Evolution of Being a Coached Athlete
I have been coached in one form or another in sport since I was in 10th grade in high school. As I've become a coach myself on the receiving side of having athletes under my instruction, I've observed an interesting evolution. I'm personally coached by Eric Helms of 3D Muscle Journey, and we have been working together for over three years now. I look at some of the conversations we send back and forth and I sometimes think "I don't want to have a conversation about this. I just want you to TELL me what to do, and I'll go do it." The athlete part of me is very goal-oriented in that way, and I think this is a quality many athletes have. Tell me what I need to do to get better, and I'll do it. Simple.
This is an erroneous way of thinking about things though, and I had an "Ah-ha" moment some nights ago. I think an ultimately thriving coach-athlete relationship is one of pure cooperation and cultivation of ideas. Ultimately the coach is considered a coach because they make the final call on a specific course of action, but the entire process up to that point is of mutual respect and collaboration. I had it wrong in thinking that the best possible circumstance was just to find the person who could give orders the best--I was picturing something like a Russian mastermind coach dictating programs and pulling the strings for his weightlifters. Wrong. REAL cultivation of the athlete--the ultimate job of a coach, besides goal-driven performance--is about education, critical thinking, and problem solving. If a coach isn't doing these things, the athlete will always need to be spoon-fed instruction, and Eric was and is trying to break that cycle.
Being a coached athlete starts off very much as a process of instruction and execution of that instruction. A command or set of instructions comes from the coach, often times with an explanation (or without, the stage is still the same), and the athlete is supposed to follow it. This rote process exists for a while without needing explanation, though even at this stage, the best athletes are the ones who are questioning procedures and seeking independent learning.
There's a middle ground where the athlete actually wants explanations for why the coach is making certain decisions, changes, etc., and is learning more about the sport as a whole. Perhaps at this point the athlete solves their own problems about movement mechanics, exercise selection, and I think its fair to say that a coach can give more freedom to an athlete here. The feedback is mutual, and self-reporting about how training is going should influence the direction training takes.
I think the final step is entirely cooperative and collaborative. Both the coach and athlete have independent, valid ideas about the direction to take, understanding of systems and why we use them, and opinions about optimal paths. This doesn't mean the coach and athlete are always in agreement! I think healthy disagreement and debate is not only normal, but an integral part of coming to a sum that is greater than its parts.
So, when I think back to my response, "I don't want to have a conversation about this. I just want you to TELL me what to do, and I'll go do it." I realize I was frustrated. I didn't want discourse and communication about the right way forward. I just wanted to be told. My mistake though, was in thinking that this would be better than the alternative. I had mislabeled what I thought was the higher level of a coach-athlete relationship, and I feel better now knowing that my coach is the kind of person who always seeks to get you involved in the process of coaching, and understanding things at a deeper level.
Its worth reflecting what stage of a coach-athlete relationship you are in right now (if you are being coached). Its also worth knowing where you want to be. Maybe you don't want to be involved ever, and you just want to receive orders, like a military commander and his troops. Troops don't need reasons, they just need to act. Or maybe you want to be the coach too, and understand the reasons for decisions and their consequences. Just know what type of person you are, where you are along the spectrum of the coached athlete, and where you'd like to be.
- Bryce Lewis