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How To Read Your Athlete For Best Results

Today I want to discuss a topic that I am sure not too many people have contemplated when it comes to coaching. When I was younger and a relatively inexperienced coach, I had this idea that if I knew the mechanics and had cool drills and could structure a training program then I would be a great coach. Someone said to me that I should learn psychology and I shrugged it off. What a terrible mistake that was. Now, I am diving deeper into psychology then James Cameron in the Deep Sea Challenger. And what a world I see. Sure, photons don’t go this deep but where visible light is non existent, reality is clearer then ever. Psychology has opened my eyes to what humans are really like. I pride myself on being a nice guy so I will not spoil the essence of humans on you and ruin your life but I will equip you with a fun tool and a game if you use it correctly. When an athlete walks in your door for the first time how do you know if they will be successful? How do you know if they will be a bully? A coward? distracted with family affairs? Etc. Most just think you can’t know and that it a gamble. Coaches have told me that out of 10 athletes, 1 will be national level and out of 100, only 1 will be senior level. These ratios are somewhat accurate from my experience. But no matter the actual ratio, how do you know what this new human will bring to the gym, and to your current team? And how do you effectively coach them? Paul Ekman is the leading researcher in micro expressions and emotions. His general philosophy is that your facial features represent what your brain thinks before you physically act in the realm of the living. It is very similar to phrenology which is an old taboo science of measuring the bumps on your skull to determine your personality. It is regarded as garbage now a days BUT, it gave birth to the idea that different parts of the brain dictate different movements, thoughts and ideas. Mr. Ekman is using a variation of this idea and translating it to the face. In short, if your a prick, your going to look like one. Many don’t know that the brain recognizes the “escence” of someone within 7 seconds. Nor do many understand exactly why they have this urge to think this person is a jerk but it is actually a physiological response rather then some harry fairy intuition. I will not go into too much detail of exactly what signals are being sent but you know that old adage that your mother told you? “Don’t don’t make that face, it will stay that way”. Well you should have listened. Below are just a handful of characteristics that I feel are prevalent for a coach to understand. I have a much longer list but many are more for reading my business associates but these ones are good for judging an athlete and being prepared for what they will throw at you as well as how you should treat them for the most effective outcome.


A person with high eyebrows tends to be reserved and are not interested in confrontation. One hypothesis is that at birth and shortly there after the brain experienced a lot of fear which is characteristic with a widening of the eyes. This may indicate a scary upbringing that may have had scary moments that left a long lasting impression. Abusive parents? One traumatic experience? Etc. These people tend to take longer to warm up to and you have to gain their trust more so then someone with lower eyebrows. You can see my picture below and my eyebrows are naturally low. This actually means that I am more sensitive and easier to approach and have less issues with confrontation. Many of you know I have never had an issue with confronting anyone if I feel it is necessary. So if you look at your athlete and they have high eyebrows it could mean they will require a gentler approach and a hardcore USSR style coaching may have a negative effect on them unless a trust is built up first. An athlete with lower eyebrows may be willing to push your buttons more and less likely to listen to your rules. Trust has to be built up for every athlete but if you look at their eye brows you may be able to already know which one you can be direct with and which one needs a bit more of a soft approach. It is important to know that the difference between these two pictures is more of a scale and not a black or white situation. A person with mid level eyebrows may be in the middle between these two extremes. The same goes with the following characteristics.

Ear Level:

The height of the ears is said to determine the level of perfectionism that that person falls victim to. A person with low ears that are more level with the mouth are said to be more picky and orderly about their day to day routine, ie. a perfectionist. The person with high ears closer to the level of the mouth are said to be more “go with the flow” type of people. A low ear athlete would, by statistical research be more prone to worrying about beat board placement and have more rituals in a sense for their training habits. They may have to start facing the same way on the trampoline more so then a high eared athlete or be diligent on the way they chalk their feet before their tumbling pass. This is neither good or bad. It is simply a preference. As a coach you may see a low eared athlete and look for these tendencies and not point them out but acknowledge it with the parents. Everyone has these OCD-like rituals at some level on the scale and if you see it as nothing more then a variation on the ones you have then you may be more sympathetic to their need for perfection. You may wish to try and ease them out of it by creating creative ways to force them to go with the flow more. Games like Add On and H.O.R.S.E may help these athletes. “Arbitrarily” having one corner of the floor blocked by other athletes or equipment may force them to start in a different corner. You must be subtle though or they may think of it as an attack and then it will cause more issues.

Nostril Size:

The size of your nostrils is said to determine how independent you are. The narrow nostrils are characterized with individuals who have dependency issues and may indicate someone who requires others to empower them or support them mentally and or physically. The wider the nostril is the more independent that person is said to be. Is it any wonder that when you look up faces of successful people generally speaking, they have wider nostrils? This is because it takes an independent mentality to be successful. Someone with narrow nostrils may have a history of abusive relationships or families and were constantly made to feel weak and therefore they depend on others to survive. The idea is that historically the size of the nostril was an indicator of lung capacity and heart health. Larger the nostrils, the more oxygen that could be consumed and transferred into energy. These are people who are on the move and have a GO GO GO mentality, generally speaking. Some theories also believe that the muscles under the skin that relate to fear, disgust and anger all contribute to narrowing the nostrils. The jury is still out. An athlete who has large nostrils may be more independent and willing to compete without much guidance and take it upon themselves to learn skills or create routines. Let them. Just give them guidance and do not handhold them down their path. These athletes want to do it themselves. And yes, I am speaking through experience. Athletes with narrow nostrils may require a bit more of a hand when it comes to making decisions such as what their warm up should be before finals or what strengths they have when picking routine elements to work on. Encourage these athletes and build up their independence with confidence first and give them easy tasks that they can succeed at. Then, step by step increase the difficulty. Do not expect this athlete to just “figure it out”. But if you do your job correctly, by the time they quit the sport successful or not, they will be more independent then they were when they started. This characteristic is a strong predictor of fear when learning skills.

Do you have an athlete who doesn't want to take away that matt or pit no matter how many times you tell them they are good to go? An athlete who wont try a skill unless you are spotting? Look at their nostrils, chances are that they are more narrow. The solution? Numbers and lots of them. Another thing you can try is make them coach others to do the same skill. I tried this with my athletes. I made them coach even if they were 7 years old. It is known to be one of the best ways to learn. And if that narrow nostril athlete can work with someone else and get them to do it, it will potentially increase their confidence. No guarantees but worth a shot and it will be more effective then just telling them not to be a wimp. Face Width:

The wider the face, the more that person would be likely to act before thinking. These individuals say “Yes” now and figure it out after. They tend to bite off more then they can chew. This is potentially the athlete who just “Goes For It” and would be reluctant to do the necessary numbers. The narrow face person, known as the thoracic type is more calculated and is proud of themselves because they know they worked hard and they command respect for their efforts. If you push the thoracic type athlete faster then they are willing to go you will meet heavy resistance. They are not the type to succumb to your pressure and if they are not ready they will shut down. The wider, more square head athlete potentially is more open to challenges and poking at their ego. “Hey Johnny, I hear you can’t even do 10 giants on high bar”. This statement for a wide head person would be a call to action. For a thoracic type it would not be as successful potentially. I broke my knuckle punching a pommel horse when I had a circle contest with a former team mate. Boxer fracture and off it for 4 months. I won in the end though. The thoracic type goes at their pace which is usually more calculated and thought out compared to the wide head athletes. I use to be called “Brick head” because my head is so wide and flat it resembles a brick. I always bit off more then I could chew and yes I have learned to scrupulously calculate my future decisions but my core essence is to think “Yes I can do that. How? I don’t know, ill figure it out”.

Underside Of The Nose:

The underside of the nose called the columella is an indicator of optimism. If the angle of the columella is upwards as in the above picture the person is said to be more optimistic and hopeful in a way. Everything is possible to this person and to convince them of something may not be very hard. The person in the below picture is more of a skeptic and it will generally be harder for them to accept your ideas because they tend to have a history of things going wrong and are less likely to go out on a limb for you. These people need guarantees. Is it any wonder that a skeptic is portrayed as looking down their nose at you? With a nose pointing towards the floor? As well look at a baby and you will notice that almost all of them have a columella that points up, drastically sometimes. This is because babies have not been rejected yet. They are still dreamers and think anything is possible. A very successful associate of ours told us that you always need to listen to the ideas of kids and bounce your ideas off them no matter how complicated. They will give you the real answer that they think without barriers and preconceived notions. And as the person grows older, the nose grows downward depending on the amount of negative outcomes they have had with their lives. A person who has been shunned and failed many times tend to have a downward sloping columella and will seem to be a very negative person. This is not because they hate you or your ideas, they simply have a history of failure of some sort. With these downward sloping athletes, simply give them more information and walk them through it carefully and gain their trust. Bring up their concerns and address them. Do not just think they should magically trust you because you are the coach. Gain their trust.


I will leave it at that for now. There are tons of other characteristics such as level of the head and the distance between the top of the ear and the bottom of the ear or even how big your earlobe is. You would be reading a 1000 page textbook if I went through them all but I think these are amongst the easiest to quickly identify and give you a very general idea of the athlete. The athlete is not your slave, nor are they going to simply follow you. That was the mistake that many coaches made with me. They assumed I would just take their word and it eventually caused me to distance myself. Not because they are bad people but they were uneducated in understanding me as a person. Coaches, please do not make this mistake. psychoanalyze your athletes right from the get go and ask them how they want you to coach them. Sure they will lie and try to “play you” sometimes but the reality is that you will learn to identify these characteristics very quickly over time. However, in my experience if you are honest and open with your athletes and simply ask them what they want from you, they usually tell you and be willing to allow you to push them more. This is because you have already shown from the initiation that you care about their feelings and are working with them and that it is your job to push them. Make that clear and work with them. Do not assume every athlete is the same. The mechanics are all the same and the drills are the same but the emotional approach per athlete is always custom built. Don’t give them a cookie cutter outline. It is a great way to take your ratio from 1/100 to 0/1000.

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