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What Makes A Good Coach

This seems like a very obvious question with a very easy answer. “Well the coach should treat the athletes with respect and be fair to every athlete and keep everyone safe and most importantly have fun” ~Most Coaches This sounds like a great answer of course but is it enough? Many give an answer like this but what does it actually say? Respect? Well, all humans should respect other humans and other life forms so that's not just for a coach. Fair? All humans should treat each other fairly and equally to the best of their ability at all time. Not really only a coaching characteristic is it? Safe? Sounds pretty common, but again that seems to be the general job of every human. Turn signals, speed limits, stair rails and hospitals all claim to try and make humans safe so does that mean that every police officer is also a coach? Surely not. Fun? A day care employee gives kids toys to play with. Does that make them a coach? (Actually you could by what definition you use). What about festival event planners trying to book Steve Aoki to their next event? If “FUN” is the only job description for a coach then, then wouldn't that make a festival organizer or party planner a 'coach' as well? As you can now see, the typical answers do not really target what a coach actually does. By "MY" definition a coach is the following: “An expert through practical personal experience as well as current and historic research based methods that aims to pass on accumulated knowledge within their scope of practice to those willing to learn in a way that allows the athlete to apply the knowledge inside and outside of the industry in a progressive manner, adding value to their quality of life." But here is the actual origin of the term 'coach.'

The original sense of the word "coach" is that of a horse-drawn carriage, deriving ultimately from the Hungarian city of Kocs where such vehicles were first made. Students at the University of Oxford in the early nineteenth-century used the slang word to refer to a private tutor who would drive a less able student through his examinations just like horse driving. Britain took the lead in upgrading the status of sports in the 19th century. For sports to become professionalized, "coacher" had to become established. It gradually professionalized in the Victorian era and the role was well established by 1914. In the First World War, military units sought out the coaches to supervise physical conditioning and develop morale-building teams.

Now you may say that I am not talking about safety or fun or fairness. You are correct. Those are not the only necessities for a coach. Those are particular styles of coaching but do not fit the definition of what makes a coach unique compared to event planners or officers. As a coach you must know the knowledge of the sport but how you translate that is your own method. Some coaches hit athletes and others baby them to the point they are so soft that the athlete is completely dependent on the coach which hurts their competitive performance. By definition your job as a coach is to gather as much knowledge all the time and then pass it to your athletes some how. This is the part that may be lacking in some coaches. Everyone is very focused on the mathematics but not the delivery.

I was having a discussion with one of my business associates the other day and we were discussing the origin of language. It turns out that the letters you see in your alphabet, what ever country you are from, originates from symbols. "A" is actually an Ox head and if you look at it sideways it looks like the stem of the A on either side could be the horns. All your letters are just short form symbols.

The question became then, what created the order of the alphabet? If you do a bit of digging you realize there is no answer for that. The 26 symbols in our alphabet were just the most used words of the day. The symbols related to water and shelter and society and religion. So why teach someone the alphabet? Only because it is a systematic way to help kids learn...or so they say. The reality is that if you were to have a kid learn to write words as they heard them being sounded they would utilize the words faster as they were more relevant.

If you were to look up Piaget and other cognitive development theorists, there is a lot of research on how the mind actually learns. Remember, what you learned in school was not for the sake of you learning to understand what you need to know. The school system was based off the factory system that was created in the early 1900's. This was when the government needed workers and needed a lot of it, in a systematic fashion. Now that the industrial revolution is over and we are use to it now, if the school system was to re create their entire curriculum, Many parts of it would not be recognizable to you.

You see this phenomenon of "faulty wiring" in the brain as well. For example, when you want to point with your index finger, the signals sent tot he brain are not to "point one finger", but instead to over right the previous wiring of "close the entire fist". Prehistorically we never needed to be able to point and do fancy things with our hands besides grab something. Can you dog move one of his "finger paws" independently, or is it all one unit? We use to be like that as well and added a circuit in the brain to stop the entire hand from clasping shut and only listen to the newer signal to only point one finger. The reality is that like evolution, there is always a better way coming out, and just because one thing has been done for a long time, does not mean that coaching techniques should be the same. The techniques taught 60 years ago are no longer the ideal scenario for the most part. Not that there are not good things that we can always use. But let's say that there is new wiring that will allow you to understand new aspects of the sport and your athlete if you take the time to keep up to date on your research. Coaches should be researching new coaching methods every week, if not every day. I use to cook my lunch and have a biomechanics lecture on in the background. Something I could learn from Yale or Stanford on Youtube. Didn’t cost me a penny and I got to cook and learn. No excuse to not keep learning. My ideal coach would come into training every day with new information eagerly trying to teach me. I find sometimes getting information out of coaches is like pulling teeth. The coach can not simply rely on research however. Practical experience is half the battle. You can’t learn to be a coach out of a book. To know what it is like to stand in front of a large crowd in a leotard waiting to do your hardest trick that you are not confident in. Show me the textbook that teaches you that. To land on your face and break your nose on floor doing a double back after you told your coach you were fine and didn’t have to do a “one touch” (ya my nose is still crooked). Show me that text book. Remember humans need to trust someone before they follow them. If your athlete thinks you do not know what they are going through at some level they will not really respect you. They may say they do but you will get attitude and millions of other signs that they are not really taking you seriously. (If you know to look for them) Lead by example. Not to say you have to be a world class athlete to be a coach. But if you are not a former athlete at some level in any sport then you will not understand the athlete mentality. You can't, you never have been in those shoes. You can rationalize to yourself a million ways till Sunday but still fundamentally you do not know that "Feeling". This does not mean you have to now quit coaching if you do not have the experience, but know that it is 50% of the knowledge so find some athletes or coaches or even friends that do have practical experience that they can pass to your athletes. Even having the older athletes regularly discuss openly their feelings is a good start. My coach would have regular times that we would watch the best of the best at VISA Championships or something to give us that motivation for big tricks that he could never do. There is a way to do it, just don't blindly tell yourself, you do not need the experience, just because you do not already have it. Gymnastics and Trampoline Text books can teach you the mechanics of a sport but nothing more. Remember the knowledge is only half the battle. You can think of what ever story you want in your head but if you are unable to write or speak then it is hard to pass that knowledge on. A large part of the battle for a coach is passing the information on. There is a ton of research that goes into explaining how thoughts are formed, how athletes become motivated and what learning techniques work in certain situations. These things need to be researched. I fell in love with psychology. It has shown me a world in the human brain I never knew existed. Granted it is a dark dreary world but still, it is better to deal with that then to pretend it is something else. A coach who does not know human psychology is going to find it hard to be the top of their game in the coaching realm. A psychologist knows why people do what they do and a clinical psychologist specializes getting people to realize it themselves. As a coach you are not necessarily trying to do psychotherapy on your athletes but knowing basic psychology is a must. Then you can tell if your athlete is motivated for the right reasons. If your athletes have home problems that may effect their training habits. If that athlete likes particular types of training. ETC. If you are a coach and have not looked into psychology please do. Psychology will teach you to deal with humans. Once you have the math and mechanics down pat then you need to understand how to translate it to the athlete. Psychology is the starting point. Once you find out what makes every human tick then you can deliver your math better to them in a fashion that will allow them to retain more information. This is where the style comes into play. Of course the coach has to customize their delivery to their own psychology. By studying psychology you will learn a lot about yourself which in turn will help you deal with athletes. From there all you have to do is then slightly alter your delivery to every athlete. The math is all the same, just the style varies from coach to coach for each athlete.

Thanks! Greg

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