17 Ways to Be a Better Coach

aaron guyett coaching Aug 30, 2019

Are you a good coach?

Do you want to be a better coach?

Most good coaches would agree that they can get better.

Yet I would put all of the money in all of my bank accounts that EVERY great coach spends weekly time becoming a better coach.

“Good is the enemy of great. And that is one of the key reasons why we have so little that becomes great. We don't have great schools, principally because we have good schools. We don't have great government, principally because we have good government. Few people attain great lives, in large part because it is just so easy to settle for a good life.” 
― Jim Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't

I have had plenty of good coaches, but I couldn't tell you all of their names. 

Now, my great coaches? I have only had a few, and I could tell you their names, as well as the specific effects they had on my life.

I compiled an incomplete, yet sufficient, list of 17 ways you and I can be a better coach. Not because we need to--I am sure you are a good coach---but because we want to be better.

I compiled this list as a way for me (and you) to consistently get better as a coach, and maybe one day we will be great.

I can tell you that there is little else that inspires passion than to be able to help radically transform someone's life for the better.

“Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.”  --John Wooden, Basketball

The above images display the relationship between Kareem Abdul Jabbar and John Wooden. The left is Kareem Abdul Jabbar is being coached by John Wooden at UCLA, and the right is Kareem Abdul Jabbar helping his coach, John Wooden across the basketball court. From https://www.reddit.com/r/pics/comments/407l2t/kareem_abdul_jabbar_and_john_wooden/

I hope you are challenged and encouraged by this list of 17 ways to be a better coach:

1 - Listen More

Have you ever wondered why we weren't given two mouths?

I mean, it would make bulking phases waaaaay easier.

It would also be far worse for my customers, clients, and students. It is one of the harder challenges of my coaching and teaching career to limit my words, and make things simpler.

The biggest trouble of my verbose mind and mouth, is that it limits my ability to listen.

Often the answer lies within the person we are trying to help, but we haven't taken the time to listen.

Listening is one of the surest ways to clarify the objectives, understand the limitations, and establish trust with our people.

There is a reason we have two ears and one mouth. Please use them in this ratio.

2 - Observe More

In the same ratio, we were given two eyes.

Listening and observing are going to provide far more impact in your life and the lives of your athletes.

I we get sidetracked, distracted, or consumed with other visual stimulus (i.e. YOUR PHONE) while you are training and coaching, you might as well quit now.

It is my belief that coaches have some of the most powerful observation techniques and skills (we are able to increase or decrease loads based off of seeing minor changes in form, facial gestures, and body language...if that isn't powerful, I don't know what is...).

It would be a waste to take those visual techniques and skills away during time with your athlete or client. (Now if you are new to coaching, it is even more important for you to observe, observe, observe...this is how you will build the afore-mentioned techniques and skills).

3 - Talk Less

Maybe it seems like I am repeating myself.

That would be because I am.

Repetition is the mother of all skill, so please do yourself a favor...

...talk less!

You will inevitably have to talk, teach, coach, and develop using your words, so try to limit them.

I used to coach kettlebell sport athletes.

For those of you that don't know, the clean and the snatch are some of the hardest techniques to teach. I had a multiple week program that I would use to teach both of those techniques to my athletes.

I then went to Marcus Martinez's Kettlebells Advanced Certification, and watched him teach the clean to beginners in a little over an hour!

He used less words, and he kept the concepts of movement simple.

Less was waaaaaay more.

I now only teach the clean that way.

Think about how much time that saves me and the athlete?

If you are a former Kettlebell Sport athlete of mine, and you are reading this...please forgive me.

4 - Ask Better Questions

If you are not the MOST curious person in the room, on the field, in the ring, on the mat, or in the gym, then you have a lot of room to improve.

If your athlete has a problem, or isn't performing to the level that she should, chances are, you need to uncover something that cannot be revealed in a movement assessment.

Trust me, I have been there, trying to drive my perfectly created periodized and highly personalized program down my athlete's throat, to realize he was moonlighting with strength training program written by his dad.

We were both wondering why his performance leveled out, because according to the program this is where he should really be seeing some massive adaptations in strength, and endurance.

Once I started asking him good questions, and then shutting my mouth and opening my ears, he was able to trust me enough to tell me his three-a-day program, inspired by his father.

What are good questions?

Any question where you are sincerely interested in the person that you are coaching. It could be about what they do for fun, how many family members they have, or if they get allergic reactions to eggs. As you ask questions and show sincere interest, your athlete will trust you enough to share the deeper and more authentic versions of themselves.

You have to earn this through good questions with sincere interest.

5 - Teach, Don't Tell

Not every set has to be a lesson (see #3 - Talk Less).

And I understand that some students, athlete, customers, and clients just want to be told what to do, so they can get it done and move on with their day.

Even this type of person will appreciate learning the context, why's and how's of the programming and workout.

As we teach, we learn our craft even deeper, and more importantly we arm our athletes with a truth plumb line that they will measure all future training and coaching programs with.

If we are not teaching, we may be setting up our people for a fall because, you won't be their coach forever.

When they move on, they will still hold the principles and concepts you taught them. What they won't remember is individual workouts and programs you designed for them and them told them to complete.

6 - Prioritize Relationships Over Tasks

The training must get done.

The skills, techniques, and concepts must be walked out daily in order for physiological and psychological changes to occur.

At no time, should the above tasks become more important than the person.

This is to lower the human, below the task, and that is will dehumanize the process.

This is no exaggeration.

People working together with hard work and harmony, is how we become a part of something that is greater than us.

At times it may seem that the task is more important from the players perspective. This is when they are doing seemingly endless exercises or drills, but in those moments the great coaches are doing it for the athlete's transformation...not for simple accomplishing the tasks written on a sheet of paper or a white board.

“Great vision without great people is irrelevant.”  ― Jim Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't

Before you begin, ask yourself, will this improve the relationship, people, and team; or will this just be another notch on the wall?

7 - Improve Communication

 Talking less and speaking simply is a start, but there is great depth to communication.

How do I get what is in my head and heart, inside the head and heart of my people, while understanding what is in their head and heart?

Communication is so much easier said than done.

Keeping it simple, but effective: If your people are not doing the thing that is in your head or on your heart, you need to adjust the way you are communicating that thing. You can use their communication to help articulate what was missing or too complex in your last communication.

How will you perform the next drill?

What is the essence of this exercise?

How would you explain this to your team mates?

Think about communicating the most complex concept to your 7 year old. If she understands it, chances are, your athlete will understand it.

Also, there is no such thing as over-communicating the most essential principles (think about Coach John Wooden teaching attention to detail and importance of foot care to his college-level athletes by teaching them how to put on socks and shoes).

If your people are making fun of you teaching your concept, you know that they have it in their head and hearts (the ego will tell you that you are being disrespected, but take a step back and realize laughter is the best medicine, especially when they are able to take your complex concept or essential principle and turn it unto a humorous adage).


8 - Improve Trust By Keeping It Real

Pretending to be something you're not is a sure way to lose trust and deep relationships with your people.

The more authentic, real, and vulnerable I have been to the sphere's of influence I have, the more trust and openness I have garnered from them.

I was not open and honest to get them to be open and honest with me. I was open and honest, because I didn't want them to think of me as untouchable and perfect (especially because I am far from this.).

Obviously use common sense when sharing indiscretions with your athletes. No parent wants to hear that their child's coach shared the mistakes they made on a spring break trip in the early 20's back in 2002.

If you missed a workout because you hit snooze one too many times, got easily frustrated at your daughter during bedtime routine, made some poor nutrition choices because you were tired last month, or royally messed up when you were put in a leadership position in Marine Corps boot camp...these stories  can help create context for them to understand the reason behind the principles and concepts you are teaching them, as well as help them realize you are an approachable human with feelings and limitations, too.

9 - Focus On One Thing At a Time

A sure way to stay an average coach is to try to be everything for everyone all at once.

There are plenty of studies out nowadays to show that the myth of multitasking is ineffective at best, and devastating at worst.

In an article titled, Multitasking: Switching Cost written by the American Psychological Association on March 20, 2006, they quoted a researcher, stating, "Meyer has said that even brief mental blocks created by shifting between tasks can cost as much as 40 percent of someone's productive time."

As a coach, you do not have time to multitask.

You also won't build report with someone if you are constantly distracted by your phone, other athletes, your past, your future, or any other thing that pulls us away from the present moment with our people.

10 - Slow and Steady Always Wins

 Although The Tortoise and The Hare is a fable from Aesop, an ancient Greek writer, the wisdom is timeless.

If you can do something consistently and sustainably for a decade, you will make far more impact than the person that goes 10x's your speed for only one month.

Let's put this into context.

If you are somehow able to build your current athletic clients at a rate of 10 per day for 30 days. You would have 300 clients (I would guess that your growth is unsustainable, because you would also need the infastructure and personnel to handle all 300 clients...but for argument sake...you made it).

Meanwhile the girl down the street, plods along, systematically growing her clientele only 5 per month for the next 10 years (120 months). She will have 600 athletes at the end of a decade (and I would argue that she would also have the infastructure in place and the personnel to handle all 600 athletes effectively).

The same goes for finances, relationships, communication, fitness, strength, endurance, and any other area of your life that you are looking to improve. 1% per day or week that is sustainable for a decade, will be far more effective, than burning out by trying to sprint through a marathon.

Think long term investments, and reap incredible rewards!

11 - Give Your Best In The Next Opportunity

Taking is slow and steady and focusing on one thing at a time, leads to giving your best in each of your next opportunities. Now what if we made giving our best, who we are and how we do all things.

Archilochus stated, "We do not rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of your training."

He and I both believe that we will always have a romantic ideal of what we want to do and be, and that will inevitably crash with what we do and who we are in reality.

If we do not practice being our best in the next opportunities (next night sleep, next nutrition choice, next conversation with a loved one, next workout, next set, next rep...), we will not be our best when it counts.

Make giving your best, the level of your training, by training it in all of your next opportunities and moments.

If you agree with this, start using #nextonebestone in your social media posts.

12 - Praise-Correct-Praise

 As a coach, you will need to fix mistakes, correct drills, adjust posture, teach better movements, and the list goes on.

It is far easier to hear these constant fixes and corrections when it is surrounded by praise.

We now know that learning environments that are positive lead to far faster and far more improvements than negative environments.

Research by academics Emily Heaphy and Marcial Losada examined 60 business leadership teams and their performance at an information-processing company. Essentially, the teams were rated by a set of factors, such as customer satisfaction ratings and financial data, to determine performance. What they found was that the highest performing teams held a positive-to-negative feedback ratio of 5.6, or 5.6 compliments for every negative one. The lowest performing teams held a ratio of 0.36 or 3 negative comments for every positive one.

From https://wp.nyu.edu/dispatch/2018/05/03/which-is-more-effective-in-the-workplace-positive-or-negative-reinforcement/ on September 2, 2019

If that is the case, we can at least implement a praise like, "you are moving with good speed," before we correct with, "next time start with your right hand toward the ball," and then conclude with, "great hustle, and keep up the great work!" This praise-correct-praise, goes a long way toward creating a positive environment that your athletes will want to be a part of, and learn from more effectively.

13 - Aim Small Miss Small (sum total of tiny wins)

Remember the movie, The Patriot with Mel Gibson, when the family has to go rescue the eldest sibling, after watching the second eldest get gunned down by the British?

He asks his young boys what he taught them about shooting, and they respond with, "aim small, miss small."

This is also the case with coaching, and becoming a better coach.

Aim small, not only small wins but well articulated small wins. Think about the 1% improvements you can make in your coaching business, coaching programming, and in your athletes, and then do them.

If you miss, you will still have made slight improvements that once aggregated over time, can build up to incredible wins.

While the British in the movie The Patriot, where the bad guys. The British cycling team, aggregated so many small wins and improvements, that they became a force to be reckoned with from 2003 to now. We have a term for it--winning by marginal gains.

14 - Treat Others As THEY Would Like To Be Treated

When we think about behavior it is impossible to not have some ego or self-serving tendencies.

We also know that serving ourself and leading with ego, is a sure way to become a worse coach, so how should we treat others?

Think about your athlete and people from their perspective, and then act and behave accordingly.

This simple task can take less than a minute, before you see your client.

Think about their day, their personality, their life, and then treat them accordingly...if you don't know any of those things, see #4, #3, #2, and then #1...in that order.

15 - Play The Long Game

We usually want to win now, not a year or a decade from now, but every coach that has created a dynasty, did not think only today. These moguls in sports and fitness thought about the long term, just as much as how to win the long term with winning the day.

We often think about doing more today, so that this upcoming game is in the bag, without taking a few more steps in processing what that may do to our athletes and people for the next three games, as well as the entire season...or even next year.

When we play the long game, it keeps us in the maxims of "Slow and Steady" and "Aim Small, Miss Small" and "Doing One Thing At a Time."

This sustainable approach and consistent action will be easier on your athletes and easier on you as a coach.

By no means will it be easy, but it will be easier than collecting unsustainable injury rates, bad attitudes, and burn-out that come from pushing too hard too fast.

16 - Be Intentional With Every Part of the Job

When I think of coaching, I think of interacting with the athletes and creating badass programming.

I often forget about education, follow-up communication, establishing business rules, collecting money, making phone calls, and checking in on athletes that are not present.

Just like #nextonebestone would dictate, we need to do these parts of the job just as effectively as the work on the field and on the white board.

The organization, effectiveness, and precision that we deliver on these, will turn us into the great coaches we desire and idealize.

Take, for instance, education. If I am not a lifelong learner, consistently honing my craft and sharpening my edge, I will end up behind the coaches that consistently educate themselves.

When I was just starting, I learn the basic principles, and thought I knew everything. I then started learning, and thought I was becoming smarter than everybody. Now I keep learning, because I realize there is far more that I don't know, then what I do know, and that awareness deepens every day I read or learn something new.

It can be said simply, "The more I learn, the more I realize that there is more to learn."

Make learning a lifelong habit, and you will earn more credibility and trust with your athletes.

17 - Make Giving Your Best A Habit

The above 16 ways to be a better coach, can be easily talked about, but unless they are put into action, they will only be thoughts and words.

In order to truly become a better coach, we must make becoming a better coach a habit.

Just like #nextonebestone, start habit-stacking to improve in at least one of the above areas.

If you are like me, and you love coffee, make coffee and learning something new go hand-in-hand.

Or if you are like most humans, and you like brushing your teeth, make sure you right out your most important task to complete for the day and most important relationship to connect with for the day in your schedule before you brush your teeth. Put it on a sticky note on your mirror, or right it on your forehead if you have to.

Your slow and steady, habitual, best self is ready to be trained.

Let's be a better coach today, every day for ten years, and see where our athletes and clients end up.

What was the way that you need to improve the most?

How will you start becoming a better coach today?


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