coachable athlete

How to be a More Coachable Adult Athlete


By Darcie Murphy,
CTS Pro Coach

Coaching grownups is quite different than coaching kids but most articles or literature about “being coachable” focuses on youth sports and student-athletes. And it’s an important topic for those age groups because they’re establishing a growth mindset and productive lifelong habits. Adults, on the other hand, are independent, self-sufficient, accomplished in life, and pursuing multiple priorities (e.g., family, career, sport) simultaneously. Yet, it’s still important to be a coachable adult athlete so you’re in a position to achieve the greatest benefits from working with a professional coach.

Being a coachable athlete does not mean blindly doing what I tell you to do. I does not mean agreeing with me at all times, either. And it certainly does not mean telling me what you think I want to hear or trying to impress me. Rather, being a coachable athlete means being open to new ideas, able to accept constructive criticism, and vulnerable enough to communicate the good, the bad, and the ugly of what’s going on in your life and your training.

All athletes are coachable, if they want to be, and most adult athletes we encounter are highly coachable right from the start. After all, being coachable was a big part of how they became successful in life. To be a more coachable adult athlete, consider taking these steps:

Stay engaged, share feedback

The most coachable adult athletes are those who are highly engaged in the process. Every athlete knows what is occurring in their lives on a moment-to-moment basis, both externally and internally. While you don’t need to convey every minute-to-minute detail of your life to your coach, sharing things that are relevant to training (and most of life is!) helps a coach put each training session into the larger context of your life.

Your feedback might be as simple as providing comments following workouts, shooting your coach a text, or a hopping on a weekly phone call, or a combination of methods. Collecting data from training sessions as well as relaying biometric statistics creates a more complete picture of what is happening within workouts and how the body is or is not adapting to the training stress. If there is a cornerstone of being a coachable athlete, it’s frequent two-way communication.

Ask questions and look for growth opportunities

As a coach I know there’s no way I can know everything about you. Nor can a coach know all there is to grasp about physiology, nutrition, emerging trends in science and in popular culture, human psychology or the intimate details of their athlete’s events. But, by asking questions both coach and athlete are likely to uncover unknown aspects about each other. This moves the coach-athlete relationship toward a more comprehensive approach that considers the athlete’s daily life, the level of training specificity necessary for events on the horizon, and the other details that would go uncovered without meaningful conversations.

Good coaches recognize the holes in their knowledge and acknowledge their lack of understanding on certain topics while working toward shoring up those knowledge gaps. As athletes pose questions it shows engagement and investment, and also decreases the chances that major opportunities or challenges will be overlooked. In turn, it is the coach’s responsibility to question an athlete, and it’s critical for both parties to provide clear, honest answers. When a coach and athlete know and admit what they don’t understand and seek solutions together, they create an environment for mutual trust and a platform for growth.

Maintain a shared vision

Athletes who desire to understand the methodology behind the program tend to be more coachable athlete. That doesn’t mean you have to be as knowledgeable as a coach to benefit from working with one. However, creating specific goals for a training block, in tandem with your coach, is key. Having a clear vision of how each workout fits into the larger picture typically increases the likelihood you’ll show up for workouts and put all of the chips on the table. While not every training session will be a grand slam so to speak, grasping how each workout contributes to the objectives of the training phase can help sustain an athlete through the highs and lows that inevitably emerge within individual workouts, certain weeks of training, and throughout the entire cycle.

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When a coach and athlete have the same, or at least similar expectations for a series of workouts, it becomes easier to anticipate which ones may be the strongest and feel the easiest, and which ones will necessitate a little more grit when there is more fatigue present. Ultimately, athletes who collaborate with their coach to set realistic objectives have a greater chance of reaching those outcomes successfully.

Do the work

All the communication, precise programming, goal planning and event research in the world won’t yield much if the consistent work training isn’t completed. Whether you’re a seasoned elite athlete or brand new to your sport, consistency rules. Commit to the process from the outset, and anticipate challenges to occur along the way. Some hurdles can be predicted, others will come out of the blue. Be adaptable and opportunistic, hold onto a positive mindset and find a way to continue chipping away at the process. It’s with a long term and consistent approach that small improvements lead to major goal accomplishments. There are few shortcuts in endurance sports. Rewards come to those athletes who are able and willing to do the work, and who find ways to enjoy the daily labor.

Be willing to fail while staying committed to the goal, recognize your coach’s expertise

It’s easy to celebrates successes, but individuals and society aren’t typically as giddy about failures. However, failure is absolutely a part of sport. Athletes who recognize that shortcomings are part of the formula and who use them as learning opportunities often see more notable growth. You could argue there are always slight improvements that could be made in the preparation for a training session, in the fueling during a workout and/or for the recovery element following an outing. On a macro-level, athletes sometimes events choose events that are beyond their capabilities. They may not realize this until after the race, using months of hindsight to as evidence.

When coaches and athletes take the time to consider the large and small errors from a period of training and racing, then retool and go back to the drawing board, the process will likely go smoother next time, and the subsequent outcomes will rank higher on the positivity scale. Although a coach can’t and won’t know it all, chances are they’ve seen and experienced quite a lot during their career. An athlete shouldn’t blindly adhere to every directive a coach provides, but a professional coach should have a quiver of well-developed skills and a cache of knowledge that an athlete can take full advantage of. Good coaches are constantly expanding these skillsets and knowledge base, and they will share pertinent information to their athletes.

Being a coachable athlete is fairly simple, but simple doesn’t always mean it’s easy. Communicate, ask questions, and be willing to do the work and assess the process both during and on the back end. With reciprocal support from a professional coach and a commitment to the process, you’re likely to achieve your training and event goals.

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