So, what makes a good coach?
(But rest assured, there will be more stories later. There are always more stories later.)
Here are the qualities and attributes that make a coach truly good, based on my years of experience on both sides of the question. They are not in order of importance; I consider all of them equally important, but I had to organize the list, somehow. Consider that the earlier attributes in the list are, in some cases, prerequisites for the later ones…
Athletes come first
A good coach puts the interests and health of the athletes before his or her own. So it should no longer be acceptable to put athletes through a meat grinder to extract a few star performers if you end up burning out the vast majority of hopefuls. And the converse is true: It must be acceptable that some athletes want to have a great time doing sports, but not necessarily aim to go to the Olympics.
A good coach is very knowledgeable in the sport(s) being coached, both the overall aspects (rules, tactics, etc.) as well as the techniques that are considered optimal for athletes to use in performing the sport.
A good coach is able to teach the sport and its techniques to athletes. This goes beyond demonstrating the correct techniques: It is about being able to understand in what ways the athlete is not succeeding, and finding ways to gradually bring about changes in the athlete’s technique.
A good coach can adapt to the level of athletes, providing customized instruction and training programs that are suited to their own needs, instead of pushing a standard program onto everyone. You might say this goes hand in hand with teaching, and you would not be wrong; however, some aspects of this can exist where no proper teaching is found.
A good coach is also able to adapt the training so as to make progression fun and not seem like hard work. Basically, being able to plan individual training sessions so that athletes enjoy them even as they learn, and planning those sessions so that they fit neatly into an overall development plan. Especially for younger athletes or kids beginning in a sport, but I strongly suspect this approach would have significant success with adults who try to maintain a resolution to exercise more.
A good coach exemplifies fair play and sportsmanship, and insists on it, no matter what, by being respectful of the rules, those who are in charge of enforcing them, and other athletes involved in the sport. Name calling at referees and treating opponents like enemies are not acceptable, ever.
A good coach congratulates and motivates in a constructive way while sparingly using negative feedback. Basically, a good coach should only need to smile to show appreciation, but doesn’t, and frown to show displeasure, and does never more than that.
This is a tall order. In some ways, almost impossible to find; at any rate, very demanding of the coach to perform all the time.
I feel that is why many coaches choose to focus on a type of coaching that does not require all of those attributes: By coaching highly committed adults, those I might qualify as passionate to the point of being obsessive about a sport, it is possible to get by with deep knowledge of the sport and techniques, and forget the rest. But that works only as long as the athletes are self-driven, and don’t particularly care about their own long-term health.
The key thing, when you are an adult interested in picking up a sport like running or triathlon (or any other, really), is that you should seek a coach that suits you. I encourage you to use the above list as a reference, but your own needs come first.
If you are a parent, you should look for the listed qualities in your kids’ coaches, and act accordingly. If you are considering coaching kids, your own and/or others, you should really keep the above in mind, and pick-up the knowledge and habits you’ll need. And keep your own emotions, and ambitions, in check.
And if all you are interested in is joining a group to have fun with a cheerleader-coach, then by all means, do so. The important thing is to move more. Yet I encourage you to ask for more, and expect more, of yourself as well as of others…
A few more words
A lot of what I wrote has to do with personality, at least on the surface of it. It is true that some personalities are ill-suited to be coaches, just like some athletes are impossible to coach. But it is not just about personality: It is about a fundamental attitude that coaches need to have.
No matter what their own ambitions and motivations, good coaches act in such a way as to show those qualities. They understand that the needs of the athletes are more important, and that if they do a good job as coaches, the rest will follow: good athletes, good performance, opportunities to coach at a higher level maybe, etc.
Knowledge, it must be noted, can be acquired in many different ways. No need to have a degree in sport physiology, or to have been an elite athlete.
Teaching is by far the least obvious part in the list. It takes skills, and time. And patience. But coaching is too important, because of its potential impact on athletes, to be given any less.
Finally, if you can’t be a good role model, if you don’t show respect to others as a coach, what kind of athletes will you have?
Have I forgotten anything? Let me know what you think…
Picture from Pixabay