Keep you Purpose in mind, question the Purposes of Others

Purpose, Exercise, Diet, Advice, Health, Fitness

Purpose is what keeps us all moving (each in our chosen direction).

It all boils down to Purpose. Everything.

There, I’ve said it.

Everything you do, everything you read, everything you come across on a daily basis. They all stem from one thing: Purpose.

Some of it is your Purpose. A lot of it, especially what you encounter around you, is the Purposes of Others. But it is all Purpose. To truly make sense of the world, you need to remember this.

If you want to keep on target, to keep moving regularly and eating well, you have to keep your Purpose firmly in mind.

If you want to avoid being taken for a ride (i.e. being taken advantage of, or negatively affected by what’s going on around you), you need to remember the Purposes of Others.

(If you need to remember what Purpose means, you can go back to some of my previous posts. But the common meaning of word purpose is also a good proxy, so feel free to just read on.)

Perhaps it is not always clear what those Purposes might be. Or perhaps you are starting to think I’m a conspiracy theorist of some sort. Quite the contrary, I assure you.

As a matter of fact, thinking about what you read, see, experience on a daily basis in terms of the Purposes of Others goes a long way in explaining things without resorting to some kind of conspiracy theory. It’s simply no longer necessary.

How so? Funny you should ask. (You did ask, didn’t you?) Because I’m going to devote this post to providing a few examples.

The Purposes of Others

The sections that follow are generalizations. Not absolutes, but generalized tendencies as observed by me (and doubtless others). They might upset some people, which is not my goal. I simply want to draw attention to some very real possibilities. Keeping these possibilities in mind could help you make sense of things…

Corporations

What is the Purpose of a corporation that makes sporting goods, apparel, nutritional supplements, etc.?

This one is terribly easy: to make money. No, they are definitely not there to help you perform at your best. They are not there to prevent you from getting hurt.

They have one driving obsession: to sell more products. In general, and against their competitors. After all, the “supply” of money from would-be buyers is not infinite. So they have to present what they offer as being better; better than what they sold last year, and better than anyone in the category is selling today. And they have studies to prove it. Everybody pretty much does.

Which means you should not trust those studies, right? It is not quite that clear-cut. But in case of doubt, we all had better take what we read from corporations with a grain of salt. (Keep the salt-shaker handy, because we’ll need it again.)

Magazines

A magazine’s Purpose is to make money. How do they achieve that? By selling as many copies as possible, month after month. How do they achieve that? Sometimes by exaggerating, but, mainly, simply by always having “new” things to publish.

But you can’t have new things to publish every month for years, at least not at a general public level in a field like fitness. So the same stories come back repeatedly. Like how to choose a pair of shoes this year. And other stories are simply variants on the same theme, like advice from multiple sources over time.

Diet, Advice, Exercise

Have some salt. Just not too much in your diet…

Which is why the advice can appear contradictory over time. My favorite example is the back and forth over how to do long runs (if you are a runner or a triathlete); one time you read that you must do it slow and steady, and then a few months later you read how you must spice it up with some speed. And then back again a few months later.

Because when you train, you are interested in having the most effective training program, you are bound to want to read what appears to be the latest best advice. Which is what they are counting on to sell their next issue of the magazine…

Diet Pushers

The Purpose of someone who comes out with advice on how to lose weight is probably to sell you his or her own newfangled way of doing that. That’s just simple fact.

It may be disguised at scientific truth, accompanied by a plethora (that’s an abundance, just to be clear) of scientific papers, but you can be pretty sure that it is there to convince you to buy something. Otherwise, that advice would be free for all to obtain, and it would be widely supported by others (as opposed to being published in a book, because “nobody else has that truth”).

You guessed it, there is a money-making Purpose in there. So beware.

Journalists

Without denying that many are genuinely interested in making a difference in the world by reporting on important matters, journalists need first and foremost to make a living as journalists. In essence, they need to sell pieces to newspapers or magazines; if they are staff, they need to make sure they are read regularly. They need to ensure their articles, columns, opinion or editorials are read and talked about. The more buzz, the better.

In order to achieve that, they resort to tried and true methods like talking about controversial topics, reporting sensational information. The vast majority verify their facts before publishing, but as we’ve seen examples of recently (the Rolling Stone magazine fiasco), they don’t always.

Sometimes, in an effort to appear “balanced” in their coverage, they frequently will present opposing points of view, even if it is completely unreasonable to do so. Sometimes, they will simply ignore the Purposes of Others in order to generate a lot of buzz, and play into the hands of diet peddlers and corporations. Whatever works at the time.

So it is no surprise that you often encounter what seems to be ground-breaking new facts about fitness, completely different from the ones you read just last week. And it is no wonder that headlines about such “new” facts are frequently deformed well beyond what the scientists said in the first place.

Advice, Fitness, Health, Exercise

Have some more.

The facts are often far less controversial or ground-breaking than they might appear in newspapers and magazines. But lack of sensational words don’t make people want to read the article. (Which in turn don’t help sell the magazine or newspaper…)

Fitness/Health Bloggers

This is a more difficult one to generalize. There are so many bloggers, and so many different reasons why people take up blogging on this topic. (Including mine, of course.)

For the most part, people want to share their own experience. Let’s face it, it both validates said experience, and could prove useful to someone else. If someone has come a long way from being sedentary, perhaps even of poor general health (or feeling that way), that life lesson and the efforts put into improving could prove extremely beneficial to others. But they may not apply generally. A success story may not turn out to be the best advice for your specific situation.

At that end of the spectrum of bloggers, I’m afraid, are many who are trying to turn what has become their new way of life, not to call it an obsession, into a money-earning activity. Those think they are applying the “turning one’s passion into a livelihood” approach, and to some extent, that is fair. But one’s personal experience may not be applicable to others. Be careful of any such person selling their services based on their own personal success at getting fit, healthy, or slim (or any combination of these very different things).

Others still are doing it to promote themselves and the services and/or products they sell. The are at the other end of the spectrum; they typically start blogging with the clear Purpose of, once again, making money. (Bring out that salt shaker again.)

Don’t get me wrong: Not everyone that sells something is necessarily bad. Many believe they are genuinely providing something that will help others. (That’s definitely where I’m located.) Yet you should be very careful when following the advice of anyone who sells something. Especially if they claim you cannot possibly get the full effect of what they promote without buying some sort of product or supplement.

Advice, Health, Fitness, Diet, Exercise

Keep the salt shaker nearby at all times.

Coaches

The Purpose of a coach is to help you achieve your own goals as an athlete. Even as an everyday athlete. Unless the coach is a crappy coach, in which case the Purpose of the coach might be to increase his or her reputation. Or perhaps simply to make money off of people who want to perform in a sport. Such coaches leave behind them a trail of broken, injured, and sometimes abused athletes.

How do you go about recognizing the Purpose of a coach?

First, ask about the coaching philosophy and the approach to training. Question also how much time a coach can really devote to each athlete he or she coaches. Be very weary of “secret sauces” and “special techniques” that no one else knows about; don’t assume that because the coach was a great athlete he or she knows what will work for you. And run away as fast as you can (there’s a good training session for you!) if the coach wants to sell you supplements or special equipments…

There would be more to say, but I’ve already gone on too long. And it sounds like I have a chip (or a bag of chips, salty ones at that) on my shoulder. I confess: I’m often frustrated by what I see. Too many earnest folks being taken advantage of, too much pixie dust being thrown into the eyes of unsuspecting (or willfully suspending critical judgment) people who want to pursue their own Purpose.

It is not that complicated, as I’ve tried repeatedly to explain on this blog. And it should not cost you a fortune to pursue your Purpose.

As long as you keep in mind that we all have a Purpose…

Image credits: Post picture by Sophie Tremblay-Paquet, at the Shipyard Maine Coast Half Marathon in 2015. Other images from Pixabay.

Discipline: The 5 Practices – Practice 2

Exercise, Everyday, Discipline, Motivation, Purpose

Get moving, keep on moving, and celebrate your accomplishments. But curb your enthusiasm, or risk seeing it all come crashing down.

As I’ve explained before, discipline is what most folks erroneously think of as the means to stick to an exercise routine (and/or dieting plan). That’s the militaristic, stick-in-the-mud view of what it takes to be fit and healthy.

What you require, in fact, to get fit and remain healthy for a long, long time, is a clear sense of purpose. You should never have to use discipline to keep moving; it must be part of who you are, of how you exist on this Earth.

Purpose goes well beyond motivation, though motivation can do you for a spell. Without a clear purpose, however, even motivation will wane and your exercise habit will go the way of so many other good ideas that just end up sitting on a shelf in your head.

Does that mean discipline is useless? Far from it. But in this series of short posts, I’m trying to explain the ways in which discipline is an essential component of your lifestyle.

Those ways are what I call The 5 Practices. Because there are 5. Only 5. Well, 5 main ones that I could think of when I planned this series. Maybe there are more, but these 5 strike me as the main ones. Oh, just read the post, and let me know if you can think of any more…

So what is Practice 2?

Simply put: Curb your enthusiasm.

It is the discipline of not acting rashly even when we feel capable and eager to do more (i.e. too much), or things that we are not yet ready for.

I could have called it “Stick to the Plan,” but often the problem comes precisely from making plans that are overly ambitious or enthusiastic. Especially if you don’t have a coach.

And even if you have a coach, it is too easy to convince the coach that you are ready for the next bigger thing (or too much work for the coach to constantly talk reason to you, not to mention too risky that you’ll seek another coach if that’s the case).

So the second practice of discipline is something you must impose on yourself. Primarily about your own eagerness.

Let me be very clear, just in case: What gets you to exercise regularly is your purpose, sometimes assisted by the motivation to reach a specific goal. Discipline serves to constrain your enthusiasm so that you stick to the plan, doing no more than what you are supposed to, so as to avoid burning out or getting hurt. Basically, discipline is not what gets you to exercise, or gets you to exercise more: It is what gets you to do exactly what you are supposed to.

How does the need for this practice come about?

The positive effects of exercise on the human body (and mind) are undeniable. Physiologically, we are meant to move a lot, and our animal bodies are at their best when we do. Everyday.

This results, in the long term, in better fitness and better health overall. Provided it is done the right way, without excessive stress leading to injury, this is the way to maximize the odds of living a long and active life.

In the short term, the physiological effects of exercise are also very positive; finishing a tough (but fair) workout results in a kind of euphoria that is regularly compared to a drug high. Or at least a very real sense of accomplishment. That is followed by a pleasant feeling of quiet fatigue often attributed to endorphins.

While beginning an exercise regimen is tough, when the enthusiasm of “getting back in shape” is combined with the excitement of the high and the subsequent relaxing low, the effect is one of wanting to do more, as soon as possible. It is quite addictive.

The process of going from sedentary to getting back in shape, the progress of the very beginning, with all its positive reinforcements, leads many to do way too much, too soon, and end up getting hurt. And stopping altogether.

For some, perhaps because they are younger or they manage to avoid an early injury, the phenomenon takes place after a first race or some other major event: They get hooked, so to speak, and want to do more, go faster, register for lots of races, etc. And then they get hurt. They can end up sidelined for months without being able to do much; in some cases they stop exercising altogether.

Either way, the problem is one of too much enthusiasm leading to not following a sound plan that is tailored to develop long-term fitness. The kind of fitness that leads to health. Fitness to race, to compete, even if it is “only” against oneself, is not fitness optimized for a long, healthy and active life. It is too short-term. And often counter-productive.

What’s someone to do?

So as you embark upon a new fitness program, or as you prepare for a new season of training in your chosen sport, curb your enthusiasm. Have that kind of discipline to tell yourself to not do too much.

Exercise and develop your ability to do more at a safe, reasonable pace. You’ll still get there, wherever “there” is for you. In fact, you may end up there faster, overall, as some have suggested (put that part has not been proven scientifically).

By all means, do more than you currently are. And celebrate your successes as you keep on moving (that’s really important, no matter how small they may appear to you, or insignificant to others). If you are into that sort of thing, do register for more events because that can help keep you focused on your purpose and keep track of your progress. But do so in a reasonable way, and for the right reasons.

Call it maturity, or wisdom. Call it “what the coach ordered” if it helps. It is certainly what our knowledge of exercise science, and my experience as a coach, indicate is best.

Ideally, get a coach to build you a program that is suitable for long-term fitness, and follow the plan. Even if you think you can do more.

The simple truth is that we are not the best judges of what is enough or sufficient when it comes to ourselves. But by being aware of this blind spot and/or asking for help to deal with it, you’ll do much better in the long term.

And that is why we need the second practice of discipline.

Exercise, Everyday, Coaching,

Do more. But don’t do too much. If you want to keep on moving.

Pictures from Pixabay.

What makes a good coach – Part 4 (End)

Coach, coaching, sports, training, exercise

What makes a good coach? Lots, it turns out…

So, what makes a good coach?

If you have read part 1, 2, and 3, on this topic, your patience is about to be rewarded. No more discussions, no more illustrations, no more stories. Just my take on the question.

(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…

The List

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.

Knowledge
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.

Teaching
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.

Customization
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.

Planning
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.

Role Model
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.

Constructive
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.

That’s it

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

What’s NBF all about – a refresher

Fitness, Exercise, Sport, Triathlon

What’s NBF all about? More than this picture, that’s for sure…

To celebrate the 40th post of No-brainer Fitness, I thought it worthwhile to offer a brief recap.

Basically, in case you are still wondering, or if you are fairly new to No-brainer Fitness, here’s what it’s all about, in the form of an interview, but definitely in No-brainer Fitness style:

What does NBF stand for?

NBF is my acronym for No-brainer Fitness.

Ok, smart ass, but what is it all about, really?

No-brainer Fitness is about getting fit so as to be, and remain, as healthy as possible, for as long as possible.

Why the “No-brainer” part?

Because it is my contention that, in order to get and remain fit, you don’t need to do anything very complicated. Also, the benefits of being fit are so good and numerous, that you should not have to think twice about it.

Don’t you have some secret agenda?

You mean other than helping others reap the benefits of fitness?

Yes.

No.

C’mon, admit it! You are trying to create a cult to fitness, or at least get rich from this, aren’t you?

Well, it would be nice to make a living helping others, but I still do it for free.

So, no cult?

No cult. Quite the contrary, I promise.

Ok, prove it: How does one get fit?

You need to move more. A lot more. On a daily basis. Not just 30 minutes of intense exercise every other day, and then sitting on your chair or sofa the rest of the time. Instead of seeking ways to save your energy, you need to get into the habit of using more energy. Walking more, taking stairs instead of escalators or elevators, doing some light strength exercises, not sitting so much at work, picking up a fun sport again, etc.

That sounds like hard work: I’m getting tired just reading about it. How does one get there?

A big part of it is changing your mindset so that you no longer think about moving as hard, but as something that your body craves, much like you crave food. Our bodies really do crave movement, and as you get moving, you start to feel it more keenly.

Talking about craving, what about eating super foods and taking supplements that will make me fit and healthy and help me lose weight? Isn’t that a lot easier?

There is no such thing as “super foods”, and if you eat well, you don’t need supplements. Losing weight comes naturally from moving more and eating a good diet, not from dieting. But the key is moving more. First and foremost, that’s what you have to focus on. Anyone who says otherwise is trying to sell you something (like supplements).

Unlike you?

Unlike me.

But if we wanted to buy something from you, we could. Right?

Well, if you are interested in picking up running or triathlon as a sport, because those are great ways of getting and remaining fit, I could help with that, too. And for that, yes, I do get paid, because it demands much more attention to make sure it is done right, and you reach your personal objectives.

What else do you provide? Surely it can’t be that simple…

It is. Really. But I try to make it enjoyable to do the right thing, and I provide advice to help steer through the wild west of products and tips out there. Because being fit is both simple and fun.

Hmmm… What else?

Well, it doesn’t hurt to stay away from things that are clearly bad for you, what I call NOT FOOD. But the key, I insist, is in moving a lot more.

Ok, I think that’s enough for now. I almost believe you.

Feel free to ask me other questions. Or read some of my 39 previous posts; you are sure to find more about what NBF stands for, and how to be more fit.

Move on!

Health, Fitness, Exercise

Working on some visuals for No-brainer Fitness… Feedback welcome.

 

Also From the Library of No-brainer Fitness

Books, Reading, Exercise, Brain

Books: So much knowledge, so little time to read!

A brief pause in the flow of coaching- and diet-related posts.

Time to briefly talk about some of the books I read lately. This won’t take long…

Spark – The revolutionary new science of exercise and the brain

I had started reading this book by John J. Ratey, MD, and Eric Hagerman, when I wrote my first post on my library. It was very promising, and it kept its promises.

Meanwhile, the news has been filled with related findings and even a few mentions of Dr. Ratey. This book remains well worth the time, even if you are up to date on current health news about the proven and possible benefits of exercising.

In a nutshell, there is strong evidence that vigorous and regular exercise is at least equally as effective as the best medication out there for problems like ADHD, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorders, to name just a few. There are hints that with a good exercise regimen, medication can be banished or at least reduced, provided things are done in the right order.

The most important aspect of the book, in my scientific opinion, is that the authors do not simply state such conclusions, but also indicate what the physiological reasons might be according to the most up to date research.

They are also making it clear that of all the possible interventions, by which I mean medication, diet, talk therapies, only physical activity appears to have a mechanism to bring about long-term improvements.

I highly recommend this book. It should be mandatory reading to all doctors, as well as to anyone half-serious about fitness and health.

Reaching Another Level – How Private Coaching Transforms the Lives of Professional Athletes, Weekend Warriors, and the Kids Next Door

This very light book by the founder of CoachUp, Jordan Lancaster Fliegel, is a high benefit-price ratio for coaches and would-be coaches.

Although it is heavy on the professional athlete side of the ledger, and it risks playing into the dangerous notions entertained by many parents of seeing their kids become such athletes, the lessons about the role a good coach can play are very real.

There is little to learn, and little wisdom for coaches with years of experience, but the reading is light, and the examples quite interesting. I do not regret the time spent reading it.

I have yet to make use of CoachUp, but you might want to look it up as well.

SCRUM – The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time

Not all of us can live from coaching and writing a health and fitness blog. And although not all of us are involved in the design and development of high tech toys, er, products, there are very interesting lessons to be gleaned from this book about the now-ubiquitous development methodology (or philosophy) dubbed “Agile.”

Jeff Sutherland is one of the original group of people who together gave birth to the Agile Manifesto. Not just happy with writing such a radical declaration, based on his vast experience, he went on to formalize what is often erroneously referred to as the Agile Methodology. The result is the SCRUM Methodology, which is promoted by his company, also called SCRUM.

Now, what was most interesting about this book for the rest of us not involved in software development and product management is that the teachings about how to approach problems and provide solutions is completely general.

Sutherland spends a few chapters, certainly among the most interesting of the book, showing how an Agile way of thinking can be used to solve the world’s problems.

I read the book primarily from the standpoint of a product manager frustrated by organizations paying lip-service to the Agile approach, but I ended up learning about how to solve any problems, and how to get more done in any sphere of life.

Perhaps not a book for everyone, but certainly not a waste of time for healthcare professionals, environmentally-conscious folks, and the rest of the generally curious population.

That’s it for this installment.

Oddly enough, and totally by accident, I just realized that all three authors are living in or around the Boston area; both Scrum Inc. and CoachUp are based in Boston, and Dr. Ratey is at Harvard. One does not need to be in Boston to make it on my reading list: It just happened that way.

Have you read any interesting books lately?

Have you read any of these books, and do you have insights you would like to share?

Photo from the library of Sacha Veillette

What makes a good coach? Part 2

Coaching, Athletes, Sports, Training

Coach: More than a timekeeper.

Last time, I wrote about the best coach I ever had. (If you haven’t read that post, feel free to take a moment now to do it; if you don’t have time, I’m about to provide a short summary.)

If you recall, this person was able to progressively take me (and many others) from beginners to sufficiently skilled players, both as individuals and as a team, to win a regional championship. How?

  • He made showing up at practice a no-brainer (we were actually looking forward to practice, instead of dragging our feet to it);
  • he made learning and developing our skills and physical condition fun through challenges we could achieve with reasonable effort (and some friendly competition);
  • he provided advice and guidance during games, to make sure we could perform our best;
  • he chided when absolutely necessary, and congratulated when applicable.

To elaborate a bit more, in my estimation this coach had the following attributes:

  • He knew the sport inside-out, and was excellent at teaching technique as well as game tactics and strategy.
  • He was a great planner for both individual training sessions and the overall season.
  • He paid attention to individuals’ talents and guided each of us so we would progress as rapidly as possible.
  • He built relationships with his athletes on the basis of mutual respect for our roles and responsibilities.

No doubt he was well served by many years of experience as a coach, but that’s still a tall order.

Yet isn’t it what all coaches do? On the other hand, is it all that one should expect from a coach? It begs the question:

What’s a “coach,” really?

A coach can, and must, be many things. But people generally agree about the following roles that a coach can fulfill:

  1. Teacher / Instructor / Technical Expert
  2. Planner / Scheduler
  3. Motivator ( / Cheerleader / Disciplinarian)
  4. First Aider ( / Medical Advisor)
  5. Basic Nutrition Advisor

I put a few items in parentheses because they represent certain expectations of coaches which I feel are not reasonable, or smart. For instance, unless the coach is a medical professional, the advice provided really should be very limited, and always conclude by telling the athlete to seek the opinion of a healthcare professional of the relevant specialty (or a GP with an interest in physical activity, though any GP should be professional enough to refer instead of just saying “stop”).

As to being a disciplinarian, really, that should fall in another category such as legal and/or sport regulations. The coach is expected to teach the rules of behaviour and sportspersonship, not to enforce them. (However, the coach must abide by such decisions as rendered by referees and disciplinary bodies, and support such decisions. But I digress.)

Finally, let’s hold off on talking about cheerleading for the moment.

Do I believe a coach, a good coach being implied, has to do all of that?

My answer is: It depends.

What most adult “athletes” seem to need

Nowadays, you see a lot of coaches who are primarily fitness instructors, in a very limited sense of showing techniques and guiding through workouts, and motivators, bordering on cheerleaders. Especially in gyms, the kind that one joins in order to lose weight (oh, and get into better shape as well, but primarily to look better).

This is fine for the majority of people who dabble in spurious gym attendance and faddish, er, novel, exercise classes. It might even be exactly what some people need. But it might also explain a great deal about the tendency for people to sign-up for, and then drop, such classes and gyms.

You see, there is a big difference between being able to illustrate how to do something, and being able to teach someone how to do it right, possibly by modifying the movement and gradually bringing about the correct form. That’s teaching, not instructing.

And there is a big difference between cheering someone on while they are exercising, and making exercising so much fun (or at least enjoyable) that they’ll keep coming. That the difference between being a cheerleader, and being a good motivator.

More to the point, coaching should involve personal attention to the needs and progression of the individual. Being instructor to dozens of people at the same time, seeing up to hundreds of fitness enthusiasts each week, is not the same kind of coaching as taking a few individuals through the skills and fitness development they need to complete a triathlon, for instance.

A lot of those instructors and personal coaches come from a relatively recent discovery of the benefits of being more fit, and keep on going by becoming coaches themselves. Their personal experiences (“I went from so many pounds, to looking like this, so you can do it, too!“) speaks to hopefuls, and gets them hooked. Often enough, a group dynamics also forms that further motivates participants, which is what gyms and classes count on.

But that kind of motivation is not, ultimately, what will keep folks showing up at the gym, or get truly fit and healthy. What is needed for that is a real Purpose, not just rapidly fading enthusiasm.

And beware in particular of any coach who offers more than a generic level of nutrition advice. Especially if they start talking about supplements, or some strange cleansing diet. A coach ought to know enough to provide some guidance as to how to eat well, but unless he or she is a nutritionist, it should only go so far.

I am not (really) trying to put anyone down; I’m simply trying to point out that there is a wide range of people having claims on the title “coach,” and that not all of them are the same.

Does that mean only certified coaches should be able to call themselves coaches? (Let’s forget for a moment that there are numerous bogus certifications out there…) Certainly not: You can find excellent coaches that have not bothered to obtain certifications by recognized sports bodies. Especially in sports like running and triathlon.

What matters for adults, who have the life experience to make their own decisions, is that there be a good approach to coaching, one that suits their own needs.

There is, however, one exception to the “certification not required” statement:

What kids need

Childhood is a critical time in the learning of skills and fitness principles.

Unfortunately, too many kids are turned off from sports through old-fashioned (and simply wrong-headed) gym classes. Coaches can play a role there, if the kids are also taking extra-curricular activities like soccer, football, baseball, or hockey, but that’s an uphill battle if gym classes set the wrong tone.

Worse than gym class, however, is when kids are being yelled at by improvised coaches who focus more on performance than on development.

Pretty much every parent wants his or her kids to be healthy and to move, so participation in little leagues is pretty strong. Which means the teams need coaches, and lots of them. Hence the parents are asked to help out.

While it is commendable of parents to want their kids to move (they seem to be applying something they understand intuitively, yet don’t do themselves), putting them into the hands of just about anybody is not a good idea. Adults don’t see team sports the same way as kids do, and so emphasis is often put on competition instead of fun. (And I’m not even talking about parents with dreams of their kids becoming professionals.)

Coaching, Sports, Movement

Coaching kids: not the same as coaching adults.

That is something certified coaches are trained to deal with. That’s why I would much prefer there be fewer teams, with good coaches, than large leagues with yelling parents pretending to be coaching the teams.

Ok, I’ll admit, even some certified coaches are pushing the performance aspect too much, and much too soon. We are all human, it seems. But it is something that coaches are drilled about, and do know better, so a friendly reminder from time to time wouldn’t hurt.

Ultimately though, I feel it is primarily the job of parents to encourage their kids to move and learn to use their bodies. For that, nature has equipped us with a desire to play, to have fun. Organized sports and gym classes can be a part of that, but not at the cost of kids having fun.

The best thing one can do with kids is be a good example by moving as much as possible, and play with them (or let them play and organize their own games, that way they also learn to socialize). If you insist on organized team sports, make sure the coaches are certified and have the right approach to your kids’ age group and development level…

What a really good coach does

I’ve laid the foundation, put in place a few caveats, and even talked about kids. Together with the first post, you should start to get the picture of what a good coach’s actions and behaviour should be.

Next time, I’ll focus on what makes a good coach for adults interested in getting fit, and/or picking up a fun sport like triathlon.

Stay tuned.

Photos from Pixabay.