A Quick Thought About Coaching People Who Think They Suck
Several years ago, I was hanging out in the warm-up room at a meet, chatting with a guy who was a two-time Olympian. Neither of us were competing in this contest, so we were just relaxing backstage and watching the other lifters get ready. One of the athletes warming up was a relatively new guy who trained with the Olympian dude I was talking to. Here is the conversation we had:
Me (pointing at the new guy as he warmed up): “That guy trains with you, right?”
Two-time Olympian: “Yeah.”
Me: “He looks pretty strong. Does he have any talent?”
Two-time Olympian: “Physically, he’s got a lot of tools. But he’s got one big problem he can’t seem to shake.”
Me: “What is it?”
Two-time Olympian: “He can convince himself that he’s a piece of s---t in ten seconds.”
I’ve never forgotten this conversation.
As coaches, I think there are times when we forget that some of the people we work with have really, really low self-confidence. I think this happens because most coaches are very confident people themselves. When you’re a coach, you believe that you’re skilled and capable enough to teach others how to do something. It takes a strong self-opinion to assume this role.
And because coaches are people who believe in themselves pretty strongly, they often make the mistake of thinking everybody else is the same as them. We train athletes and we just naturally assume that they’re all as secure and confident as we are.
That’s a mistake. Some of the athletes we coach have little to no faith in their abilities. For a variety of reasons, they don’t believe in themselves. This is where the situation gets delicate because athletes with low self-esteem rely on their coaches for their confidence.
When this situation exists, the coach can change the athlete’s whole self-image…for better or worse. When the coach gives praise and encouragement, it can take the lifter’s confidence to a higher level than it has ever been to. And when the coach gives negativity and denigration, it can literally destroy any traces of inner strength that athlete might have had.
Many of us can remember comments people made to us ten years ago…or longer. The person who made the comment was probably somebody whose opinion mattered to you a lot, and they said something to you that you never forgot. Was it a positive thing, something that made you feel great about yourself? Or was it a crappy piece of negativity that got under your skin and discouraged you?
By the way, big strong guys can be just as susceptible to this as dainty little ladies. We’re all human.
If you’re a coach, this might scare you because you don’t want to say anything that’s going to crush somebody’s spirits. Well, there’s a really easy way to make sure that doesn’t happen. Just make sure you’re always, always, always, always staying positive and optimistic.
When they succeed, give them approval. Get fired up and congratulate them.
NOTE: Set up their training in a way that ensures they’re going to have a lot of successes, especially in the beginning.
When they fail, tell them it’s a temporary setback and you’ll both work together to fix it.
NOTE: They’ll believe what you say a lot more if they know you care about them.
If you try to coach people by using abuse and insults, you’re a loser. You should get out of coaching because you’re a disgrace to the profession. Go get a job doing something more suited to your personality, like jumping in a lake with a big rock tied to your neck.
Some of your athletes had it pretty rough before they walked in your gym. Some of them have been abused. Some were raised by scumbag parents who told them they were gonna fail every day when they were kids. Some of them battle emotional issues. The last thing they need is some sarcastic weightlifting coach making jokes in front of everybody about how lousy their snatch technique is.
And I’m not telling you to baby your athletes. You have to push them…hard. Nobody ever became successful by being coddled. The best coaches are borderline slave drivers. But they’re also cool people who inspire everybody around them. Their athletes don’t mind working hard because they have faith in what they’re doing and who’s telling them to do it.
Some people can convince themselves that they’re pieces of s---t in ten seconds. They need somebody to believe in them. They need to find a way to build faith in themselves. They need you, and they need your help.
Give it to them. You’ll be amazed at the results.