Physical Activity

What Makes a Good Coach?

What makes a great coach?

This is something I think about often as I continue on my journey as a coach, as well as an athlete. I’ve been physically active for more than 25 years, involved in some type of sport or fitness-related activity. I’ve been a runner, a group fitness class junkie and tried out just about every home fitness program on the market. I got my very first “real” pull-up doing P90X in 2009. Thank you Tony Horton, that strength foundation was really helpful!

In 2012, I signed up for my first CrossFit class after getting really bored of my fitness routine. It sounded really alluring; I needed a change and was craving a new challenge. I would definitely say that CrossFit delivered, in a big way! Not only was it fun, but it was motivating and full of supportive people who were digging this, too. I was hooked.

After gulping down the Kool Aid, I signed up to get my CrossFit Level 1 certification in October 2012. I wanted to learn more and help teach others about this fun functional sport. In the spring of 2013, I got my CrossFit Endurance certification and later went on to get certified as a nutrition coach with Precision Nutrition in 2014.

The nutrition seemed to just fall into place, since I’ve been blogging about recipes and healthy living since 2010 over at Amee’s Savory Dish. I’ve been coaching at our box for 3 years now and I’ve learned so much along the way. I love being the student as much as being the teacher. I recently, signed up to get a CPT certification with NASM this year. I’m always looking to challenge myself to learn and grow. I like expanding my horizons with different perspectives within the fitness community.

“If you are not willing to learn, no one can help you.  If you are determined to learn, no one can stop you. “-Anonymous

One thing I’ve struggled with as a coach is teaching movements that I’m not personally good at myself. Technique is easier to instruct than to execute, but I have dealt with feelings of inadequacy in those moments. I can break down the fundamentals of the elusive muscle-up, but haven’t yet accomplished that movement myself. I’m a big believer in strict before kip and I’m still working on building that strength foundation. Does this make me less of a coach?

Then I thought about something really powerful that changed my perspective — I learned to walk from someone who couldn’t. My father was born with cerebral palsy. During the birth process the umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck and he lost too much oxygen to his brain. Luckily, only his legs were affected. With Spastic CP, the signal from the brain to the muscle is disrupted. As a child he was promised he would play football after several surgical procedures, but when they didn’t work, he knew he had to make the best of the situation that he had.

When I was a baby, my mom went back to work at night. My dad was a teacher, so in the evenings he was left with sole parental duty. We lived in a two-story townhouse at the time. This proved to be a little challenging for someone who walked with crutches and had to put a baby to bed in a crib upstairs. When I was too little to walk up the stairs, my dad would sit me on his lap and together we would scoot up the stairs, one by one.

He taught me how to walk by teaching me to hang onto his crutch and take a few steps. He got me into my crib every night by teaching me to hang onto his neck so he could swing me up to my bed. He couldn’t lead me by a physical example, but he taught me how to trust his teaching and follow my instincts. I learned from a very young age to use my intuition to develop skills.

Through this I’ve learned several things about coaching including:

1. Listening is number one.

This is important for the coach and the athlete.  Be open to feedback.  Be respectful to your clients, you can’t help someone if you aren’t hearing them.  When you listen, it shows them that you care.

2. Be an effective communicator.

This is what made my dad such a great teacher.  He could explain things in a simple way that I could understand, even if he couldn’t actually show me what to do. Improvise when necessary and get creative with your teaching. Not everyone learns the same way. Always try to be clear and concise.

3. Never stop learning.

The best teachers remain the student. Think outside the box. Strive to always keep your mind open, your heart compassionate and your eyes vigilant. Continue your education, there is always more to learn and new techniques to explore.

4. Always be up for a challenge.

Determination is an admirable trait. I’ve seen my dad fall more times that I can count, but he would always pick himself back up and keep going, without complaining. Work hard and be an example for your athletes. Walk the talk, ya’ll! When they see you give 110%, they will want to follow your lead.

5. Celebrate your athlete’s achievements.

As a coach, it fills you with pride to see someone accomplish their goals. It’s a joy to be a part of that journey. Reward them with praise and let them know that they have your full support.

6. Check your ego.

If you have to teach something that you’re not particularly good at, just remember that no one expects you to be perfect. Being able to relate to the struggle can make you a better coach.

The best teachers are great communicators and listeners. Giving helpful cues for an athlete to create kinesthetic awareness makes you an inspiring coach. In the last three years, I’ve steadily increased my strength and continue to improve daily in this beloved complex sport. I love the journey. I’m a work in progress, a humble student and an empathetic coach. I know and understand the challenges of the long road to success and achievement.

So whenever my insecurities rear their ugly head or I ponder the question “What makes a great coach?” I remember one of my favorite teachers.  He’s pretty amazing. He’s brave. He’s strong.  He’s determined.  He’s my dad.

You may also be interested in Finding the Perfect Training Partner and How to Stay Motivated Past the Honeymoon Stage of CrossFit.