This week I want to talk to you about your feelings and how they can have a huge impact on your training. I want to explain why the emotional side to coaching is not just important, it could be the most important element of your coaching experience.
Managing or coaching anyone for high performance, be it in sport, business, or life should involve a lot of consideration as to how your actions will make people feel. Academic studies have shown that coaches are more effective if they can understand their own emotions, the emotions of others, and also appreciate the probable after effects of their actions. Emotional competence is an important skill if you want to be an effective coach.
When I started sports coaching I readily admit that I thought it was mostly about the training plans and the workouts. I had experience of training, had done a lot of studying and I really understood how to use the software and interpret the data. I also expected that everyone would train in the very systematic and mechanistic way that I do. As time went on I soon learned that there were many practical elements of peoples' lives that meant that they could not always train with total consistency. I also saw that training caused many different emotional responses, and that my ability to connect emotionally with my client athletes was going to be a vital aspect of being an effective coach.
My first challenge was to be self aware enough to identify, understand and regulate my own emotions. This is a challenge for me. I am a very black and white person who is prone to extreme instinctive reactions and who is fiercely critical of himself and others. But I was born a Scorpio, so cut me some slack!
Once I realised that I needed to listen more, be more empathetic, consider how people felt about themselves, I started to understand how inseparable emotion is from performance. Being able to perceive, manage and change emotion is a super-skill. It relies not just on self awareness and perception on the part of the coach, but also an openness and self awareness from the athlete too.
During our time as coaches we will see a wide variety of athletes with different physical abilities and potential, as well as different emotional characteristics.
I have clients who only do Training Peaks
green ✅ . They get on with their training in a very systematic and mechanistic way. It's about numbers and achieving what is set to the letter. With these clients the key is often to push them hard, but never to a point where they fail. They like to set difficult goals that they can smash and outperform. They are extremely motivated by winning and will become very demotivated if they fail.
On the other hand I have clients who really want to explore the very extremes of their capabilities. They worry about not going hard all the time and hate for anything to be easy. With these clients I have to manage expectations, communicate very often about the long term plan and the need to vary the intensity of their training. These types of people tend to be highly competitive but are not afraid of failure. In fact failure is how they confirm to themselves that they are really reaching anywhere near their potential.
At the other extreme I have seen many clients who are full of self doubt, who are extremely harsh judges of themselves, who constantly look at others to gauge how good they are. These are the clients that I initially found most challenging. A Scorpio does not do doubt! These clients need a lot of support with their approach to training. I have to think carefully about how I set challenges, how I manage their expectations and how I deliver feedback. I have found that the single most powerful change that I can affect in someone like this is switching their focus from external factors that they can not control, to internal ones which they have complete control of.
For example, encouraging someone to focus on improving the technical elements of their riding rather than obsessing about where they are on Strava leaderboards. By becoming a more skilful rider, they will generate more speed through improved economy and naturally their times will improve. By focusing on becoming more personally accomplished you will inevitably become a much better rider and fulfil a greater percentage of your unique potential. Being focused on what you are in control of, what you can realistically expect of yourself, is a path to fulfilment and enjoyment in sport and life more generally.
I think it is the duty of every coach to consider how they motivate and congratulate their athletes. We have often heard that people need either a carrot or a stick. This is too basic a way of thinking about it. The reality is that peoples' feelings are nuanced and that necessitates a much more subtle approach to coaching.
For coaching to work properly there is also a responsibility on the part of the client athlete to provide feedback after workouts and rides. Feedback about how you felt physically is useful, but provide feedback on how you felt psychologically before, during and after the workout, and we start to get a much more colourful and useful picture. This is one of the reasons I love the regular Zoom
calls we have with all our clients. Often we can detect feelings in a person's voice or even the way they look that informs their current emotional state. I have changed a client's training plan more often because of how I perceive them to be feeling, than I have because of how they were executing. Dial into a person's emotions and the execution normally looks after itself.
A lot of people deliver coaching as simply a set of monthly workouts. "Do these workouts and good things will happen". Yes up to a point. I know as a coach that a certain series of workouts, executed consistently and accurately, will in most cases result in a positive physical adaption and an improvement of an element of fitness.
At Propello we like to think that our coaching is much more personal than that. The workouts and plans are set based on your unique physiology and goals. We use some great software to help us plan, monitor and modify your training so that you waste no time and realise more of your potential. The final piece of the jigsaw is taking all of this great data and figuring out how to use it to get the most out of you as an individual by taking into consideration your emotions and feelings.
If you would like to talk to us about your current training or coaching arrangements why not take advantage of our free 30 minute Zoom consultations. These calls are just the start of how we get to know you as an individual and learn about what makes you tick. Just send me an email and we can arrange a time.
Rob Wakefield /
Founder & Coach