Many writers for Breaking Muscle are proficient coaches. Some are masters or on their way to mastery. I am honored to write among them and I read most all their articles because I am a scrub – a new coach. I feel part of my job as a new coach is to voraciously learn as much as I can, as often as I can, from a wide range of sources, and this site has been a great resource.
As luck would have it, my best and most amazing resource has been my very own home, CrossFit LA, which is one of the original ten CrossFit gyms. Owner Andy Petranek has mentored many amazing coaches and athletes including Breaking Muscle’s own Becca Borawski. I’m humbled to be tapped as the latest student under his wing. Though I have been coaching and programming for CFLA’s Prodigy Teen program for about a year, transitioning to life as an adult coach offers many more lessons.
Today I’m sharing my top seven lessons learned as a new coach. I know for as many new gyms that start up every month, there are at least that many more new coaches out there seeking knowledge.
1. Voraciously learn as much as possible, as often as possible.
Every single day I study. I study anatomy. I study weightlifting books and videos. I sign up for seminars and workshops. I observe how great coaches carry themselves and speak to people. I don’t just learn from CrossFit coaches, either. One of the most influential coaches for me in the last five years has been, of all things, a spin instructor. I study why he is so effective with his students and how he is able to motivate them to move better. Every single coach at my gym has a strength that inspires me. I try to learn as much as possible from their strengths.
2. Talk to all coaches all the time.
It’s not enough to observe great coaches in action, though sometimes that’s all you’ll be able to do, e.g., Coach Burgener on You Tube, but if you have experienced coaches around you who inspire you, talk to them. Talk to them all. Pick their brains about the technical and mental aspects of coaching. Corner them with any questions that arise about programming, class flow, or progressions of movement. You will find that great coaches are more than willing to share their knowledge. Often they will tell you stories about when they first started and these stories will be of great comfort. You’ll realize you are not the only new coach on the planet who is nervous or who loses their breath leading a warm up. The great ones were once nervous wrecks, too.
3. “Good artists copy, great artists steal.”
Pablo Picasso said this. Steve Jobs lived by this. And the hell if I’m above them or that philosophy. I steal warm ups that I love. I steal cues. I steal whole speeches on intention. What I steal is what resonates with me as an athlete. Even though I am using what I steal as a guideline until I’m confident enough to wing everything on my own, I still have to deliver it from a place of authenticity.
4. Lead by example.
I think often about what I ask of my teen athletes and what I will most likely ask of my adult students. In essence, I ask them to take risks, not silly risks to injure themselves, but I ask them to step outside of their comfort zone and confront places of fear. And that’s risky stuff. I feel if I’m not living by that, why should they trust me? If I’m asking students to act from a place of genuine effort or to become vulnerable to the practice, then I must do so myself. I have to be my own best student otherwise I’m just full of words, and shit.
5. Separate the athlete-self from the coach-self.
This has been one of the hardest lessons for me. I am not the best athlete in our gym and it has taken some of our best athletes and coaches reminding me that this is not the point of great coaching. If I stifle all that I have to offer with an embarrassment that I can’t deadlift twice what my students can, then I’m am not letting my best gifts as a coach shine. If I have the ability to connect with a student and make them move better, then I’ve done well as a coach. My deadlift has nothing to do with that ability.
6. Be constantly susceptible to evaluation.
I’m no spring chicken and I’ve been through many life experiences that have provided hard life lessons. What I know from that maturity is when to be humble and receptive when I have a ton to learn. Even if I’ve been to hell and back in my life, I still need a lot of guidance and training as a new coach. My ego is all but obliterated in the evaluation process, and that’s just the way it is. And a good evaluation, especially when it’s hard, is the fast track to becoming better. The more comfortable you get with being uncomfortable and putting yourself on the spot, the more you will learn. Also, you can memorize every bit of information that comes out of a coach’s mouth, but until you put it into practice to be evaluated and honed, it all remains just information.
7. Rely on current strengths.
I know that I’ve been tapped by one of the most respected CrossFit coaches for a reason. Though I’m not the best athlete and though coaching is a new venture for me, I know that my strength lies in my connection with people. I am approachable and relatable. I am empathetic. Students feel safe with me and hopefully within this safe space I provide students are able to grow as athletes. All the technical information and the biomechanics of the body will be learned, but this connection is either something one naturally has or it takes many years to get. And for now, until the other stuff is embedded, I rely heavily on that natural gift.
We can’t know all there is to know when starting something new. That’s a silly and presumptuous notion. The road to mastery is a long and humble one, but it’s one that is rewarding to no end. It’s one I’m happy to be on. I know patience is part of the journey and I can only hope that someday, years down the road, while continuing a never-ending quest to learn, I will have motivated athletes to move better and new coaches will use me as resource as they head out onto their own path.
Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.
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