Talking to athletes on a daily basis, I run into a lot of athletes that are looking for a coach that already have one, or that have had negative experiences in the past with the coaches they hired to do the task they paid them to do. That task being to coach them. You get to talking to this people, and you find out some very disturbing things about what your coach peers are doing and how they are treating others. The sad truth about this is that the negative experiences the athlete has with that one coach will determine how that athlete (or even other athletes will view coaches). So while we may be individuals running our own individual coaching companies or fitness services, the actions of one can impact the many. That’s why I take extreme offense to hearing about how athletes are being negatively treated or belittled.
I have this one example where a young lady was having troubles learning how to swim, and she already had a fear of the water, so she had taken multiple steps into researching certain coaches. In this story, this athlete found a coach that several people recommended. Come to find out, that coach was the only one providing that service in that area- not because he was the best to do that job. (I’m going to tell you the end first- turns out that lots of people had had the same negative experience with this coach.) So this athlete hired him to help her learn how to swim and overcome her fears in the water. When you’re teaching someone who is scared of water how to swim (I learned as an Adult Learn to Swim- ALTS- coach through US Masters Swimming) there is a rule that you are at least in the water with the individual. I tell coaches to be at least one-arm distance away from the athlete. But this coach decided he was going to teach this athlete how to swim from the deck of the pool. (To be clear- this coach was not an ALTS instructor.) This athlete already had an issue with putting her face in the water. So when this coach instructed her to put her face in the water and she struggled to do so, he told her that she should just stop trying because she’d never learn how to swim anyway. She broke down in tears in the pool and left the pool. She told me that it took her a long time before she could reach out to someone else for fear that the same thing would happen again. Through our conversation, she came to realize that not every coach does things the same. So not only did he compound her fear of getting into the water, but he had made her afraid to seek out other coaches because of her experience with him. This shows a couple of things within the athlete/coach relationship:
1. When someone expresses something that vulnerable to you, you have to take care of it. (The athlete showed the coach her fears.)
2. Just because someone is certified to do something doesn’t mean they should do it.
What does this mean for coaches? We have to not only be prepared to train what we need to, we should be ready to accept the baggage that comes with the athletes. We should not judge them, or let our ego get in our way. We need to allow their learning experience to be fluid and we should not set expectations based off our own egos and what we feel they should accomplish. This is very important because our relationships with our athletes should be just as important as our relationships with our mothers, fathers, children, grandchildren, and those we care about the most. I know not everyone in our lives we have the best relationship with. But if we think about the perfect relationship and what we would want it to be, we should let that be our guide to treat the athlete with compassion and respect. If we cannot meet their needs, we should at least have the dignity to point them in the right direction toward someone that can meet their needs. Something I said earlier today actually kind of resonates with what I’m speaking about here. Sometimes (most of the time, actually) we’re given one moment to change somebody’s life. We can decide if that change is positive or negative. And if we as coaches truly believe in what we’re doing and the mission we’ve set out to accomplish, there’s only one choice. And that choice is a positive change. If we can give that in every interaction with an athlete (or anybody asking for our help), then our purpose has been met. No athlete should fear a coach. No athlete should be afraid to be who they are with or around their coach. When you shut that door of openness that an athlete shares with you, it’s not likely that it will reopen. We have to be the best coach we know to be, but if we find signs of where we should grow or change, we have to have enough respect for what we do that we take that opportunity to better ourselves so that we can better those that we deal with daily.