Coaching

My feelings on coaching have changed over the past 5-6 years. For a long time I never thought I was in need of coaching. Once I had the basics down about what I needed to be doing and the level I needed to train at, I felt I could do it on my own without the need for someone “watching” me and/or monitoring my progress.

I have been proven was wrong.

But I was also right in some instances.

As far as the training is concerned I was right to some extent. I don’t feel the need to have a coach on my ass while running or biking or swimming. I can push myself in the right way on my own to get the work done at the intensity I need to be, for the most part. Yes, it helps to have someone looking over the numbers uploaded to Garmin (another need in the ongoing argument on keeping track of data), and because Garmin auto loads to the site it is hard to hide missed workouts, or fudge numbers (not that anyone would do that). Within seconds of hitting “save” on my watch it has been uploaded to the site. Kind of scary in a way, but it does hold you accountable.

The problem with numbers is that you have to understand what they mean and how to interpret them in order to make progress. We see this all the time these days online. Someone spews statistics out to make their point without really understanding the underlying meaning of the numbers they are using. More often than not, the stats they use to make their point can be turned to disprove their own argument. Statistics can, in many instances, show whatever you need them to show if you know and understand the numbers being used.

This is where a good coach comes in.

And notice I said GOOD coach.

There are a lot of people out here calling themselves coaches because they took some online course for a few months, paid their money, and got a piece of paper certifying them. There are also a lot of lawyers and doctors holding prestigious titles and long runs of initials after their names that have no idea what they are doing. Just like there are bad doctors and bad lawyers, there are bad coaches, and a bad coach can do just as much damage. Remember “no pain no gain”? I would suggest that everyone that grew up playing sports in the late 70’s to early 80’s knows this phrase well. It was ingrained in us, that to make progress you had to hurt. If I went home after football practice and could walk without a limp the next day, then I was not working hard enough. Sadly, there are still those that believe this. If you don’t believe me, visit any Crossfit Box. Trust me. It’s still out there.

So finding a good coach is critical, but in trying to determine what a good coach is, you first have to understand what a coach is not:

  • A coach does not give advice on what to do. That is consulting.
  • A coach does not allow you to observe them to learn what to do from an expert. That is mentoring.
  • A coach is not a “quick fix”.

Three simple rules, and I know the first one is tricky, because most coaches will give advice on what to do. The trick is how it is given. A mandate? “This is how I lost 50 pounds by eating 50 bananas a day, so it worked for me, and it shall work for you as well”. That is not what a coach does. So now that we have what one is not, what IS a good coach?

  • A good coach develops a partnership between you and them.
  • A good coach explores positive ways to find options and opportunities.
  • A good coach works with you to develop a process that evaluates solutions in order to affect sustained change.

Pretty simple right? In a nutshell all it means is that a coach is your partner in your journey. They are not in it solely for the money. They take a personal interest in you, whether it is health related or life related, and want you to succeed. They LISTEN to you and try to find the right trigger to affect the change YOU want in YOUR life.

My personal feeling is that someone cannot be a good coach without ever having been where you are, but let me expound on that a little because that will be taken the wrong way by some. In a personal example, I have completed 1 marathon. My time was 7:00:33. If someone asks me to coach them in completing a marathon I can offer advice on how I did it using the Galloway method and how I trained specifically for this event. I cannot, truthfully, coach someone in completing a marathon in under 4 hours, because I don’t know how. I can only coach and train in what I know personally. If a coach wants to show us how to become wealthy, they had better be wealthy right? Would you listen to a talk about wealth from someone who is scraping by paycheck to paycheck? Would you take weight loss advice from someone who has never weighed more than 110 pounds? No .. I would hope not. The same should be held for coaching in sports and health right?

Maybe it is a personal issue, but I have a hard time listening to someone prattle on about how to lose weight that has never been heavy themselves (Ben Greenfield anyone??). They don’t really know do they? It’s all theory. Yes, they will say “I have helped thousands lose weight using this method!!” but it’s all just the same BS in the end isn’t it? They have developed some cookie cutter method (Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig) and believe … BELIEVE … that everyone is the same underneath and if it works for one it must work for others, and if it doesn’t work for YOU, well, then you are not doing it right (Jillian Michaels??). This is the carb in carb out crowd.

“If you burn more than you take in you will lose weight. Period. End of story. It is SCIENTIFIC FACT and therefore cannot be disputed.”

I have this issue all the time when it comes to weight. I am constantly being told I am not eating enough. When I decided to heed this advice and started forcing myself to eat more than I felt I needed, to the point that I felt sluggish and bloated at the end of the day. I did this for 5 days … and gained 8 pounds.

This is not “in my head”. It is there in black and white. My issues are varied, and it takes a good coach to understand that and adapt to ME, and not the other way around. There is obviously something happening in my system that is not normal to the majority of people. This could be related to psoriatic arthritis (maybe I am in a flare of some kind), maybe it is the fact that my training has been pulled back to not be as intense so my weight is going back up? Maybe the hormonal issues I have due to thyroid cancer in my past, and the meds I am required to take, play havoc in my metabolic system?

Who knows.

I was described once in a forum as being a “special snowflake”. Although I know that this was meant as a snarky comment, there is some truth to it, and a coach can get to the bottom of it, and if they can’t, well, maybe they need to find someone who can help them get to the bottom of it. I know I can be frustrating and I come across as a contrarian because when nutrition gets discussed I can dispute most things people say with my personal issues. I don’t do this to be a pain in the ass. I do it to show that what is believed as “truth” is not truth for everyone.

That’s usually when the exasperated “Oh John, you’re just a special snowflake” comment usually pops up.

I believe in coaching. I know I am driving them crazy I think because of my weight issues, but they are working with me and helping me … probably more than they even know. I also am lucky to have Jennifer Cultrera in my life to give me the medical side of things and to get frustrated for me when I have had enough. It has taken me time, but I am slowly surrounding myself with the right people, and I think that is the trick … everyone can be a “coach” if they meet the needs you have at that particular time. Coach is just a title.

Am I “Coachable”?

A part I really like about being involved in triathlon and endurance sports is the helping aspect of it. I enjoy getting input and guidance from others I have met through the racing and I especially enjoy the planning of workouts and figuring out training schedules. This is probably due to my analytically wired nature. I love crunching numbers after a workout, uploading from my watch to Garmin and Strava and looking at Heart Rate’s and Cadence compared to position on the course.

It is fun for me.

Seriously.

I think I am a very teachable person because of this … partly because of my love of numbers, but I think it is also because of my background in football and the military. You learn, by participating in these things, to trust the people appointed over you and listen to what they have to say, because they have “been there and done that”. If my football coach says to me that I am not squaring my shoulders and driving through the tackle, then I make the adjustments on the next cycle and try to correct it … because they are the ones watching me and seeing what I am doing from an outside perspective. If my run coach is telling me that my foot strike is rolling outward, then I try to pay attention to that fact and correct it if I can. I am a bit of a sponge when it comes to these areas, because I know I am not an expert and they are … so I listen …

Coaches are not always right though. If I am directed to do something that I know doesn’t feel right, I back off … but I follow-up with them about it. I will tell them “I tried that but the pain in my shin got worse so we need to try something else”. I can be as hard-headed as the next person. Much like the saying about teachers, it goes about coaches as well – “Those that cannot DO, COACH”.

If you look at the NFL, the majority of coaches who have done very well (Shula, Noll, Landry, Parcells, Walsh, Belichick, etc.) were not great players. They understood the game well but their physical abilities were not enough. The opposite is also usually true …. the very good players who tried to be head coaches (Starr, Singeltary) usually have failed. There’s a reason Marino, Elway, Aikman, etc. have never tried coaching. They don’t have the patience. This is not always the case, of course, but a fair amount of that is true. I think part of it is because if an athlete decides to become a coach, their own training starts falling off, and then they can longer perform as they once did. It’s a theory. I know I have had a few coaches in triathlons, running, and now general health and fitness who kick major ass.

So, I am NOT the fastest triathlete in the world by far, but I read, and I listen, and I know what it takes to be one. I think I would be a very good coach while at the same time being a marginal triathlete. I think I have a very good handle on what it takes to train, and what mileage people need to be at for specific goals. I enjoy doing it. I don’t think I could ever make a living at it, but sharing the knowledge is fun for me ….

And that’s where the problem comes in … and it is my own issue …

I have little patience with those that are not coachable. I liken the frustration I feel to being a doctor and telling someone what they need to do to get well and they go and do what they want anyway. People that smoke are in this category … they know it kills you … they’ve seen people die in front of them due to smoking … yet they smoke anyway. How does this thought process work?? My little brother is this type. He is the son of my step-father and my mother, 5 years my junior. He was very close to his father … more like a friendship then a father-son relationship, especially as they grew older. They were very much alike and very different then me, my sister and my other brother, who all had a different father (killed on duty as a Savannah police officer when I was three, sister was two and brother was 6 months). They were rednecks, loved cars, NASCAR, hunting, fishing, etc. All that type of stuff. Last September my step-father started coughing up blood and having trouble urinating, but didn’t seek help until November or so. By that time it was too late. He had bladder cancer and it had spread too far. He passed away at the age of 64. Way too young. He was a lifetime smoker, 3-4 packs a day. You would THINK that having to watch your best friend die in pain would deter you from following the same path …. but no. My brother still smokes. I would say to him “why would you want your son to watch you wither away like you had to watch Dad? Do you care so little about what he will have to see?”. Does nothing. Has no effect.

Uncoachable.

That was a bit of a digression, but the point is the same I think. Some people are more acceptable to listening to others and basing their actions accordingly. Others are more hard-headed and listen but do what they want anyway. So how do you coach these types? Do you wash your hands of them and accept that they aren’t going to listen? Or do you just give them the plan and if they follow it, they follow it, and if not, oh well …. you’ve done your part. That’s not in my make-up I guess. I tend to call them on it, ask them why they insist on not following the plan. This gets me in trouble.

Let me say that I am FAR from perfect in this. I have my moments. During a training week for a Team in Training event I was supposed to run 2 miles on Monday and 3 on Tuesday but due to my triathlon plan, which was running concurrently, I couldn’t do the run on Monday, so I combined them on Tuesday and ran 5. My Coach at the time called me on it immediately (because I am so diligent about reporting my training miles online she saw it).

She was right. She named it “Pulling a John” and used that term every week during her pre-run talks.

“I don’t want anyone pulling a John this week”

At least I have something named for me, so my mark has been made.

Coaching Types

I have written in the past about coaching, coaching types, what works and what doesn’t work for each person. I believe I used as an example the Biggest Loser, where Bob Harper, at that time, was the low-key, zen type of trainer while Jillian Michaels was the yelling, in your face, what kind of wimp are you, trainer and asked the question of myself which one would work best for me.

I come from a football era where coaches could actually hit you. I have had my helmet ripped off my head by my coach and then have him chasing me around the track hitting me with it after a missed tackle. In the 70’s that was the norm, and I responded well to that type of coaching. As I get older I find that I don’t need that as much, but to be honest there are days where a coach, or a training partner, being in my face would be helpful.

The trick in coaching is to learn what works for each person. Some need to be kicked in the ass, some don’t. Yell at some, like Petey in Remember the Titans, and they can turn off. You lose them. But coddle some and they tune out. Good coaches know their clients and change as needed. Shula did it. Noll did it. Landry did it. There’s a reason why they are considered all time great’s.

Can I be a Coach

I am looking at becoming a coach in the next year (2016). I have never really thought I could be a coach, mostly because I am “not fast” and “Not a podium finisher”, but I have come to realize, as I stated earlier, that being a good coach has nothing to do with being a good player. I think there is a niche for people like me, the older, adult onset athlete. The overweight guy trying to compete in events without killing themselves. I have spoken to other coaches and they have provided me support in this idea. They tell me “you have a lot to offer because you know what it is like to be on a course for 7 hours when the fastest finishers took less than 3.”

This is my niche.

I hope I can help.

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