Why coaches should put themselves into their athlete´s shoes
Updated: Feb 23, 2021
I have an olympic weightlifting background, so I know one or two things about lifting weights. I´m very comfortable with a barbell, so demonstrating or teaching a snatch, clean or squat is what I really enjoy. I´d say I have a feeling for all kind of barbell exercises and lifting weights is in my comfort zone. This specialization is pretty beneficial in many ways, but working in youth sports or being a strength & conditioning coach for multiple sports demands a broader range of skills and knowledge.
When coaches tend to mainly program and do what they are comfortable with and their personal preferences dominate the training sessions, then this can be a huge limiting factor for the progression of athletes. I have worked with rugby players before. None of them had a snatch or C&J in my gym program. Even though olympic lifts are in my comfort zone and a great exercise for power development, I decided to not let the players do them after I have assessed their techniques. Doing gym programs for other athletes than weightlifters was kind of new to me, so I´ve made a plan on how to be a better strength & conditioning coach for them and get a feeling for their physical demands. My plan was actually pretty simple
I don´t want to hold my athletes back, so it´s my main task to get out of my own comfort zone as a coach. If I expect it from my athletes in training and competition, I should be capable of doing that, too. It´s essential to understand the sport and what is demanded of the athletes involved to create a plan that is applicable to their goals.
Honestly I don´t know every fine nuance of rugby, but I try to watch as many games as I can to see how the players move in their positions, how they interact with other players and simply what they go through in a game. But this isn´t enough. It´s a valuable asset to put yourself into their shoes every now and then. This doesn´t necessarily mean you have to play their sport. I have never played a game in rugby or basketball and I´ve never done a triathlon or any other sport on a competitive level (except olympic weightlifting). But I try to get a feeling for any kind of sport I´m involved in.
If you coach in contact sports, it´s a huge benefit to know what impact a tackle has on the body. So, I found a volunteer who taught me how to tackle.
If you coach in endurance sports, it´s a huge benefit to know how it feels to go to that very dark place. So, I ran a 10k just for fun. It wasn´t fun though.
If you coach in strength sports, it´s a huge benefit to know how great grinding up a heavy clean is. Ok ok, grinding up a clean is nothing new for me, but you get what I wanna say.
So, my advice to any coach: run, swim, cycle, jump, sprint and lift tons of weight. You don´t have to be as fast or strong as your athletes -this is why they are elite athletes and you aren´t (anymore) -, but you should have an understanding for what they are going through in training every day. It´s one thing to tell them how to improve their technique, but if you can show them every exercise or skill you ask them to do with a decent technique – how much more powerful and convincing is that?
Make sure you practice what you preach, to a certain degree, and always keep up with the crazy demands of your athlete´s sport. Get out of your comfort zone. Frequently!