I suck at golf. Ask any of my friends who have had the unfortunate experience of witnessing my worm burners and tree pruning skills. Despite my best efforts on the driving range to remedy this golf-related malady, there was seemingly no hope. So, I bit the bullet and hired a golf pro to help my pathetic golf swing.
Club face pointed at target, back straight, head down, rotate hips, left shoulder under chin, etc… These were just five of the seemingly endless number of cues that the pro gave me – simultaneously. Needless to say, not only did my swing get worse, but now my head was spinning as well.
When working with novices, or any level athlete for that matter, it’s very easy to lose perspective with regard to your personal experience and education as it relates to communicating with athletes. For example, what might seem easy and boring to you is hard and scary for one of your athletes. Whether it be clipping into pedals for the first time, grabbing water off a table during a race, running downhill on technical terrain, toeing the line for one’s first race… or swinging a golf club. While most of these things likely come easy to you, it is imperative when working with athletes to meet them where they are. If they are beginners, meet them there. If they are intermediates, meet them there. If they are experts, meet them there. You get the point.
While difficult, when working with beginners, try to imagine when you were at their level of experience and how it felt.
It’s a Process
Whether a new job or a new sport… or a new anything, it’s easy to become inundated and overloaded with new information to the extent that performance stalls or regresses.
Picture this, you’re a new cyclist who just hired a cycling coach because you want to get started in bike racing. In your first session with the coach, he tried teaching you how to draft off another rider, how to increase your pedaling efficiency and how to create a race-winning strategy. Each one of these aspects of cycling and bike racing takes a long time to learn and in the case of race-winning strategies, a lifetime.
As noted above, when working with an athlete, it is imperative that you appreciate where they are at in the learning process and adjust both your information to them and how this information is delivered. It is also important to appreciate that individuals learn and retain knowledge at different speeds
It is of critical importance that you understand the big picture of what you’re trying to teach an athlete and be able to work backward and break the learning process into digestible pieces.
As you’ve likely heard, the acronym K.I.S.S. stands for Keep It Simple Stupid. While this acronym is applicable to many scenarios, it is especially applicable to coaching. Moreover, while this acronym is easy to say, it’s quite hard to put into practice. Anyone can read verbatim to an athlete what the Krebs Cycle is. However, explaining it in terms that a person with no understanding of physiology and moreover, how it relates to their training program is a whole different story.
In my previous life, I worked as the general manager for the Goldman Sachs fitness center. While working there, I had access to a lot of very smart people as clients and was able to ask them questions every now and then. One particular question was, “What makes a top performer at Goldman?” Their answer? “Everyone here is smart and capable. But the top performers are able to explain incredibly complex products and services to our clients in simple and easy-to-understand terms.”
While you can focus on multiple things at a time with an athlete, with respect to things that are new and/or challenging, it is best to focus on one thing at a time and progress from there.
And yes, I still suck at golf.