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Sunday, March 3, 2024

We Coach People

By: Jason Lupo


Day in and day out we coach. We find ourselves saying the same cues, the same slogans and often times the same corrections. If you could program a cuckoo clock, we could set it for a time and just have it repeat, “Get in the water,” or “Get on the field.” The monotony of it all sometimes just takes over.

The truth, however, is that as a coach our job is not monotonous. It changes on a regular basis. The thing sometimes we forget is that we as coaches don’t coach technique we coach people. I spend a huge chunk of my time during the week on the pool deck and the other part on a bike, scooter or coaching from the sidelines of a track. It is easy to think that all we do is coach a sport or the intricate details of a swim stroke, but that is not all we do.

As a coach, I build rapport with my athletes. Rapport is the foundation on which my athletes ask “how high?” when I tell them to jump. Rapport is why my athletes are excited to share with me the happenings of their life. Rapport is why I work with my athletes to develop a sport/life balance. A good coach is concerned with more than just what happens inside the bounds of a sporting venue, because an elite athlete is a balanced person who has chosen a sport as their career and focus. Rapport is often described as a harmonious relationship. A band without rapport would be miserable. I can only imagine a drummer rocking out to metal as the guitarist is playing an acoustic hymn.

So how do we build rapport?

Remove the word client. Sure, some of us make our living through coaching, but even still we are not lawyers. Calling our athletes clients takes away the humanness of the relationships. If we look at our athletes only in terms of the amount of money each one is worth, we are not coaching people we are coaching money.

Be benevolent. Just like executive officers have a fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders, coaches have a responsibility to their athletes. In order to do so, coaches must have good will and a drive for helping their athletes obtain success. Coaches must care about their athletes.

Look at an athlete as a whole. As much as we would like to think that all our athletes do is train, that is just part of the picture. Our athletes have lives, families, school, kids, etc. The demands of life sometimes pull at what we believe to be the number one priority, sport. Moreover, take in to account the stress of life. Stress is cumulative and is not discriminatory. Whenever I give presentations to teams and athletes, I always put an equation on one of the slides that looks like this:

Life Stress + Training Stress </= Recovery

If we don’t look at the whole picture, we miss the first part of the equation, which can be detrimental to performance.

It’s not just about sport. Sport is a platform for change, life lessons and growth (emotional, physical, and mental). I have always said that if I leave the track or the pool and have only taught someone how to swim or ride I have only done half of my job. It is not just about sport, coaches take on many roles. These roles change depending on your athletes, but there are always multiple roles.

Gain athlete “buy in.” I have never liked the phrase, “because I said so.” Sure sometimes this phrase must be used, but a majority of the time athletes should buy-in to your plan. The more experienced an athlete, the more work it takes to get buy- in. Whenever I sit down with my athletes, I explain the plan and more importantly the “why” we are doing it. Moreover, I encourage questions. I consider myself to be a scientist. I love talking about the sports science and therefore am excited to answer athlete’s questions.

Successful coaches who have built relationships have athletes that are confident in their coach and bought in. A journey is much easier when it is taken with people who share the load and are in it together. Therefore it is important that coaches are as dedicated as their athletes in achieving the end result.

Jason is is an experienced coach and program manager specializing in youth, adaptive and elite athletes. You can view his profile here!

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