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The Coach-Athlete Relationship

Updated: Jul 30, 2021

When we start talking about the Coach-Athlete relationship, we should start by considering: What the role of a coach is? and Who is an athlete?

Who is an athlete?

Let's start with the athlete part. The stereotypes that come with the word athlete typically conjure up images of elite athletes, marathon runners, Olympians, professional sports figures etc. I want to encourage you to let go of that definition and embrace a broader definition of who is an athlete. The Urban Dictionary definition of an athlete is “An individual who participates in sports. Characterized by dedication, focus, intelligence and work ethic.”

Think about it this way, if your 5 year old nephew plays soccer on the pee-wee team, he is still a soccer player. He doesn't need to play professionally to be a soccer player. Are you moving your body, playing a sport, walking, hiking, biking, lifting weights, studying martial arts or taking a fitness class? Then guess what YOU ARE AN ATHLETE!

Embracing that you are an athlete can shift your focus towards your fitness goals. Many years ago, when I started taking archery lessons, I just thought of myself as a "trying it out archer". I never had a mental imagine of myself being good at archery or even comfortable on the archery range. However, my archery coach Kyle Bissell ,repeatedly used, and encouraged others to use, the term archer athlete. It took me several years to make that mental shift but when I did it changed my entire relationship with the sport. Once I embraced being an archer athlete, I developed a strong sense of dedication to my practice, more ownership for my progress and a dedication towards setting personal goals.

What the role of a coach is?

Coaches offer education, skill instruction, performance assessments, support and assistance to ATHLETES they coach in order to help them implement change and achieve desired goals. Ideally the coach-athlete relationship should be cooperative and driven by the athlete's goals and the coach's knowledge and experience. A good coach helps athletes develop personalized structures, a knowledge base and a tool set to grow physically and mentally, to reach their goals and set new goals.

Whether you are a beginner athlete or a seasoned professional competitor, you can benefit from a coach. Again let's imagine our soccer playing 5 year old nephew. He is inexperienced and just learning a sport. Of course the pee-wee soccer team has a coach who provides structure, skill development, encouragement and support. On the other end of the spectrum, elite athletes benefit from the perspective, experience, support and structure of an experienced coach.

Even those who are coaches themselves benefit from having a coach of their own. We always have more to learn and room to grow. Even though I coach other people in their fitness journey, I continue to work with both a Powerlifting Coach and an Archery Coach. This allows me to step out of the coach role and fully into the athlete mindset when it is time for me to focus on my own goals. Having someone who can lend their experience, assess our performance objectively and cheer us on provides a strong support structure for our fitness journey.

Finding the Right Coach?

Finding a coach who is the right fit for you can take some trial and error. If you have a clear goal in mind such as running a 10K, competition in a powerlifting event, or gaining strength, start by seeking out coaches with experience and knowledge in those specific skills. If you aren't sure what your fitness goals are, make sure you look for trainers who can teach you movement patterns, help you try things out and work with you on goal setting. If you have physical limitations, past injuries, age or health concerns search for a coach that is knowledgeable in this area and able to recognize this and adapt your programming without allowing it to bias what might be possible for you.

As you interview trainers observe whether they are listening to what you are saying and where you are starting your journey not just telling you a pre-set list of things they thinks works for everyone. The coaching relationship should be personal and customized to your goals. Is your coach just pushing you to do more or creating a support structure that motivates you to push yourself towards your goals? Remember that the coach-athlete relationship is exactly that, a cooperative supportive relationship.


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