Coaching success is all too often discussed in terms of race times and places. This is a very black and white view of the coaching process and quite frankly, it’s the incorrect view.
I once had an athlete come to me for coaching from another coach and when I asked how they did in their goal race with their last coach, he replied, “Great, I had a 10 minute PR and didn’t get injured in the process!”
A bit confused as to why he would leave a coach that he got great results with, I probed a bit further.
Turns out that while the athlete did get a great result and the coach no doubt knew what he was doing to prepare his client physically, in the opinion of the athlete, the coach was… and I quote, “a total a**hole!”
This drives home the point that a coaching relationship is about so much more than the result on race day.
EMOTIONAL QUOTIENT (EQ)
Based on, A Dictionary of Psychology (3 ed.), the definition of EQ is as follows:
The capability of individuals to recognize their own emotions and those of others, discern between different feelings and label them appropriately, use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior, and manage and/or adjust emotions to adapt to environments or achieve one’s goal(s)
In other words, EQ relates to how you assess, interpret and act upon the emotions of yourself and that of others.
In many respects, empathy is perhaps the most important trait of a coach. One’s capacity to understand and fully appreciate what a client is feeling and/or experiencing is of critical importance to the coaching relationship. As we all know, the training process and subsequent races are not just physical endeavors but emotional endeavors as well. Being able to put yourself in your client’s shoes and see things from their point of view will help shape your communication with them, as well as the training process as a whole.
Motivating a client is not just a function of sending a ‘Have a great race!’ email come race day. Rather, motivating a client is less about specific actions than it is about your overall positivity and optimism. While not everything in a training process will be sunshine and roses, it’s very important to be conscious of how you come across to a client. Your tone, mannerisms, verbiage and overall demeanor has a huge influence on how your client perceives the coaching relationship and also themselves in respect to their training and race performance.
Your client bought a new pair of shoes at the race expo and raced in them… as well as throwing out the designated race strategy – the result? A big fat DNF! The inclination for most of us would be to go off on the client, which would probably be well deserved and to some degree warranted, but – it also is likely not the most productive approach.
Your ability to digest what you hear, pause and take time to formulate the most appropriate response is important. Regarding the example above, as much as you’d like to fire off an immediate email reply with a few f-bombs scattered throughout, it’s likely wise to let yourself ‘cool down’ before replying.
This is important for two important reasons. First, by being aware of your own emotions and feelings, you’ll be better able to communicate with your clients. Second, by understanding and appreciating your own ability level as a coach, you’ll be more confident which translates to a better coaching experience for both you and the client.
This more or less sums up all of the areas discussed in this blog post but it’s important to note that having good social skills is of paramount importance to coaching, as well as life in general. While the list of what social skills are important are likely endless, ones that come to mind in respect to the coaching relationship are as follows:
- Communication – being clear in your communication
- Establishing rapport
- Managing change
- Being an inspiring leader and motivator
- Effective conflict management
The process to train for a race, as well as to coach a client is not a quick one. Depending on the race length, the training process can take months. Throughout this process, there will be quite a few ups and downs – and depending on the client, tears may even be shed. Patience is often discussed in regard to athletes in terms of physiological changes but it is rarely discussed in terms of coaches. The fact of the matter is that oftentimes, patience is often more of a factor for coaches than that of athletes.
As noted above, the training process for an athlete can take months. As such, dedication to get to race day is not just on the part of the athlete but also that of the coach. While not necessarily a function of one’s EQ, being dedicated to a client is absolutely necessary. For many coaches, coaching is a side-gig born out of their passion and love for their sport. As such, coaches often balance coaching with a full-time job, family and other obligations. I’m constantly impressed by the dedication shown by UESCA coaches to their clients while still balancing their other life obligations.
That said, you must be honest with yourself in regard to how many (if any) clients you can take on, knowing that each and every client deserves exactly what they signed up for with you – and nothing less.
ACQUSITION VERSUS RETENTION
A fancy and shiny website highlighting a coaches experience, race results, testimonials and PR’s may make someone sign up with a coach but it doesn’t make them stay with them. As I noted earlier in my example, even a good race result doesn’t necessarily equate to a ‘positive’ coaching relationship. In my personal experience as well as assessing other coaches, EQ is likely the single biggest factor regarding client retention and more importantly, client satisfaction.
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