In my previous life (after completing 5 years as a student athlete and before I thought you could actually be a performance coach as a career), I had a brief stint where I sought out the challenge to impart knowledge on a new generation of learners in a more traditional sense. I was an elementary school teacher. I completed a Bachelor of Primary Education, was certified by the Ontario College of Teachers and off I went to conquer Kindergarten. While my experience was much tamer than ‘the Arnolds’ was in the classic 90’s comedy Kindergarten Cop, it really illustrated the value of clear, concise and conscious communication.
The average 5-year old’s brain is filled with many fantastic and sometime fantastical reference points for information that can be utilized to help create deeper understanding of the abstract concepts of math, language and science (yes Kindergarten requires exploration of science). The problem is that if these reference points are not connected to the learning properly, a very understandable topic can become extremely confusing due to the lack of the teacher’s ability to flesh out the ideas going through the learner’s head. Then on top of that you have 30 other unique brains with very different life experiences shaping these thought processes and varying degrees of ability to express themselves. So, how does a teacher ever get each of the children to understand that we can put two numbers together to make a different number, that doesn’t consist either of those two numbers and what does teaching kids to understand the causal effect of not building a wide enough base on their block tower have to do with Strength and Conditioning? Well there are many more parallels than you may think.
As Strength and Conditioning coaches, exercise scientists, personal trainers etc. we speak a very different language than many of our clients. Discussing the mechanisms of the scapular glide, or avoiding femoral acetabular impingement, or correct joint angles to maximize force production seem like very sensible and basic concepts to explore, but to the majority of our clients this is garbeldy gook made up of words that mean nothing or potentially could be a ride they went on once at a fair.
In addition to a language barrier, we are often dealing in the abstract. Similar to the understanding of numbers and letters which are made up, human inventions, we are attempting to get clients understanding interactions of things inside of their body for which many are not even aware are happening. Discussing impingement zones, or the interplay of core control on pelvic positioning and shoulder range of motion with a person who isn’t aware that ‘Abs’ are more than just something that look cool in training videos on YouTube is probably not going to get you very far. When I close my eyes I see diagrams, illustrations and cadaver images that help me understand what is happening within a specific client’s anatomy. They however, aren’t likely going to have that point of reference, or even worse they have something that a friend of a friend’s uncle who “used to lift weights” told them, bouncing around insider of their head.
This leads to a third parallel, the variety of different learners. Depending on which sort of environment you work in, a performance coach may be working with 1-100 different athletes, who for all intents and purposes are learners. Each of these athletes or clients are coming to the table with a wide range of past experiences (both good and bad) which the strength coach must either overcome or nurture in order to create understanding and maximize results for each individual. On top of this some clients need to jump in and do the movements in order to ‘feel’ it, while others want to watch someone do it and then another set can listen and internalize. But to complicate things greater, one client may have a poor understanding of the movement you are asking them to perform and another may have an undiagnosed limitation that is impeding their ability to complete said movement. What is a coach to do?
In part 2 of the ABC’s of coaching, I will parse some of my learnings that I have found extremely valuable in the cross over from academic educator to physical performance educator.