Athlete or coach?

What are you trying to be?

I used to think I could be both an athlete and a coach. To a certain extent, you can.

However, the things that make a successful, high-level athlete, are often the opposite of what make a successful, high level coach.

What the hell am I talking about?

I’m glad you asked.

Very rarely - almost never - do the best athletes make the best coaches.

The reason for this seems quite simple to me. I have spent about half my life developing my skills as a coach, and what I have learned is that sucking at something offers a unique gift that being good at something doesn’t: the opportunity to build deep understanding.

Now, I have been very average at almost every physical endeavour I have ever undertaken: soccer, little athletics, swimming, powerlifting, gymnastics, and now track sprinting. I have sucked at all of these, and most of them I still suck at.

Here’s the kicker: the ones that I have committed to working on are the ones that have improved massively. While I may never be world class in these sports, I have a rare insight that most high level athletes don’t: I know how to build these skills from the ground up, because I had to do it myself.

The things that have frustrated me, and stalled my career as an athlete (injury, lack of skills, lack of knowledge, lack of foresight) have allowed me to develop the skills and knowledge to help hundreds of athletes as a coach.

Bittersweet, no?

This is not to say that everyone who suffers injuries or setbacks uses them as a catalyst for positive change. It is definitely easier to give up than it is to pursue a seemingly unreachable goal, but for those that push through, the success is worth the struggle.

I sometimes see top level athletes create ‘how to’ instructional videos for people looking to improve performance in their sport, but it’s easy to see that they lack the depth of understanding that comes from really struggling through the early stages of skill acquisition and development.

This isn’t the athletes fault, they are simply responding to requests from developing athletes looking for help, but the often ignored fact is;

being good at something doesn’t make you good at teaching it.

So it stands to reason that if you are an athlete, you probably aren’t going to get to the highest levels if you are coaching yourself, which is exactly what I was doing for a large part of my powerlifting career.

Then, about 2 years ago, I had an epiphany. I was thinking about the trainers that I’ve coached over the years, and the trainers that I’ve been coached by. I started wondering why there seemed to be a lot of stigma in the industry around paying another person to help you develop. Then it hit me; every high level athlete, almost without exception, has a coach.

If I wanted to be a high level athlete, I needed a coach.

Allowing someone else to take the reins in your training may seem like a scary concept to some coaches, but a highly logical one if all the factors are taken into account.

It is hard to tangibly measure, but being able to switch off the thinking part of the brain in a training session and focus on being purely physical has been massive for me since working with a coach,

Movement specialist Julien Pineau was onto something when he said coaching and training feel like they use a completely different part of the brain. I feel like the act of weight training is a physical endeavour, and the more you try to intellectualise it, the more confused the signal can get.

I believe that having a coach that you trust, and that knows you well, is vital to high level athletic success, and after many years of trying to do both things myself - coaching and competing - I decided to hand over control, and I’ll never look back.

If you are currently coaching yourself, and are looking compete at the highest levels in your sport, I urge you to consider working with a coach, it may take you a few goes to find the right one, but it’s well worth the search.

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