As an athlete and a coach, I've had the opportunity to experience the relationship from both sides. When the relationship is good, the results are phenomenal and the possibilities are endless. Both athlete and coach share in the rewards of their labor, thanking each other in the process. When the relationship is bad, the results can be catastrophic. Blame is passed around and it can even destroy the will of an athlete to continue playing or the will of a coach to continue teaching. This dynamic relationship isn't just limited to athlete/coach but really applies to any relationship. It applies to spouses, teachers and students, and even teammates.
The art of coaching really comes down to the art of communication. I've been blessed to be around some great coaches and model my own style after some of the very best. Here are some things that I've picked up.
SPEAK THE LANGUAGE
It doesn't matter what you're saying if no one understands you. It would be more effective if you actually said nothing at all. As a performance, language isn't only defined by country and region, it's also defined by sport. Soccer has its own language. So does football, basketball, baseball, swimming, lacrosse, tennis, volleyball, etc. The word "offsides" means two completely different things in soccer and in football. That's just one of many examples where words can have different meanings to different people. Personal trainers and strength coaches also have their own language. As a coach, I always try to speak the language of my clients/athletes. I speak soccer to soccer players. I speak basketball to basketball players. I've even learned to speak swimming, and a little golf! This helps me gain trust and allows me to communicate exactly what I'm looking for and why it's beneficial. I wouldn't tell a basketball player we're working on amortization phase in a plyometric movement, I would tell him we're working on his ability to get off the ground quickly in between jumps. Speaking the language is so basic but sometimes overlooked, leading to frustration and miscommunication on both sides.
CONNECT NEW INFORMATION TO OLD INFORMATION
Speaking the language is the first step but it isn't enough to make a connection. Coaches have to build the bridge between old and new. If you can connect a new concept to a past experience, that person will be more likely to retain new information. Otherwise, it's a just a foreign thought, floating around in the brain with nothing to hold it down. Helping a player develop, mentally and physically, has to start by developing a foundation that allows growth.
Coaching has to move from broad to specific, simple to complex. My favorite visual example of this is the classic lego building block. Each block is fairly simple and unremarkable. But it's the ability to connect to other blocks that allow creativity and the construction of something extraordinary.
ISOLATE, INTEGRATE, CHALLENGE, STEP AWAY
As a performance coach, I will never be on the field to help my athletes make plays. I can't train them in a way that forces them to rely on me. My job is to simply help them develop the tools they need to be a great player. When the time comes, its up to the athletes themselves to put it all together. I've seen coaches who are really good at 1, 2, or even 3 of these steps. The great coaches know how to balance all 4.
- Isolate - Train the movement or skill in an isolated manner to address flaws or make perfect. Even as the athletes become more proficient, it's still good to go back and repeat. Remember, practice doesn't make perfect, practice makes permanent. Work on the fundamentals until athletes become unconsciously competent.
- Integrate - movements and skills must be integrated into a game like situation if you expect them to perform on a high level. In a competitive atmosphere, things don't always happen in the perfect situation or structure. Games are random at nature and athletes have to be able to recognize, anticipate, and execute movements and skills to meet the demands of their sport.
- Challenge - appropriate goals and challenges are necessary motivation for any athlete. If the challenge is too difficult, it can be discouraging. Too easy and the athletes get bored. When the athlete is challenged appropriately, over and over again, they begin to build the physical and mental sharpness needed to succeed. Each small victory builds self-confidence and validation, ultimately leading to big victories.
- Step Away - athletes have to be given the opportunity to struggle and find themselves. There has to be a risk of failure or there is no such thing as success. As a performance coach, this means I do everything I can to prepare my clients for "the moment". At this point, its up to the athlete to decide whether or not they're willing to do what it takes. I can simulate these moments in training by asking them to do things that they didn't even think they were capable of. It could be a weight they didn't think they could lift, or a jump they never thought they could make. Sometimes they fail, sometimes they succeed. When you can coach an athlete into "the moment", and allow them to find themselves, they may just discover that anything is truly possible.