On being coachable…

“Be coachable!” In the training world, I’ve heard this phrase a lot… And for good reason! An athlete’s ability to receive coaching is key to long-term success. It seems intuitively obvious, right? On the other hand, I think its simplicity hides much of the depth behind it. Oftentimes we talk about coachability as if it’s synonymous with having a good attitude. While receptiveness to learning is part of it, I thought it might be time to think of it as less a trait and more of a process that we can all clarify and improve upon.

In today’s post I’m going to lay out the four key things I’ve found the best lifters do, whether consciously or unconsciously, to be coachable athletes.

This first component in being coachable? Listening. What did your coach say? What’s the program telling you to do? What did your training partners see? Obviously, you have to listen first because how else are you supposed to know what you’re doing? If only learning was that easy, right?

I’ve worked with plenty of people who listen. However, not everyone can readily apply what they’re listening to to the task at hand. Sometimes you’re lucky and you just get it. It often doesn’t work that way, though. I know I was definitely not one of those lifter’s who could just get it when it came to the Olympic lifts. So, what do you do next if immediate instruction isn’t working? Reflect.

Ask yourself, do you really understand what it is you’re trying to do? I’m going to use myself as an example here. I’d like to think that I’m reasonably strong (or was). What made me good at Squatting or Pressing, however, made me really poor at the Olympic lifts. What took me the longest to learn was the Split Jerk.

My footwork always appeared mistimed, and my lockout just a little slow. My coach was sure it was because I wasn’t extending hard enough through the legs in the drive phase of the lift. So, every set I drove as hard as I could, but it didn’t seem to matter. I’d get it wrong, and was cued over and over to jump more, move my feet faster, stomp, etc. I just wasn’t getting it even though I really was trying to do what I was told. In most cases I was being given the right cues. The problem, however, was that I was actually pressing early with my arms, at the bottom of the dip. Normally this is immediately evident because the athlete’s shoulders/arms aren’t strong enough to successfully lock the bar out. Mine were. 

What’s embarrassing is that I already understood this principle in the Snatch and Clean; that the legs propel the bar, the arms are just connected to it. Somehow I still conceived of the Jerk as a Push Press into a split. Had I been a little more thoughtful about what I was being told, connecting the literal instruction to a notion I already knew, I might have avoided a lot of frustration. I’ll be fair to myself, though, it was my first year. The reality is that reflection has most value when informed by a wealth of experience. It’s reasonable that you don’t have the experience necessary to figure these things out. What comes next? Question.

You’ll save yourself a ton of time and frustration if you just do some research or ask a coach or training partner you trust. Even though I just said above that reflection becomes more effective with experience, that doesn’t mean you’ll eventually never have to ask questions. Those best athletes I mentioned at the beginning got that way by asking when they didn’t know. The achievement of exceptional results happened not because they didn’t experience plateaus, but because they rapidly sought solutions to overcome them. That gradual accumulation of understanding is also what made them coachable. Concepts build on one another, so their advancement was made possible not just by being strong, but by understanding fundamentals of the game. There’s just one more piece…

Practice. The best way to get really good at something is through repetition. Just like we often lift the same or similar weights over and over to get stronger, the same is true for using the process I’ve outlined here. If you’re not already thinking about your lifting this way, then, it’s going to take some time to get it right. However, being just a little more reflective or asking one more question could save you months of stalled progress. 

You become your most coachable when you treat every repetition as an opportunity to get just a little bit better. 


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