5 Proven Skills Your Coach Must Have
If you are a serious athlete dedicated to becoming a top competitor in your sport, your coaching choice matters. I recommend you build a checklist of necessary skills a good coach must possess before engaging in services. In this blog, I’ll elaborate on 5 proven traits and essential elements of elite coaches. Ask your prospective coaches about the following:
- NUTRITION / HYDRATION / FITNESS
- MENTAL STABILITY TRAINING
- RESULTS VS. PROCESS
Even if your dream isn’t to win Olympic gold or be on TV, working with a coach can make the difference between just ‘training’ and doing focused workouts to meet a specific goal. A good coach will help us see possibilities where we can’t. A coach facilitates learning, offers advice, and analyzes their athletes’ weaknesses and strengths. Coaching has been proven to have a powerful, positive impact on skill improvement, self-confidence, wellness, and work ethic. Coaches can motivate an athlete’s mind and muscles.
In this context, I’m talking about the diversity or range of a coach’s athletic experience. This doesn’t mean having expertise in many sports. Instead, it’s about their varied real-life athletic experiences during their competitive career. When you’re considering hiring a coach, feel free to ask about their records — their wins and, as importantly, their losses.
Don’t fall for those coaches who compile an awesome resume only to impress you. Most coaches will never be a “Yoda.” Understand your coach’s strengths and weaknesses. Readily admitting failures and the learnings shaped by those failures provide valuable insights. How a coach deals with weakness will tell you much about their character.
A good coach doesn’t have to have been number one in their sport. Some of the highest-ranked players are awful at coaching. And some coaches with average talent or mediocre records are great teachers. A good coach needs to know how to win and effectively relay that knowledge to an athlete, not necessarily have the athletic ability to do it themselves.
That said, achieving success means knowing what it takes to get there. To find out if your prospective coach can help you reach your intended goal, ask if they have achieved the same level to which you are aspiring. For example, if you want to compete in a national championship, find a coach who has done that. Or, if you’re going to win a national title, find someone who has done that. I recommend you find someone who has done it at least three times in their career. A great coach must demonstrate superior performance to be deemed an expert.
NUTRITION / HYDRATION / FITNESS
Being a strong athlete isn’t just about perfecting your on-court skills. It’s about preparation. And a good coach will fully educate you on all ‘off-court’ aspects of preparation, including but not limited to: nutrition, hydration, and fitness.
Sound nutrition is one of the most important aspects of training, yet it is routinely overlooked (or even avoided) by coaches. Without this fundamental cornerstone, it is impossible to reach your highest potential. Your coach doesn’t need to be a certified nutritionist; however, if nutrition is not a constant conversation and learning opportunity, you are not in an ‘elite’ environment.
Beyond eating healthy, proper hydration is essential before, during and after play. Proper hydration regulates body temperature, lubricates joints, and transports nutrients. If you’re not hydrated, your body can’t perform at its highest level. Good hydration is not just about water. Essential electrolytes and energy sources are key.
Much of an athlete’s improvement comes from off-court fitness. A good coach knows how to plan a regimen that includes functional movements, strengthening, stretching, balance, and agility exercises. Moving beyond the mechanics of your sport is imperative. For example, Direction change, flexibility, and explosiveness are all ancillary movement techniques needed to become a better player. To improve in any sport, one must become a better overall athlete.
Other off-court prerequisites include sleep, injury prevention/recovery, strategy, as well as your research responsibilities. If your coach does not incorporate all the essential pieces and parts, you’re both just pretending.
MENTAL STABILITY TRAINING
Let’s talk about mental training. Many coaches use words like “perseverance,” “commitment,” or “dedication.” But a good coach will take these theoretical phrases and make them real. Your coach should be able to show you how to overcome adversity and generate focus.
This is where a coach’s playing experience can help you. They will know more than theory if they have been in the hot seat and competed at high levels. They will be ‘street smart’ and can identify mental snares. Knowing these secrets can save you time and frustration. An open and transparent coach can help you avoid the sport’s psychological pitfalls by sharing their competing experience.
Mental training is real and powerful. A good coach will guide you toward mindfulness activities. For example, meditation can help an athlete perform better under pressure, handle the pain of loss effectively, suffer fewer injuries (and recover from them faster), and improve opponent assessment. A good coach will impart the importance of a strong mind that can withstand long focus periods – a quality in which champions of all sports excel.
Other parts of mental stability training include self-talk, clarity, adaptability, decision-making, motivation, and mental agility. Check out this previous blog for more on mental training:
RESULTS VS. PROCESS
In addition to mental training, another vital role of your coach is to clarify the relationship between ‘results’ and ‘process.’ Having a ‘results focus’ is about the outcome, your ranking, and beating others. Notice that this focus is outside of you. A ‘process focus’ involves concentrating on what you need to do to perform your best such as preparation, technique, or tactics. In contrast to an outcome focus, a process focus is entirely on you. And, contrary to many coaches’ philosophies, a ‘results focus’ reduces the chances of achieving the outcome you want.
This distinction is vital to your development, which your coach must instill. A good coach will teach you why and how ‘process focus’ works. Easier said than done. Our culture is steeped in results. Your coach must understand that training is anchored around process: specific drills and routines crafted to help you become balanced in your sport. Think of the process as the action steps to get results. Without those steps, results will not come.
Good coaches know that becoming a top contender in any sport is messy, painful, exhausting and not pretty. Unfortunately, some coaches cater to making athletes ‘look’ impressive or accommodating their strengths. Sometimes it’s due to pressure from parents or the feigned commitment of the athlete. False coaches won’t work for you if you’re expecting actual growth. The deception and absurdity of fake coaching should be exposed. You have been warned.
Coach’s sidebar: As a long-time coach, I can quickly surmise if a student wants to be coached and why. When I’m confident of the level of dedication, my student and I sit down and go over every weakness (an essential first lesson). We develop drills to rip these weaknesses apart and rebuild them. Once all shortcomings are fortified, then and only then can the student start to become an offensive and defensive wrecking machine. It starts with why.
Last but not least is laughter. Fun is the one thing a coach can never sacrifice under any circumstance. Your coach should know that enjoyment positively affects satisfaction, effort, and performance. And a coach’s attitude is contagious.
Only those who love what they do and can instill that in their student will make great coaches. If you can laugh at failure, you will have the tenacity to persevere. Sadly, for a coach who cannot make the learning journey fun, their students frequently quit and give up. As a coach, I can think of no worse outcome for my student.
If you are considering joining an academy, a camp, or a training program, look around and listen carefully. Do you hear people laughing? Do you see folks excited and eager? If so, you’ve found a good place – a place to learn, thrive, excel, and most of all, enjoy!
Regrettably, I see coaching academies run in ‘no laughter’ zones. Why so serious? Play is supposed to bring excitement and allow for expression. Without laughter, coaches waste their time and their students’ time. A lack of fun causes more destruction than any grueling training routine. If you or your coach are not finding joy, then make a change. Life is far too short to miss out on this.
Whether an elite athlete or not, people trying to improve their healthspan understand that having a sport they love contributes to their overall wellness and happiness. Are you committed to being the best you can be within your limitations? With the help of a good coach, you can set high, realistic goals for yourself.
A good coach will help you train and play hard. A good coach is part counselor, drill sergeant, strategist, and cheerleader. A good coach believes that what you get back is worth what you put into your sport. Admittedly, a coach can change your game. However, a good coach can change your life. Choose wisely.
Learn. Share. Inspire.