Three of my favorite athletes. Photo courtesy of Brian Sullivan and Triune Media.
“The Quintessential Coach”
I. Manager vs. Trainer vs. Programmer vs. Cheerleader
This is a distinction I have been wanting to make for quite a while now. It seems that in our profession, the lines between the four above categories can become quickly muddled into the catch-all phrase “personal trainer” — a moniker I despise. A “personal trainer” is an over-paid, under-educated individual who values the number of clients he can sign up for a 5-year contract over the quality of product he is putting out.
The above list is a list of character traits, but it also a list of “people” so to speak. In my life in sports, I have been around my share of all of the above. I have been coached by those that were supposed to be (or do) all five, but who in reality were only one or two. A great manager does not necessarily make a great coach. A great trainer does not necessarily make a good coach. Each job (or person) is vital to the success of an athlete, and while is is not important to have one person be all five things to you – it is important that you have all five of these things.
A. The Cheerleader
This person may or may not have great technical expertise, but they have one thing in spades: the ability to motivate. Rah rah shish-koombah (or however the hell that thing goes) — they are there to get you through a workout by yelling at you, patting you on the back or telling you how awesome you are and that you can do anything! Also known as the Drill Sergeant, their instruction is not so much aimed at your technique or strategy as much as it’s directed at your emotions. This is the person that in your darkest hour can say or do something to get you to pull yourself off the floor for one more rep or light the fire in your belly to power on and finish the workout.
B. The Programmer
This person is a mastermind. They know numbers, science and the art behind making people fit and strong. They may or may not ever step foot in a gym – and they may or may not ever have been good in the sport they are programming for. But they know how the sport works and why. They have special insight into patterns and trends and they can predict what the next big thing will be. The have a wide knowledge base — although they may or may not have outstanding personal-relations skills. No matter — that’s not what they’re here for.
C. The Manager
When I think of “managers” my mind instantly thinks of Soccer — you know, Football. I spent my life (through college) immersed in the world of soccer. When you look at some of the biggest and best club teams in the world: Manchester United, Chelsea, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, et al – you will see that all of these clubs have a “Coach” (the man on the field making game-time decisions) and they all have a “Manager” (the man behind the scenes, buying and selling players, making deals with apparel and other sponsors, deciding venues, etc.) In the world of CrossFit, a manager is a strategist. This person is the one who tells you when to workout and when to rest. When to compete and when to sit one out. What gym to train in, what coach to train under, what to eat and what supplements to take. They, in essence, “manage” you: your time, energy and training… dare I say life 😉
D. The Trainer
This is the person who is highly knowledgeable and highly technical. They know a million different cues to get you moving better. They are very well-versed in every lift under the sun. They know the ins and outs of physiology, movement patterns and mobility. The trainer has read every book and watched every video from every expert. They could probably write their own book at this point. In the gym, they have a keen eye and understanding of the idiosyncrasies of the human body and can easily pin point movement faults and their quick fixes. They are the technicians.
“The Quintessential Coach”
There is no greater honor or prestige than reaching the level of Coach. In my opinion, a true Coach must have and be all of the above and lack in none. For plants to grow and thrive, they need soil, sunlight, oxygen and water. If any of these three is missing, the plant wilts and dies, or at the very least its growth is stunted severely.
This is what we strive for on a daily basis. The best Coaches in the world know how to A) effectively manage their athletes’ time, energy and resources, B) cue them and teach them properly, C) program for their present and their future and D) motivate them through words and actions. If a coach (little “c”) is only one, two, or even three of the above qualities, then the athlete under their wing is missing out on a vital part of their growth and development.
Most importantly, a Coach is also great with people. This can often be the one “unteachable” aspect of coaching and something that separates “good” coaches from “great” coaches. Listening and communication skills are paramount. Part psychologist, part therapist – the Coach can talk to and speak to all kinds of people at the same time in the same moment. They are confident that their way is the best because they have the track record and experience to back it up. But they are also keenly aware of their shortcomings; they know when and what they don’t know.
I am blessed to be surrounded by many great coaches and Coaches — I learn something from each of them every day, whether they know it or not. Thanks to the coaches and Coaches who have invested in me throughout the years – from my days in pee-wee baseball all the up to my years of college soccer. And to those who continue to share in this process with me: Thank you too.