How Do I Learn to be a Great Coach? by Max el-hag

The growth of Training Think Tank has been greater than I could ever have envisioned when I first set out to try to make an impact on the (fitness) world. But, with all growth comes new challenges. Because I am bringing on new coaches and being asked to mentor, I am struggling to define “good coach” and all the variables that go into that distinction. I think people assume I’m being modest when I say I don’t know if I’m “good” because I have made an impact in people’s lives, coached people in professional sports, and have gained some degree of popularity. They assume that I must think I am “good.” But, the label is curious. I always wondered, what exactly defines a good coach? Is it their academic knowledge, their experience, the depth of their knowledge base in other disciplines like human behavior, psychology, nutrition, biomechanics, and the human experience, or is it social proof?

Trying to answer that fundamentally more difficult question is what keeps me up at night. It’s difficult to know how I can better serve my own coaches, the people who pay me to mentor them, or monitor my own progress. I have no idea what makes a good coach and I suppose if my success is warranted, perhaps that humility and that insecurity is what drives me to be better. I have no answers, and I am aware that is not usually a sexy sell, but I am a pragmatist and I have been observing the rest of the TTT family and myself trying to find the most effective path to the top of the coaching profession. Below are some of the things I think are necessary to get you started…

  • Be curious. My curiosity built my knowledge base. There were stages in my life where I was obsessed about learning different things. I had periods where I was obsessed with: happiness, habit formation, endurance development, strength development, football, wrestling, body composition, biochemistry, physics, biocentric models of the universe, quantum physics, movement, gymnastics strength, nutrition, the endocrine system, etc. Sometimes those obsessions came because they were what I thought I needed to know. Other times they were because my instinct told me I needed to learn more about it to make my selfish desires a reality. Or my mind would race on a particular issue and I couldn’t cope with the frustration and confusion so I sought more knowledge to provide clarity to my thoughts so I could sleep at night. Whenever I let my mind loose, I couldn’t consume enough about a particular topic. Now, after years of trial and error and “overtraining” my mind, I have finally come to understand my curiosity. I feed and nourish it like it is an indispensable part of my life and I ensure that I respect the boundaries of my mind. I have found in the past that I could drive myself into a theoretical inquiry that distracts me from my real relationships and reality itself. I have made peace with the fact that I will never learn everything, but I am constantly ensuring that I am learning something. It will all have value, it will all have it’s place, and if I enjoy what it is I am learning, then I learn as much as I possibly can about it until I get burned out on the topic. When I do, I move on and don’t force the consumption of information that becomes a nuance or a hindrance.
  • Be patient. Cultivating skill in a craft takes time. We are in a world where things always come to us quickly. Get a six pack in six weeks, get on Amazon and get your books shipped in two days, become a games athlete in three years (or less), need a lot of calories… go to a restaurant that will give you fresh food in 2 minutes, etc. But greatness and quality in your craft in coaching will not come quickly. You cannot rush the path. And if you do try to rush it, you will likely become sick of it. Like any career you wish to have for a long time, build balance in your life first so you can maintain passion for your work. If you love what you do and you continue to do it for a long period of time, you will be great at it. You need the experience of working with people in person, you need the experience of feeling your biology age to be relatable, you need the experience of injuries, you need the learning from books, and you need so many other things. People will claim to be experts without having ever done those things, but they will likely have to try to convince you. Mastery speaks for itself. In spite of a wide knowledge base, I can still perceive the overwhelming amount of things that I still can learn, and I am so excited for them because the attainment of knowledge is fun. Re-frame your reality from “I am so insecure that I don’t know enough” to “I feel grateful that I am smart enough to perceive that there is more to learn and I’m excited to keep learning.” It will serve you well in this career and in life in general.
  • Learn to enjoy reading. I know a lot of people are auditory learners and love to listen to books on tape or go to lectures, but a lot of GREAT information is in written form. Almost all scientific books are written likely due to small numbers of people reading them, and contain accompanying graphs and charts, which would be impossible to transfer to audio. They will likely never become audible sources of information. Once you get comfortable reading, digest as much as you possibly can while maintaining balance in all of your quests. There is something meditative about the process of fully focusing your attention on the narrative laid out by an author. The better you get, the quieter the voice in your head that provides constant chatter, and the more clearly you will be able to disseminate your own thoughts as a coach.
  • Create or get involved in a culture of learning. Everyone learns and teaches differently. But the more people you have in the same environment who desire the same outcome, the faster you will collaborate to get better. Training Think Tank has become an epic learning environment. Our coaches are constantly meeting, organizing mentor sessions, discussing new methods, sharing research, and striving to get better. This has been such a potent catalyst for growth and I have to fight the thoughts that I am becoming an inadequate aspect of the culture I helped to build. It is great for me, and it forces me to continue to grow and keep up with the pack so that I don’t become a non-respected leader.
  • Continue to experiment with your own body and mind. I can guarantee that you don’t have it figured out. You will get into pain, you will fail to accomplish your goals, you will get busy spending so much emotional effort on others that you pack on a few extra pounds, someone in your life will get sick, etc. No matter how much you know, life is chaotic and you have to constantly be able to provide your body with a balance of comfort and challenge. The distribution of the two will largely be dictated by what is going on in your life. No matter what is going on though, you should always be striving for health, balance, and some sort of physical challenge. The challenge at some points in your life could simply be minimizing the negative impacts of your life stressors on your body composition, movement, strength and endurance. But, practice what you preach and be honest about how difficult the process is to master. Most people are not as dedicated to their bodies as you will be as a coach and if you don’t convey the magnitude of the challenge, your clients may feel shame if they are unable to achieve the things they say they want. Some people think that they must be “superior” to their clients, but I believe it matters not how well or poorly you are able to perform relative to your audience, but that you earn their respect and are genuine in your interactions with them.

Anyone who has heard me speak before has heard me say that “knowledge is power.” Unfortunately, people simplify the term “knowledge” in that sentence and reduce it to a concept that they understand in their mind which dilutes the true power of the sentence. Knowledge, for me, is a combination of self-awareness, experiences, information, application of methods, ability to adjust on the fly, proof of your ability to make true your theories in the real world, and a variety of different adaptations that happen in your mind, body, and life. I believe knowledge is unmistakable when I see it, but giving someone a blueprint to attain it has proven much more difficult than I had thought it would be. It can be a great gift, but like anything worthwhile it takes time and a lot of suffering, so if you intend to seek mastery as a coach, join me on this journey and be prepared never to achieve your goal…

~ Max

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Max El-Hag
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