"It's what you learn after you know it all that counts."
-Coach John Wooden
In today's blog you will discover:
A gauge of your own coaching satisfaction
The most important lesson you will ever give
3 learning milestones to propel your coaching skills
My hope for this blog is to bring valuable information to allow meaningful introspection into your coaching ideas, as well as offer beneficial information that may expand and improve your coaching strategies.
Gauge Your Coaching Satisfaction
I have found over my career in tennis that most coaches gravitate toward teaching higher-level student players – either elite juniors or even adult players. Those of us who have been seriously competing for most of our lives become ‘hard-wired’ for champion performance. This exceptional performance can carry over into our coaching preferences. Our winning ‘ego’ has served us well in our playing career, and some experts say that kind of ego is necessary. That disciplined, driven part of our personality is used to get the job done. But as with most things in life, balance is needed to keep the ego in check (i.e., deleterious or transformative).
Remember, playing is not coaching. Just like studying is not teaching. Coaching only the elite or ‘promising’ players can tunnel our coaching performance. Offering to mentor students at all skill levels will hone our coaching competence. Coaching is communicating – effectively.
Many things must fall into place for a player to improve and excel. Some aspects can be facilitated and cultivated, while a host of others may fall outside our skillset or timeline. To become “elite” at almost anything, several things must converge, like education, drive, and circumstances. Of course, the convergence list resulting in elite performance is quite a bit longer than just those few things.
The message here is: No-one is self-made, neither coach nor student. To achieve extraordinary results, we must stand on the shoulders of Titans that came before us, whatever our chosen profession. This is a message that a coach needs to deliver to students at any level. It’s called humility. And, this leads to the lesson of dedication
“The glory is being happy. The glory is not winning here or winning there. The glory is enjoying practicing, enjoy every day, enjoying to work hard, trying to be a better player than before.”
Every elite player has endured phases or stages in their development. The greatest athletes have taken full ownership of their craft’s developmental journey. They’ve allowed no person (including a coach) or circumstance to prevent them from seeking their goal. Drive, determination, and dedication cannot be taught and cannot be bought. But they can be caught. The greatest coaches know this. They also know that a coach’s learning is never over.
You don’t need to coach a ‘great’ to be considered a successful and inspiring coach. A coach’s passion comes from working with all kinds of students over and over again, every day. This committed level of engagement means a better chance for a higher sense of life satisfaction. You get to make an impact on many lives. You get to ignite the ‘spark’ – or maybe a diverse group of students and skill levels will re-ignite yours. Inspire and be inspired.
The Most Important Lesson You Will Give
The most important lesson you may ever give is the initial lesson – the one that may not be held on the court. The one with no net and no racquet – not yet. This first, foundational “consultation lesson” is omitted by many professional coaches and mentors. This is the critical time in which a coach gains the information needed to create a roadmap for future development. Can you imagine going to a doctor's office and saying, “treat me”, without a consult first? No, of course not. So… why do many coaches miss this?
My recommendation is to incorporate a consult lesson using some of the following ideas. If you are teaching a junior, on day one schedule a 30-minute consult session with the parents (no child at this point). Gain insights from their perspective. Then, you guessed it, do the same kind of discovery with just the child (no parents). Then, bring them together to compare the connection of goals, willingness, and level of commitment. This ‘stage-setting’ exercise allows for a smooth transition into the next developmental steps.
This kind of discussion level sets the ‘why’ as you develop the ‘how’. As you navigate the consult lesson, you can tailor and manage all expectations. Put it in writing. Writing down plans will codify the experience for the junior student, parents, and coach. Of course, desires and expectations grow and change over time, but a clear starting point and path will serve all parties well.
Example: Assume you are a 4.0 tennis player and want to move up to a 4.5. Until you and your coach have a consult lesson, there will be no crystal clear plan with effective, customized teaching methods. The pro can feed balls expertly and give some great hitting practice. Maybe the pro will offer pointers here and there about technique. Unfortunately,
I would bet that if you and the coach don’t take time to understand your current skills, your needs, and your willingness, any significant change will come very slowly – if at all. If there is no initial session to set expectations and a reasonable timeline, then I might even venture to bet that you may not even be willing to accept his/her recommendations. Consultations are invaluable. Don’t skip this preparatory step as a student or a teacher.
Here are just a few litmus tests I learned along my coaching journey.
Ensuring these simple approaches made my job fun, rewarding and exciting. Try them.
- Learn to teach through your student's eyes, not your own. Consultative conversations can ensure that your student always gets the most customized lesson – every time they’re with you on the court. Even when you don’t feel like it, bring your own “A” game to every lesson. Every student deserves to believe that they are receiving your best every minute.
- Generate laughter in every lesson for every student –beginners, advanced, and everyone in between! If coach and student cannot laugh on the court together – then it’s time to find a new coach. And, coach, you may not be in the right profession. Tennis is a GAME! It is supposed to be fun. Hard stop.
- Words matter. As a coach, it’s never a good idea to ask a player after a competitive match if he/she won or lost. Rather ask a more probing and revealing question like, “How did you feel about the way you competed today?” This kind of question avoids the win/loss/score results-oriented debate and moves the discussion to a progressive, developmental growth dialogue. Winning and learning are key distinctions. Falling down is necessary (even expected), but it must be followed by getting up –with a stronger determination to improve. When both coach and student dial in to a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset, sustainable forward progress occurs naturally.
"If we hunger to “learn” it is inevitable that we will morph into something greater."
-Fred A. Robinson
Knowledge Milestones to Propel Your Coaching Career
The modern game requires more from coaches today than in years past. World-class players have an entire entourage to placate every detail of development from technique to fitness, to nutrition to sports psychology, etc. For a coach (at any level), you may hold all these titles in the eyes of your student. As a teaching pro, you are the entourage.
Coaching is a multidisciplinary endeavor, requiring dedication to become ravenous learners of every aspect of the sport. Some (but certainly not all) topics for study for your coaching repertoire are Biomechanics, Nutrition, Endurance, Psychology, Statistical Analysis, Psychometrics, Fitness, Sleep, Injury Prevention, Recuperation, Time Management, Prioritization, on and on. A coach’s learning is never over. As with most things, the more we learn the more we realize how much we don’t know.
Let’s investigate some milestone learning opportunities that will quickly and easily expand your coaching and mentoring ability. This groundwork will carry over from your sport into other areas of your life – and that of your student. These ‘milestones’ will jump-start successes for you and your student. Embracing these learning milestones will open doors for many other learning opportunities. Remember to cultivate a journey of learning, acting upon what we learn, and sharing these learnings with others.
Milestone Learning #1:
I firmly believe the book, Mindset by Carol S. Dweck, should be mandatory reading for all coaches. Almost every area of human endeavor can be dramatically influenced by how we think about our abilities. People with a fixed mindset—those who believe that abilities are fixed—are less likely to flourish than those with a growth mindset—those who believe that abilities can be developed. Mindset reveals how great parents, teachers, managers, and athletes can put this idea to use to foster outstanding accomplishment. With the right mindset, a coach can transform his/her students’ lives and their own. With the right mindset, you can motivate those you lead, teach, and love—to transform their lives and your own.
Milestone Learning #2:
One of my favorite aspects of playing a sport is learning Flow. Flow, The Zone, Tunneling, or whatever term you wish to use is the feeling of being fully-emersed and energized with focus. For many years I have asked players and coaches about how they rank the “mental part of the game”. I typically hear most explain that this aspect is 90% or higher of a sport. However, when I quiz them on how much time they devote to developing their “mental game”, I usually get a sheepish yet knowing reply, of “probably 10% or less.” Now we don’t need to be a polymath to know something is amiss here.
Flow is the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter.The best ‘flow’ moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. I suggest that you listen to the talk by Steven Kotler. His talk, How to Focus to Maximize Your Potential, describes how this field of study is burgeoning. Get your notepad out and have fun with this fascinating topic.
“There is no way around hard work. Embrace it. You have to put in the hours because there’s always something which you can improve.”
Milestone Learning #3:
Understanding how to optimize cellular energy plays a crucial role in all facets of health. Reaching the highest performance level means we need the highest energy levels at a cellular level. Our microbiome is the foundation for optimizing our energy. The podcast interview of Dr. Will Bulsiewicz is lengthy, but it will be time well invested. Nutrition is a topic that some of the most skilled medical professionals among us are, self-admittedly, lacking.
Truly understanding nutrition, through the lens of cutting-edge science, may cause you to rethink what you think you know about your physiology and even debunk conventional wisdom. This podcast will give you a basic course on how to optimize athletic performance.
These three learning milestones, studied in tandem, will focus the body-mind learning platform. This trifecta will propel you and your student forward faster. Our willingness to learn is how we multiply our value to those we teach. Coaches, I applaud you for taking on such a demanding profession.
Your job is a tough one. I believe these tips and learning recommendations will refresh your passion for your coaching career and enable your coaching legacy to be a change in the world. Lastly, if I can be of any help, please feel free to reach out.
It is my greatest hope that you will implement some tips from our Bio-Cultivating and Neural-Cultivating blogs. Further, it is my hope you will be inspired to pass these learnings along to family and friends. We all have people in our lives who have the desire but lack the accurate information to improve their health. It is frustrating to sift through the bombardment of data and the misinformation in today’s world. It’s no wonder some give up in frustration. I believe that we deserve the healthiest choices that honest modern science can offer. It is my mission to help as many of us as possible get and stay healthy.
If you're a champion, you have to have it in your heart.
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Learning Milestone #1 Recommendation:
•Mindset by Carol S. Dweck, available on Amazon (or other bookstores) and Audible
Learning Milestone #2 Recommendation:
•How to Focus to Maximize Your Potential, Steven Kotler - The Science About Flow or Being in the Zone https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TR895QiYMw8
Learning Milestone #3 Recommendation:
•Rich Roll podcast with Dr. Will Bulsiewicz, MD MSCI - Optimizing Your Microbiome
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