5 Coaching observations

I’m sure most of us have often gone to great lengths to acquire knowledge on subjects that interest us. Reading blogs and watching youtube tutorials are now common place basics. But sometimes you learn lessons by accident whilst trying to acquire an entirely different skill.

This week I had my own experience of this whilst attending a Crossfit Olympic Lifting Masterclass. There was a group of about ten of us all paying £65 per head. So it was worth it for the coach to be there on a Sunday afternoon. I was there to learn about Olympic Lifting technique and how to improve mine. I made the following observations about coaching cues; what I found to be helpful and what I would choose to leave out. These are my personal opinions and feel free to disagree.

1. Show or tell

I’m sure most coaches are already familiar with this one but it still remains to be an important aspect to consider. Does the client pick things up by description or by actually doing? I’m a bit of a mixture – I read blogs for written description, watch youtube for visual cues and then seek out personal experience, where I can, from others who have the skill that I want to acquire. This to me makes sense but not so for everyone else. My learning point was to establish how my client soaks up information prior to launching in with your colourful metaphors. Which leads me to my next point.

2. Flamboyant metaphors

I’ve found, and maybe it’s just me, that when coaches/teachers use overly flamboyant or obtuse metaphors that I get caught up in the story of these imagined characters rather than being able to apply their meaning to the job at hand. “Keep your back as straight as you can imagine two wild cats have jumped up on your back and clawed their way up on to your shoulders, you have to keep them perched there whilst you drop into the squat.” Right then I should have stopped him. I was thinking about the bloody cats and their sharp claws digging into my back more than trying to keep my back straight. Not only that but I find myself drifting off and creating an imagined life for the frightened wild cats – taking them to the vets to have their sharp claws filed down, finding them a home and where did they come from in the first place??? His best analogy was to “squat down like you are using an NHS toilet”.

3. One size fits all

In a group setting it is difficult to provide sufficient coaching to individuals. This should be fairly obvious but there are things that can make this format better or worse. I’ve found that if you veer from the norm by any substantial degree then this will get you noticed by the coach. i.e. if you’re rubbish then it’s easier for your bad form to be identified if not corrected. Also at the other end of the scale if you are proficient then you may be used as an example of how it should be done. But if you’re in the middle then you’re screwed because then you will go unnoticed as your faults aren’t glaringly obvious neither is your proficiency remarkable enough to be recognised. It’s easy to fall through this net although I tend to ask enough questions to ensure that this doesn’t happen.

4. Complicating simple matters

Sometimes simple works best – in fact most of the time this is the way to go. When coaching comlex movements such as olympic lifts then obviously it is important to break the lift down into stages which can be mastered before moving to the next. But this overlooks the fact that the lift should be viewed as a whole. It is an explosive movement that becomes clunky, slow and methodical when trainees attempt perfection by hitting all of the imposed stages. The stages I believe are a necessary evil but the coach needs to be mindful that it is a means to an end.

5. The power of authenticity

A coach commands respect because you know that they have traveled the same path as you, they’ve stepped into the ring, challenged themselves in the gym and faced the same adversity as you. This is how they have the credibility to get you to accept their coaching cues. However on the other side of that are the coaches that may not have struggled in exactly the same way as you but what they can offer is keen insight and powerful observation. As long as this knowledge and insight can be passed on and acted upon then the same destination is arrived at having traveled an entirely different route. The important factor to consider in all of this, however, is that nothing is achieved without trust and this must be earned by the coach. My example here is yet another boxing analogy, Freddie Roach who suffers from Parkinson manages to train elite boxer Manny Pacquaoi despite his ailing physical capacity he still commands enough respect and trust to get the job done (although not against Mayweather).

These are just my observations folks, but I hope to put some of them into practice and improve my coaching skills.

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