Athletic Empathy

I was recently involved in a conversation with a young coach in which we were discussing our respective athletic backgrounds.  Both of us had our moments of shining glory, however regrettably both of our burgeoning careers had ended in the same place...coaching.

Some may consider the death knell of an athletic career a tragedy, but in my mind my brief foray into genuinely competitive sport, however limited, significantly contributed to making me the coach I am today.

Do I coach the way I was coached?  Undoubtedly to some extent.  All of us reflect the sum of our most significant mentors and influences.  Just in the same way you can hear echos of artists such as the Buzzcocks and Neil Young in the vast back catalog of Pearl Jam, my coaching reflects those that I have leaned the most from.  That said I think there is more to my coaching development than just the other coaches I have worked with or studied.

Its fine to quote the coaches that have influenced you, but I think that at a deeper level the experience of having attempted, even at a modest level, a bulk of the things you ask your athletes to do leaves an indelible mark on your coaching.  Why?  In my opinion you deliver your message with a genuine ATHLETIC EMPATHY.

For me Athletic Empathy is reflected in a coaches demeanor, his/hers confidence, the confidence born of knowing not only what they are doing, but the kinesthetic knowledge of how it feels and what it means to do it well.  It is not something that is easily substituted for flashy new drills learned in a seminar.

Does this mean you have to have been an athlete to be a good coach?  No!  I think it means if you want to coach something at the very least get out there and have a go at it.  Commit some serious time to understanding the nuances of the task.  Personally, I find it very hard to cop people who call themselves S&C coaches when it is abundantly clear they have never been near the weights room or accelerated beyond a quick trot to the bar.

I know this sounds like a some-what militant rant, more reflective of the dogmatic elements of the fitness industry, but unfortunately it is becoming a more relevant view given the proliferation of the fitness industry.  All that said, I'm not suggesting a good coach needs to be excessively muscled and ripped to the bone, I am simply saying that I believe a fundamental trait of strong coaches is having "walked in the shoes" of an athlete.

...and this goes beyond just skill execution.  Program integration is something far better understood when you have actually tried to back sessions up or do double or triple days.  This undoubtedly forms part of the "art" of coaching.  The ability to "feel" the ebbs and flows of the program.

At the end of the day having genuine Athletic Empathy is simply one form of experience that develops a coach...however in my mind it is one of the most important.

"Say to yourself what you would be, and then do what is required" - Epictetus















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