I’ve had a few unforgettable days in my coaching career. Some good, some bad. You never forget the look in someone’s eyes when you’ve lifted them way up…or let them down. All you can do is try to get better one more day at a time.
Early on at the Woodshed, we were fortunate to have Coach Dan John in for a weekend seminar. (All I had to do was ask!) At that point, this was like the Buddha coming into town for me. Dan and I went out to dinner on his first night and I was like a kid in a candy store asking him five million questions. It was a big deal for me, and I couldn’t wait to see him in action, coaching.
Fast forward two days and he has ten people lined up in our ragtag little space doing barbell snatches with very minimal cueing and instruction. Folks are throwing the bars up and landing awkwardly, some are clearly ill at ease with the weights they’re trying, and I am freaking the fuck out thinking someone is going to get hurt, badly. Dan sits, and he watches. Every now and again he gives some instruction, but mostly the only thing he says is to switch groups.
So I’m freaking out, but I’m also thinking why is this guy not talking more? Why isn’t he correcting every single flaw I’m seeing? Why isn’t he right up on top of these people, turning them into great Olympic lifters all at once? That’s coaching, right? Walking around, talking a mile a minute, never letting an athlete get comfortable enough to fail?
And while I fret and strut about like a tail led by an idiot, Dan sits and smiles. And eventually an athlete gets great hip extension, just like that, and the weight that had just looked too heavy settles into his hands like an egg into nest. And another uses that five extra pounds to feel the bar as an anchor and set her back properly for the first time. And another decides of her own volition to receive the bar in an overhead squat, and it’s beautiful.
That’s the thing with coaching everyday people. You can do it the way they do it on TV, like you are The Show and you have your sixty minutes to fill to the brim, and you should never shut up, and you should make people sweat every second they’re in your presence, and for God’s sake don’t ever let them forget YOU are running the room…
Or you can do it the Other Way. There are lots of other ways in the Other Way, but the main thing is you listen. You watch, you observe, and you are quiet at first. This confuses people because they forget that, like personalities, movements aren’t immediately decipherable. Overcorrecting someone within the first two months of training makes you look like Rupert Pupkin’s king for a day and a schmuck for a lifetime once the weight is heavy enough to force the mistake that the athlete didn’t root out with incremental movement. I can tell you to squat as deep as you can on Day 1 and I’m the guy who got The Tin Man to squat below parallel and maybe they’ll make a Coach of the Week movie about my miracle squat cure…or I can tell you to sit back and push your knees out and trust that proper movement and loading will do the trick and make it stick. One way is the scream at an emptying theatre, and the other way…that is coaching.
This is calm, this is listening, and this is patience. This is what we do at Woodshed. We are happy for your tomorrow, but really we want the rest of your life, and that’s how we coach.