When I was a young athlete, years before I became a personal trainer, I started participating in individual sports like swimming and martial arts. As time passed and I got older, I developed more of an interest in team sports and basketball, largely due to the U of M “fab five.”
I soon realized, however, that I was woefully unable to compete with other kids my age. Most had already been playing for years, and the one thing that could equalize a lack of skill in basketball was height. I can tell you definitively, my lack of skills were not tempered by proximity to the basket.
With all this in mind (both mine and the coaching staff, I’m sure) upon entering high school, I decided to try my hand (or foot) at soccer. Soccer was only just gaining popularity in my area, so I wasn’t too far behind at developing my skills. Not to mention, I was fast as hell, powerful, and my low center of gravity was finally an asset.
I had success on the field and quickly learned to love the game. Still, when my body and schedule allow it, I participate today.
Here are 4 coaching lessons to make you a better athlete and personal trainer.
1. If you’re not excelling at a sport, pick one you can realistically find success with.
If we can achieve a positive result, like me becoming a better soccer player and being able to compete with peers, we tend to have fun doing it and tend to stick with it, which leads to more success and mastery.
As human beings, we are constantly looking for engagement—things that will engage our interest. In the book, Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the author talks about how we are looking for “an optimal experience” to provide us with a feeling of satisfaction.
It is important to note, however, this all comes from our challenges. If the challenge is too difficult, clearly, it will result in frustration. If it is too easy, the result is boredom, regardless of success. If it is just the right amount of challenge, and it is overcome, it results in happiness and an improved quality of life.
2. Behind every great athlete, there’s a great coach.
No matter what endeavor in which success and enjoyment are found, there is something that all athletes have in common: They all have great coaches.
In the book, Outliers, author Malcom Gladwell talks about how the majority of hockey players in Canada have birthdays in the same three months. When tryouts start, the kids who are a few months older have more success because they are bigger, and may have up to 9 months more developed hand-eye coordination. These players then get pooled together on the best teams, getting the best coaching, and keep moving up the ranks.
By the time the other youth have caught up developmentally and physically, the kids who had the birthdays within those three early months have been with the best coaches and teammates, facing the stiffest competition, to becoming the best at their sport.
In my own adult life, I chose activities that are fun, activities that are challenging, and activities in which I can achieve success. When I started martial arts as a child, I focused on the striking aspects and had some success. But as I stated before, my body type is pretty stout and muscular, and most boxers and kickboxers have long lean frames.
When I was a kid who got dominated by beanpoles on the basketball court, I switched to soccer. As an adult, after one boxing match with a 6’4” jab machine, I made the switch to jiu jitsu. For those who don’t know much about it, jiu jitsu is a bit like wrestling, and both are under the umbrella of “grappling,” wherein someone’s physical “strengths” can just as easily be made their weaknesses.
I didn’t have any experience with wrestling or jiu jitsu but it seemed more natural to me. On top of that, I was lucky enough to have a good coach who put a system in place to help me succeed, and a good team around to support me.
3. Start with the basics.
Just like any sport, you have to crawl before you can walk. You can’t walk on a basketball court and expect to do a cross over against Lebron if you can’t dribble.
My jiu jitsu coach Mack helped me learn and master (or at least become proficient in) the basics before teaching me harder or more advanced techniques. Mack also works with us to challenge us appropriately, so we can be humbled at times and feel like a champions at others.
I’ve had good success with jiu jitsu and won medal at tournaments due to hard work and support from my teammates. Above all though, I love jiu jitsu and have fun every time I step on the mat.
Cerebrally, I realize that I love the art and the sport of jui juitsu because I feel both challenge and success. I realize too, I love being a personal trainer and running our own studio because I feel both challenge and success. It’s important to be aware of these factors both as trainers/coaches AND as clients.
4. Personal trainers, don’t make it so difficult that you turn clients off.
Personal trainers: If you progress too quickly or too slowly, you will do a disservice to your clients—maybe putting them off of fitness entirely—if they think “it’s too difficult,” or “it’s too boring.” Just the way I’m not blocking out chunks of my week to dominate preschoolers at kickball, I’m also not going to make time to get punched in the face repeatedly by a golden glove.
Clients: If you ever feel your workouts are stagnant, too simple, or not challenging, it’s ok to tell your personal trainer. And on the flip-side, if you feel you’re being pushed too hard, or something feels too challenging, don’t think you’re “wimping out” if you say something.
Finding that right balance between challenge and success is as ingrained in us as our height, and in fitness, as with anything else, we will find it, and get both results and satisfaction.
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We are here to help, so if you have questions please fire away!