I had just started as an intern at University of Kentucky. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to assist the staff with coaching their respective teams. In addition, I was coaching Orientation sessions for Big Blue CrossFit which operated out of the same weight room. In all, I worked with general population, Division I swimmers, track and field, volleyball, soccer and baseball athletes.
In my first session with the baseball players the Graduate Assistant really set me up for success. He told the guys about my Veteran status. I usually do not mention it in introductions with non-Tactical Athletes. I am proud of my service, but do not want to come off a braggart. The GA wanted to give me some credibility since I was brand new. That behind said, I picked up the GA's lead and turned up the NCO. "Alright men, follow me" and I double time up the stairs to our training area. They followed with a quickness.
My task was to supervise the plyometric portion of a resistance training session. These young men got to work. No argument. No fuss. Just work. I saw one of the higher performing players move. He had great explosiveness, but he was vertically displacing more than needed. At the end of the set I made eye contact with him and said "I love the power. Give me distance." The next set he did exactly that. I am not exaggerating when I say it was like he could visualize what was in my mind and performed my vision of the movement. "How was that, Coach" he asked. I made eye contact again, gave him a sagacious nod and said "that is what I wanted." His face lit up and he maintained the performance I wanted for the remainder of the session. However, a storm was brewing in my mind. All I could hear was my own voice telling me I coached a high performer to even greater performance. What was the experience like? Imagine walking down Fremont Avenue in Vegas and seeing a neon sign flashing the words “World's Greatest Coach.”
The session ended and I bid the young fellows farewell. Heady with the knowledge I had figured out this whole “coaching thing” in two weeks, I doubled timed to my CrossFit session. Waiting for me was a nice middle age woman who worked at the University as an art instructor. Her athletic background consisted of college volleyball 15 years earlier. We had two prior sessions together where we covered basic barbell exercises. My task for this session was to teach her the Clean. A daunting feat given her background? Not for the World's Greatest Coach! Progressions? Start her with the Hang Clean and get her to Power Clean in a couple of sessions? Great idea; if you are coaching in Mother Russia!
What happened next can be succinctly described in the colloquial language of Soldiers. Though having acquired post graduate education I will be less crass and more specific. She attempted to do everything I asked of her, but I failed to connect with her to improve her performance. The cues I used were appropriate for a Division I athlete with years of prior coaching. However, I was attempting to communicate with her to gain a level of performance she did not possess and without a foundation of movement skills. For that matter, my job was to provide her with an introduction to those very skills. I became frustrated. Where was my Coaching Mojo? I had it just a second ago.
When the session ended I thought about why she did not understand me. Later, when I thought more about it I realized something; I did not understand her. My inability to connect with her prevented her from getting the most from the session. A simple "give me distance" made sense to the baseball player; he had the background and I catered to it. Yelling "explode" to a full time Mom and part time Teacher means nothing. This is compounded when you use your Ugly American Communication Skills: If they do not understand English, they will understand loud English.
As a Coach you have to remember the session is there for the athlete and not you. You are acting in service to the athlete. We are leaders and we need to put ourselves in position to positively affect those looking to us for guidance. The athlete will give you what they got if you can connect with them. Further, it is not just about cueing. Yes, there is a science to it and we all should learn it. However, the athlete is a human first. Connect with that other person. Understand them. Lead them.
Before you ask them to give you distance, close the distance with them.