’d previously hated fun.
The difference wasn’t content. Math is math. A tennis serve is taught with the same five cues.
Their delivery, their quality of instruction is what made a difference.
We bought in or closed ourselves off as a response to the coach or teacher’s energy, personality, and zest (or lack thereof) for the material.
And as coaches, it’s our job to never forget that this, not masterminding the next unstoppable offense, is our #1 responsibility.
That things like communication, empathy, and rapport are the quintessential skills above X’s and O’s that we must strive to master.
Because without it, your sport expertise doesn’t matter.
Like a leader must have followers, a coach must have influence. He or she cannot just be a content expert. Talk is cheap and, in any case, influence can’t be sold.
Here’s a way to invest in a different kind of personal development:
Once a year, spend $150 of your personal development budget paying coaches who don’t know you for their time.
If you coach CrossFit, sign up for an Orange Theory or a spin class. If you coach a sports team, pay a coach that doesn’t know you to observe a few of her practices. You don’t have to be weird about it. Tell her why you want to do it or just say you’re doing research.
$150 should be enough to cover the drop in fee for 5-6 different facilities. Do them all in one week, or spread them out throughout the year.
I get it, you call yourself a powerlifter, so taking power yoga class seems unattractive. It’ll, like, totally mess up my training schedule, bro.
This exercise is also a good reminder of a founding principle of coaching. It’s not about you or your goals.
It will benefit you more, in my opinion, if no one else knows you are a coach. Just be friendly, observe closely, and make as many mental notes as possible.
I Hope You Meet A Shitty Coach
Don’t be afraid of “getting it right” or wasting your money on a bad experience. This isn’t like when you buy a course or a book that ends up sucking. If you really pay attention, you will get a return on your investment.
For example, If you’re a seasoned coach, a 19-year-old spin instructor might remind you how important energy is, what it feels like to hear it in someone’s voice, how tempting it is to mirror that energy when the leader demonstrates it first.
Conversely, you might stumble across an old-school coach that yells too much or operates on “my way or the highway” principles. His hostility and lack of empathy will remind you how fragile an institution’s culture is. And now, in front of you for the next hour or so, will be an example of how not to cultivate excellence, humility, or vulnerability with your players. Take notes.
Honestly, I hope you cross paths with at least one really shitty coach.
I hope he doesn’t ask you your name (or forgets it), makes an inappropriate joke, or tries really hard to sell you a personal training package.
I hope he hits on you or asks you on a date.
I hope something kind of negative happens because it will show you exactly how much is at stake when you’re the leader of the room.
It’s a reminder of something we all take for granted as coaches.
Minor details matter.
For the athletes and clients we serve, watching someone else do a piss poor job will remind you how fragile it all is.
After your sessions, ask yourself:
- What’s the #1 thing this coach does better than me? (Hint: there is always something)
- Did he or she have influence? Over me? Over the group? In what way did was that apparent?
- How could I adopt something he or she did well into my own coaching?
- What is something he or she did that doesn’t really fit with my style of coaching? Is there a 2mm shift in perspective I could make to make it fit?
And of course, thank the coach(es) for their time.
“Most of coaching is about being able to work with and manage the frailty of human beings.” — Sir Alex Ferguson
As coaches, we’re obsessed with improving ourselves, with winning, with honing our craft.
We’ll whip out our wallets and bend over backward if it means a deeper understanding of the Xs and Os.
But we would do well to remember (and refine) our #1 responsibility, which is delivering quality instruction.
One way we can do this is by observing ourselves and our craft through another person.
As our instructional skills increase, so does our influence, and in turn, so does our ability to cultivate a strong environment for those we serve. We’re fortifying a bridge for the Xs and Os to travel over.
Whatever your goals are as a coach or leader, that’s $150 well spent.
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