Coach or Athlete? by kyle ruth

Last week Max wrote an article about mentorship and why athletes and coaches should seek out good mentors. As a successful coach and athlete in two different sports I've experienced how difficult it can be to continue to learn and progress physically while you are in the process of coaching others. Often times, when people make the transition into coaching, they find that they still need to be coached themselves in order to expose themselves to new ideas and training paradigms. In this article we’re going to look at some common mistakes that coach-athletes make in both their physical as well as coaching pursuits.

Forgetting to switch out of 'coach mode' while being an athlete.

All too often I find that coach-athletes over analyze their own programs questioning their sets, reps, training structure, etc. If you’re a coach-athlete who is trying to progress athletically this is a huge mistake (if you’re just trying to learn from the process then this may actually be a good thing). I’m not saying that you shouldn’t communicate with your coach about your needs, just that you need to find someone you trust 100% and trust the process. This is the same thing that you ask of your athletes, be patient and trust the process, and remember that there are many different ways to get to the same end result.

Forgetting to prioritize your own time and training.

Effective time management is one of the most challenging things that I’ve had to do as I’ve transitioned from full-time athlete to coach-athlete. This requires you to organize your days, weeks, and months to allow you enough time to both coach your athletes (which when done properly is about much more than just writing their programming), as well as have enough time to take care of your physical and nutritional needs. Many of the athletes I work with are gym owners or head-coaches who wear many different hats. One of the things that I work with them on is figuring out ways to block off uninterrupted training time throughout the day. Other things that can be helpful for coach-athletes include blocking off rest-days for meetings or administrative work and setting specific times throughout each day to check and answer emails (versus being constantly plugged-in). While this probably isn’t an ideal schedule for an athlete to try to make a run at regionals, it at least reduces the stress revolving around missed training sessions.

Forgetting that coaches must make sacrifices.

As a coach-athlete, both your training time and bandwidth for coaching-reach will have to be sacrificed as you spend more time focusing on one area of your life. Instead of fighting with this, set your goals in both disciplines at a level that pushes your capacities in both but not so far that you run yourself into the ground. As an athlete this might mean re-evaluating your competitive goals to more accurately reflect the amount of time you have to dedicate to training. For example, picking one area of fitness to improve at a time (i.e. strength OR endurance) rather than chasing concurrent adaptations (i.e. strength AND endurance). As a coach it may mean taking on fewer personal design clients or choosing online-courses for continuing education rather than seeking weekend seminars which chew up valuable time.

Forgetting that everyone is different

A common mistake that coach-athletes make is taking the training elements that they are doing (for example a back-squat progression or aerobic threshold track intervals) and applying it directly to their athletes. If you’re working with a coach who is tailoring training to your needs you shouldn’t expect those same progressions to work without modifications for your athletes. I think one of the most difficult lessons to learn as a coach is: just because it worked for you doesn’t mean it will work for others. Coach-athletes need to learn from their training and try to understand their bodies better, but shouldn’t be recycling their programming for their clients.

Thinking that you have it all figured out or spending too much time trying to figure it out.

I’ve fallen into both traps numerous times in my self-coached career, and this is one things that drove me to seek out my own coach. The reality of any sport is that there is no ‘right’ way to achieve success. There are thousands of templates and combinations of cyclical, gymnastics, and resistance training movements that all will lead to improved performance. As a coach-athlete it might be tempting to try to find the ‘best’ one, the magic bullet that allows infinite progression. I recall early in my CrossFit career spending hours creating one single-day of training for myself, searching for the perfect exercise order, combination of training elements and energy-systems. The effort that I had put into trying to create perfection left me exhausted and stressed because I knew that no matter what I did it wouldn’t be perfect. By hiring a coach that I trusted I was able shift my mental energies toward training and subsequently saw far better training progress than when I was coaching myself.

Forgetting to focus on the process.

Another common mistake that coach-athletes make is never sticking to one stepping stone on the path to success for long enough. Many coach-athletes will accurately assess their weaknesses following a competitive season but will fail to improve those weaknesses over the subsequent year. Often this is the result of the lack of direction that comes from self-coaching. For example, say that you need to improve your endurance on longer, chipper style metcons. During your off-season you create an endurance progression to improve this weakness, but 4 weeks into the progression you realize that your strength metrics are falling so you forget about your real priority (longer chippers) and immediately begin a strength cycle. This process continues throughout the year until you realize that you haven’t improved on the one thing that had held you back the year before, longer chippers. (I swear this has never happened to me…)

Concluding Thoughts

Even successful, experienced, or well-educated coaches need coaches. Just because you have an understanding on physiology or strength progressions and how they relates to the sport doesn’t mean that you can’t gain from working with a coach. Coaches always have your best-interest in mind, and good coaches will be far more honest with you than you will ever be with yourself. If you have a physical goal in mind you should never allow your ego to prevent you from continually seeking help.

~ Kyle

Created By
Kyle Ruth
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