Today I’m going to talk about 5 coaching skills that will transform your relationships with your athletes and lead to amazing results.
So I know there’s this big misconception that in order to get the best results from your athletes, you have to ride them hard. You have to break them and get them to be compliant. You have to make sure that they will listen to you.
It’s this old school mentality that I think is lazy because all it does is discount the humanity of who you are coaching.
And then you look at your athletes and you’re like, “Why are you not doing what I say? Why are you not making that correction? What’s wrong with you?” And so it’s this thing that coaches do where they’re like, “I’m going to tell you what to do. And if you don’t do it, it’s your fault.”
It’s lazy because really, if they’re not connecting with the corrections that you are making, that is your fault.
I remember when I was the head of the rec program for a while. And one of the gyms I coached at there was this one coach who was like, “My kindergarten classes are so terrible. They cannot sit still.” And I was like, “Bro, that’s your fault!” When I teach a kindergarten class, my kids are moving, moving, moving. They’re always doing something because I know that I meet them where they are. So if they’re not doing well, they’re not listening, that is your problem.
It’s true as a coach, if they’re not listening it is your fault.
So I want to break this misconception that a fear-based coaching model can break athletes and drive them out of their comfort zone and into greatness. What really happens is that you might get compliance. You might find some athletes who are people pleasers, who are willing to just do whatever you say. It kills trust. They don’t trust you. And then it breeds anxiety. And that anxiety might not show up all the time, but it’s there and it’s brewing and it will pop up. So if you’re not building great relationships with your athletes, there is an anxiety that’s being created.
If and when you’re willing to do the extra work to become a better coach, you can build better relationships with your athletes. You can actually trust them. And you won’t have these surface level relationships where you’re like, “I’m in power, I’m up here, you’re down here, you do what I say. I don’t know why you’re not doing it.”
It’s like you’re always guessing if you’re coaching in that way. You’re like, “Why aren’t they doing this? I don’t know why they’re not rising to this challenge. What’s wrong with them? Why are they not motivated?” And if that’s the way that you’re looking at it then you’re looking at it the wrong way.
I’m going to teach you these five coaching skills and ask you to put in the hard work. If you’re asking the athletes to do all this physical work, you’ve got to do the work to improve yourself as a coach, too. And know that if you put in this work, your athletes are not only going to feel better, they’re also going to perform better.
I interviewed a friend who’s the head coach of Chapel Hill Gymnastics. And he created this whole system founded on being human based instead of results based. His intention was to put humans first and to make sure that every human is heard and respected and collaborated with and to let the results just fall where they may.
And one year later they have the best platinum team in the nation, you know. It’s like the results followed.
I think that’s the fear is that a lot of coaches feel like if they don’t ride their athletes, their athletes are going to get lazy. But if you build a relationship with your athletes, they will thrive.
Here are the five coaching skills that will transform your relationships with your athletes:
Coaching Skill – Number 1: Communication
Now I don’t mean just talking. I mean two way communication. In this situation you’re allowing your athletes to have a voice and that voice can air frustrations to you. They can tell you what they don’t like. They can tell you what’s not working. They’re allowed and encouraged to collaborate with you so that they can help find better ideas. You guys can collaborate on a better strategy if something’s not working, instead of being like, “Well, I don’t know what’s wrong with that kid. And she needs to get motivated.” Instead you go, “Okay, let’s figure out what’s going on here.”It’s a two way communication. They’re free to come to you. You’re free to come to them.
Communication is a beast. So I’m not going to go over too much of it, but I want you to at least consider the individual. Now, if there is a massive amount of trust, some kids need an autocratic coaching system. So that’s you telling instead of listening. But this only works when there’s a massive amount of trust when you’re looking at that kid and you’re like, “I know you can do this. I believe in you. Let’s do it.” And it’s that moment where you know it’s time to push your athlete out of his or her comfort zone with a spirit of love and flexibility.
There is a place for that, but democratic conversation where it’s a collaborative situation, that’s got to come first. So you start with collaboration, you start building trust. You start with a check-in. I would line my kids up before beam and say, “How’s everybody doing? What about your body? Your mind? How’s your spirit?” And they would each check-in. It was a part that we worked into workout. And then when things are not going right, instead of going straight to the correction, you connect first. “Hey kid, how’d you feel? How did that one feel to you? What did you notice there?” instead of “Nope, not right yet. Got to fix this connection. Correct.”
So communication is the foundation upon which all of these other coaching skills go.
Coaching Skill Number 2: Positive Reinforcement
If a coach is like ‘If you do it like that again you’re going to break your neck’ then what happens in the athlete’s mind is that they imagine breaking their neck and then their brain goes into hyper over-protective drive. And then they can’t do stuff.
And you’re like, “Why are you not listening? I’m telling you, that’s not safe.” Instead you want to be helping them visualize a positive outcome all the time. So what you’re giving them is “I know you’re going to be able to stand this vault up. All you have to do is this.” You give it to them in a way that they can imagine it happening instead of, “If you keep doing that you’re gonna break your arm” which doesn’t help them.
But what we want is to constantly be giving them a positive outcome to visualize. And also you want to acknowledge where they’re doing well, so that then there’s space for them to take on the criticism and there’s a little cushion. You’ve probably heard of the compliment sandwich where you go over and you’re like, “Hey, this is looking good. You can improve on this. And that’s looking good too.” So you just sandwich that criticism right in between a couple of positive things. And it makes the whole thing easier to hear. Some kids struggle with compliments. Some kids struggle with criticism. That way you’re getting it all covered and you’re giving them constructive, kind feedback. But this hinges on effective communication. So you have to make sure that you’ve got that communication in place before the athletes are going to really be able to hear you.
And something you want to remember in the way that you give feedback is that we’re helping athletes grow as humans. So we want them to build confidence in and out of their sport. And the way that you speak to them is a huge part of how they build confidence, basically for their whole life. They’re little sponges.
And if you tell them “You can’t focus to save your life” they remember it. So see if you can keep the emphasis on positive reinforcement, which is going to bring out more inner motivation. I had an athlete that I worked with before when I was coaching and she was attention-seeking. It was like “Rebecca, Rebecca, Rebecca, Rebecca!” She wanted attention all the time.
And then she’d show me something. I’m like, “No, that’s not right. Nope. Not right. Nope. Still not right. You’re not making the correction.” And I would wonder why she was continually calling my name and showing me what I didn’t want to see. Well, it’s because she wanted attention. So what I started doing was praising the heck out of anything she did well. If she did 99% wrong, I’d be like, “your toes are pointed. That’s good. It’s getting better.” And I just honed in on what was going well. And she started to realize that I would ignore the stuff that was attention seeking or I just wouldn’t pay attention. But I was watching. Anytime something good happened I would give her attention.
So that’s something that you’ve got to learn within your athletes. Give them that positive reinforcement because what you reinforce will grow. And then her motivation to do well went way up. So positive reinforcement builds motivation. If you want to motivate your athletes, point out what’s going well for them. This is one of the most important coaching skills to have.
Coaching Skill Number 3: Genuine Interest
The next skill is genuine interest. So if you want to gain respect, you have to give it first. And something that I would encourage you to do is to learn their passions, remember details about their lives, figure out what they love to have, what’s their family like, what are they up to, what are they passionate about.
When I do this with athletes who I coach on the mental side, I always want to know things like what’s your favorite subject? And what movies do you love? Because that way I can be like, “okay, I’m going to give you an analogy. That’s just like iron man. Cause I know you love iron man or I’m I know you love math. So here’s what we’re going to think of this in terms of an equation.” So if you know what they love, you can speak their language. And when you remember details, like, “Hey, how’s your sister doing? Or is your grandma in town?” their little heart knows their coach is paying attention. So if you can do this it helps you to strategize better with them. It helps them practice. It helps with team bonding.
So taking a genuine interest in their lives gives you not only an ability to be likable, which I always liked when the kids liked me. But also it gives you more coaching skills that you can use to coach.
Coaching Skill Number 4: Availability
The next one is availability. So I want you to ask yourself how available you are to establishing relationships in general. I’m a little bit of an arms length human. I’m like, “hello, nice to meet you. I don’t know you. So I’m not going to trust you before it’s time.” I’m sure that showed up in the way that I coached. I’m like, hello kiddo. I’m going to keep you at arms length. So I might’ve been more uncomfortable. Like my mom, she didn’t talk to me about girl stuff. She didn’t talk to me about anything uncomfortable. So I felt a little stunted in that department like, “Ooh, should I talk about girl things with these girls?” Like that’s awkward, especially guys, for you male coaches, that might be you’re like, “I don’t know if I’m available for this type of conversation.”
Well one of the coaches that I know from my local gym has this one nailed. Coach Mo, if you’re out there and talking about you, she is available. And her athletes come to her and her athletes know that if they need to talk, they can go to her. Then she has so much trust among these kids that I see it. And I’m like, gosh, they’re so lucky to have her. You know, if something’s happening in the gym, they go to her. If something’s happening out of the gym, they go to her because they know she’s there. She’s mama. She’s like, come to me if something’s going on and I will be there with you.
So if you can create even just a little bit more of that availability of like ‘I am here, you can talk to me about anything’ that creates a bond and a trust that is so critical, which brings us to the last of our coaching skills.
Coaching Skill Number 5: Trust
Now this is the cornerstone of a strong bond with your athletes. I want you to think for a second. Who do you trust most in life? For me, it’s my husband. And, and then ask yourself, how did you build it? Well, I didn’t trust him on our first date. I was like, I’m not going to tell you all my secrets. I don’t even know this guy.
And over time I noticed that he’d show up for me. He listened to me and he did what he said, and he didn’t hurt me. And he didn’t leave me. It was like a marble jar. I was just like putting a marble in every time he showed up, every time he listened. And he earned my trust by filling that jar up over time. Today I have a very full jar of lots and lots of evidence that I can trust this guy. And your athletes, you’re either putting marbles in the jar or you’re taking marbles out. Anytime that you give unclear instructions, and you’re like, “no, you’re doing it wrong” they’re like, “oh, marble out of the jar.”Anytime that you are getting on them about something they didn’t even know they were supposed to do, marble out of the jar.
Every time that you provide those clear instructions, you deliver that positive reinforcement, you show genuine interest, you tell them you’re going to spot them and you do, you’re putting marbles in their jar. To the point where they’re going to feel like, “Okay, coach, I’m uncomfortable, but I trust you and I’ll do it if you say I can.”
There’s got to be mutual trust. You have to trust them. And they have to trust you. Because you have your own jar. And if they’re cheating on conditioning and they’re not doing what they say, then they’re not filling the jar. So what you start with is I’m trusting you. I’m empowering you. I believe you. And I want you to trust me too.
Just one little side note is don’t ever say you’re going to spot and don’t spot them. You have to be impeccable with your word, because I have seen so many athletes who develop mental blocks because their coach says they’re going to be there. And then they’re not. And that a break to trust. So if you say you’re going to spot, even if they don’t need it, you better dang well spot.
Be there and do what you say and consider you’re always building that marble jar. Every action, every word, everything you either follow through on, or don’t follow through on, they are keeping track. Can I trust this or can I not? And then when you fill it to the top, that’s when you can say, “all right, kid, I believe in you. Let’s do this.” And they’re like, “Okay, coach, let’s do it.” And then they can trust themselves, which is the thing that I aim for.
When I work with kids, I take them through the three-step process of building awareness, building confidence, and building trust in themselves. And you know, when a kid trusts themselves, it is so cool to watch. They just get up and they hit and they try and they don’t worry about failure and they go big. And if you can build that foundation of trust within your relationship, that’s going to empower them to be able to trust themselves.
So that’s five coaching skills that make you a, not a lazy coach, but a great coach with great relationships and those great relationships build trust. And that trust builds incredible performances. So go out there and get a little better at one of these coaching skills today. And I would love to hear in the comments, what are you going to improve? So again, our five coaching skills are communication, positive reinforcement, genuine interest, availability, and trust. Which one of these coaching skills are you going to improve this week?