Stewart Athletic Development

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How to pick a coach – It’s a little more thorough than a tinder swipe

Previously I wrote about the benefits of having a Strength & Conditioning coach, however I did not elaborate to you, the consumer how to go about picking a coach. Much the same as you (Hopefully) wouldn’t pick the first car you see when car shopping, you shouldn’t jump at the first coach you come across on the interweb search engine.

As an athlete, at some stage you will have worked with a coach to some degree. The level of sport in which you compete will likely have influenced the amount of coaching exposure and quality you received. Generally, more competitive athlete’s / teams receiving more coaching exposure and a higher quality of support. I want you to think back, who was the best coach you have ever had, and what made them so good? Conversely, think of the absolute worst coach you experienced, what made them stand out as so god awful?. Finally, can you think of the most average coach you ever had?

Chances are the best and worst coaches spring to mind pretty easily, the average coach less so. Impressions and behaviours last a long time and can form both positive and negative thoughts towards coaches & coaching practise. Consequentially, there are some important factors you as the consumer should consider first before hiring a coach. But firstly, a recap on the benefits of having a coach!

What benefits are there to having a coach?
You may or may not have heard the expression “even coaches need coaches” and it is something I am a firm believer in (and practise myself). Having a (good) coach in your corner removes uncertainty from your own training, as they are able to look at the bigger picture with an objective eye. Even with all the knowledge and experience in the world, it is far too easy when programming for yourself to make changes left right and centre. In our heads we justify it, saying things like “its ok I know what I’m doing”.
As coaches we ask athletes to trust the process and follow instruction as it has been done with them in mind, so why should the rules be different for ourselves? They shouldn’t, but it is a trap that is very easy to fall in to. As a result, it is easy to fall off the wagon and make little to no progress, because we aren’t sticking to something for long enough to make meaningful adaptation.
Most online coaches will require check ins from you as an athlete (As discussed later in the article) which helps keep you as an athlete accountable from a psychological and literal perspective. From a monetary perspective, If you hire a coach you are making a financial investment in them. This generally increases adherence to training, as people (generally) don’t want to p*ss their hard-earned money up against the wall.

Finally, it removes the time pressure of creating your own training. Creating long term S&C programmes can take considerable time and effort, depending on the complexity of your competitive schedule, lifestyle etc. If you hire a coach, that then becomes their responsibility freeing your time up to do whatever you want! i.e. put your feet up and get the playstation on!

Picking a coach

Great, youare sold on the idea of hiring yourself a coach? This is excellent! But where do you begin to navigate the minefield of coaching services? If only there was someone with some experience here to help you make an informed decision.…

What do you need from the coach?

Firstly, you need to look at yourself and your own goals. As a consumer, you will likely know why you are seeking S&C support, so finding a coach to support these needs is the first step.

A proficient S&C coach should be able to work with pretty much any athlete irrespective of their background; however, some are better suited to others from past experiences, area of expertise etc. As a consumer, it is worthwhile doing your homework on what coaches offer. For example, if you are a rugby player looking to put on some Lean mass and improve strength and power, employing a coach who specialises in endurance sport may not be the best investment…

What is the coach like?

Secondly, you need to look at the coach themselves. What kind of personality do they have? If you watch or read their content, do you enjoy it or do they rub you up the wrong way?. If a coach comes across in a manner which you do not like in article blogs or videos, they are likely to have similar traits when coaching. The coach may have every accreditation, degree and CPD course to their name, but if you don’t like them or their personality, you most likely will not respond well to them as your coach!!. This doesn’t mean they are necessarily a bad coach, but it means the coach / athlete relationship (Which is discussed later) is unlikely to develop positively. It is also worth checking if their athletes have left reviews / feedback about what it is like to work with person X as a coach?. This information can be vey insightful to the kind of person the coach is, which may indicate to you, whether they will be a good fit for you..

Can the coach differentiate between a barbell and their b*llend?

Ok, so you have found some possible contenders, but what’s next? You should look to check previous work history & experience the coach has had. What kind of athlete’s have they worked with? To what level? Have those athlete’s left reviews about the coach, and what are the reoccurring themes / general tone of the coach’s capabilities?

It is also worthwhile checking out their credentials. Strength and Conditioning is not a field in which you are granted a chartered title. This means that any idiot (believe me, there are a lot) can call themselves an S&C coach / practitioner with no legal ramification.

Therefore, as a consumer, it is important that you do your homework when checking out potential coaches. What qualifications does X coach have?

Have they got a degree in a relevant field ?(Strength and Conditioning, Sport and Exercise Science etc). What level of qualification do they have (BSc, MSc / MBr, PhD)? What external qualifications do they have? Are they accredited with any governing bodies in their relevant field ?(UKSCA for UK S&C, BASES for Sports Science).

It should be noted that coaching badges and qualifications aren’t everything. Whilst these qualifications should highlight that your potential coach has a good understanding of the scientific principles which underpin S&C, it doesn’t necessarily translate into being a good coach. Time in the trenches & working with people is crucial to being a good coach. There is no lack of coaches who have all the accreditation and qualifications under the sun yet have the personable communication skills of a plank of wood.

Some coaches in this category can be guilty of trying to explain the scientific principles of physiology, biochemistry and biomechanics to their athletes and baffle them with b*llshit & jargon to massage their own ego and sound smarter than they are, to an audience who likely do not know better. It achieves nothing. the vast majority of athlete’s don’t give a f*ck about ATP turnover or the force-vector theory. You know what they do care about? The results of the training programme! Mind blowing, right?

Building the coach / athlete relationship

Great, so you have found a suitable coach and have started working with them… now what?.

Like any relationship, there needs to be effort  and communication coming from both parties. Online coaches have preferred protocols for checking in with their athlete’s, ranging from daily, multiple times per day, after each session, 1-2x per week, weekly etc. This check in is your chance for you to discuss how things are going. Your coach is not a mind reader, they cannot tell what you are thinking or feeling towards the training, or how thing’s are progressing unless you communicate with them. Similarly, they need to ensure they are communicating back to you in a clear and efficient manner. Over time, these interactions start to build the coach / athlete relationship.

Building this relationship will lead to greater progress. As the athlete, you will gain trust in your coach and their ability when you begin to see the results, creating greater adherence. From the coach’s perspective, they will begin to se what you respond well to from both a physiological and psychological perspective, allowing the programme to be tailored to your need even more accurately within the constraints of the desired adaptations. Overall, the importance of the coach / athlete relationship cannot be stressed enough and should be developed from the get-go & communication is the utmost key to developing it.

Until next time and as always, stay strong.


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