The Most Valuable Coaching Skill That You Can’t Learn From A Book


There are many factors that make up a great coach.

Knowledge of the body and how it functions – check
Ability to create a progressive and safe training programs – check
Staying up to date on the most recent training science and practices – check

While these are just a few, there are near limitless factors to being an effective coach. The factors most often discussed in regard to what makes a great coach often revolve around knowledge of the body, experience, professionalism and being results-oriented.

These factors are all important, however, there is one factor that is often left out – the ability to ‘read’ people.


We all know a person that seems to be able to get along with everyone and from the minute they meet someone, they’re instantly able to develop a rapport with them. This is likely due to the individual’s ability to read others. Your ability to ‘read’ someone and based on that, tailor your delivery and mannerisms to them has a lot to do with how comfortable they are with you and in many cases, how trustworthy they view you. In other words, your ability to read people and translating that into action is all about being as relatable as possible to an individual.


To be effective at reading people, you must take the whole person into account. In regard to meeting someone in person, below are some of the areas that you want to take notice of:

  • Posture
  • Tone of voice
  • Mannerisms
  • Verbiage

For example, if you’re meeting a potential client for the first time in-person and if they appear to be nervous and intimidated, it would be ill-advised to use a lot of technical terms, mention all your race PR’s and overwhelm them with information. Instead, you should speak slowly and calmly, if they are seated – kneel down to their level, relate to them in regard to how you understand that starting a program can be intimidating and lastly, smile a lot!

Mirroring a client does not mean that you mimic their mannerisms, but rather that you take note of their mannerisms and adjust your delivery accordingly. In respect to the aforementioned scenario, if the client was the opposite – brash and loud, you would still want to be professional in your delivery however you would likely change your tone, verbiage and mannerisms to relate more effectively to them.

An important thing to note is that when mirroring someone, you still want to be yourself but making small tweaks in your delivery to be as relatable as possible.

Note that one’s mannerisms are likely specific to the situation. For example, an individual may be super confident in their professional life but when starting a triathlon training program, they may be extremely anxious and intimidated.


Aside from ‘reading’ someone visually, another great way to get to know someone is to ask questions – this is especially the case if you’re working with clients remotely. In respect to reading someone virtually, the type of questions you ask should correlate to what you would try to ascertain visually. The following questions are examples of this:

  • Rate your confidence level in regard to swimming?
  • How long prior to signing up for a triathlon did you think about it?

An important thing to be aware of is that when asking questions, and more specifically the right questions, they only hold value if you listen… really listen! When listening, most people do so in respect to formulating a response, versus learning. You want to learn as much as you can about a person when listening.


Question – would you rather be coached by a jerk or someone that you like? While I suppose some people would rather be coached by a jerk, the far majority of people would likely rather be coached by someone that they like and respect. When meeting someone (either in-person or virtually) for the first time, the ability to put them at ease is an important skill as this is the basis of trust, opening up and for lack of a better word, being likable.


Being able to effectively read people and base your delivery off of the information acquired is an important skill to have to both start and grow your coaching practice. While some people are more natural than others at reading people and tweaking their behavior and mannerisms accordingly, it also takes practice. Therefore, the more clients and interactions you have in this area, the more proficient you will become.

Rick Prince

Rick Prince

Founder/Director of United Endurance Sports Coaching Academy (UESCA).

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