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Why I Will Never Push You To Be The Best Athlete You Can Be

June 3, 2016


1398046_10153007485050921_6591550970884374896_oMy daughter, who is a certified coach twice over, is learning to coach. (No, being certified is not the same thing as knowing what you’re doing.) She was shadowing me the other night, and pointed out an athlete who could be “doing so much more.” She asked, as a good student would, how she should approach it.

“Don’t,” I told her. “It doesn’t matter.”

I am not someone who believes in pushing people to do things they don’t want to do. Even our beloved members at Rocket.

I mean, I’ll push them a little. I’ll nudge them to show up. I’ll tell them to keep going when they look like they want to stop. But why would I care if one of them is only back-squatting 80 pounds when I know they could totally be doing 120?

I don’t care. Because they don’t care.

I have a gym full of people who could be doing more. They could try harder, they could get more weight or more reps or more whatever.

I don’t care. Because they don’t care.

I hear it all the time, from other coaches, “how do you deal with an athlete who never gives it 100%.” It’s like this refrain, that it’s the athlete’s job to perform for the coach.

It’s not.

Everyone in our gym gives 100%. To something. Their kids, their job, their cats, their baking, their social activism. They don’t have to give 100% to me. They don’t owe me.

And I think this is where a lot of coaches get confused. Our job isn’t necessarily to raise awesome athletes, it’s to empower happy and healthy humans.

If Sam comes into my gym after a long day, and sandbags a workout, good for them. They got their heart rate up, stressed their muscles, connected with community and are, in all ways, better for it.

If they had a shit day, and then I yelled at them for not trying hard enough, how does that really help them? It doesn’t.

My job is to help them.

There is no one who needs to be pushed to be the best athlete they can be. No one. Because the people for whom that is their goal don’t need to be pushed.

And everyone else has the right to their own goals. Not my goals.

Yes, sometimes I look at someone and see so much potential that it hurts me a little to let go of my vision for them. But I do it dozens of times a day. Because my vision of what someone could be is meaningless.

Besides, my goal isn’t that they could be star athletes, but that they could…..

…. shed the fear that life as given them….

…. shed the judgment that life has given them…..

…. shed the myths that hold them back…..

…and none of that happens when I give them yet another external expectation to meet. Another person to disappoint. Another means of disconnecting from who they are, what they are, where they are right now.

Besides, tactically speaking, if my goal is to replace messages of fear and failure in someone’s head, the best way to do that is to replace them with messages of competence and success. We build soul memory right along side muscle memory. It’s a slow process, and it’s worth it.

Yes, some of them could squat lower when they do Wall Balls, and I’ll say “lower, Pat,” but that’s all. Yes, some of them could deadlift more, but I’ll say “great form, Kelly, looking so much better.”

I’ll tell them when I notice that they’ve gotten faster, stronger, braver, that’s all. Help them see who they ARE and celebrate that, not point out what they could be, and the vast terrain of unknown obstacles between here and there.

Every now and then an athlete will show up to “win.” Win what, I don’t know. But they’re hungry, they want to learn. Those are the ones we can push hard. Because they want it. They ask for it. Do they get a little more coaching sometimes? Sure. Because it matters to them.

If Frank is learning to Snatch simply because it’s a good workout, and fun, and doesn’t care how much they lift, I don’t care either. My job is to keep them safe. If Tracy wants to compete, I’ll go deep on tiny details that Frank may never get. If someone wants to compete, they are definitely held to a different standard than someone who’s just here to get a good work out. I mean, we try to get everyone to the same standard, but how hard we try depends on how much they care.

They each get what they want. They want to be who they are. And my job is to make them a happier, healthier version of whatever they want to be.

But even when we do push, we don’t push too hard. Carpe Manana, my friends. And I mean that in every way. Seize tomorrow. Today is a gift, but tomorrow is the prize. And the tomorrow after that.

Pushing so hard that you can’t come back tomorrow, or the next day, isn’t helpful to anyone. If you push – or push someone else – hard enough that you injure them, you’ve not made them either healthier or happier.

I explain to my daughter, who I believe will be a great coach, that the hardest part of coaching is all the things you don’t say. All the times you don’t push. It’s knowing the difference.

You win when they come back tomorrow. Stronger, happier, healthier and smiling.

Which is also how they win.

And maybe, just maybe, if they feel safe and empowered, and in one moment see all the potential that I see, they’ll go for it. They’ll ask for more. Then, and only then. Because it’s their vision for themselves, and I’m here to make it happen. When and how they want it.

Because they want it.

In which case, we’re not pushing, just showing the path. That they made, for themselves. We just shine a little light on it.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. June 3, 2016 11:36 pm

    I’m not sure I agree a hundred percent, but I like what you’re saying as it applies to adults. I did some coaching in my youth, primarily with a lower tier AAU girls basketball team. We were a “local” team who only drew players from our own community, and as such we faced hammerings at the hand of picked teams about half the times we played. Occasionally, some condescending coaches would attempt to console me with praise like “your girls really gave it a shot,” or “you’ve got a nice team, given what you’re working with.” I wouldn’t have traded any of those modestly talented kids because, while the wins were nice–and what they enjoyed most–I derived the most pleasure from watching the girls learn what they were capable of. A key part of that was that so many kids just didn’t understand what it took to succeed. They honestly didn’t know how to give everything. I’m not naive enough to think that I got through to them all, but I think at the very least I gave some of them a glimpse, and I’m vain enough to believe that understanding, however limited, has impacted their lives beyond the gym.

  2. Alyssa Royse permalink
    June 4, 2016 6:05 am

    JunkChuck, that’s a totally differrent situation. That’s a team, and the goal of team sports, on the surface anyway is to win, and if you’re on a team then you do owe it to everyone on that team to give it your all. That’s out of respect. If someone is jus coming in for a workout, that’s a whole different thing.

  3. R OQuinn permalink
    June 4, 2016 1:54 pm

    I love this. I was a ‘non-athlete’ who tried crossfit. I’m not overly competitive except with myself. Pushing a person to increase a number at the detriment of the overall health never made much sense to me. To me, the victory was in showing up at 0530 three days a week to perform activities way outside my comfort zone. It felt great to sweat and finish the workouts, even if they were scaled and I came in dead last. The victories were mine. The workouts made me feel better about myself inside while they changed the way I looked outside. I applaud this coaching style. There is wisdom in recognizing differences and meeting individual needs. You could be my coach anyday!

  4. mindy permalink
    June 5, 2016 5:31 am

    Unrelated to the article but ….. the woman in the front row looking up is identical to my sister ! Where is this picture from ?? It’s actually crazy how much they look alike !!!!

  5. Alyssa Royse permalink
    June 5, 2016 8:23 pm

    It’s at our gym in Seattle, Rocket CrossFit. 😉

  6. June 7, 2016 4:01 pm

    Coaching is like walking a tightrope… A really good coach can motivate a person to want to try harder, to better themselves… A bad coach can do so much damage that it makes a person quit. I say this as a parent of a kid who participated in organized sports. Cross Country and track, along with MX ( motocross) on the side, and along with a few horsey pursuits. So he is used to the competitive stress when competing from a very young age. But all it took was one wrong coach and he just flat out to refuse to run Track this year which was his senior year and cost him a college scholarship. As a coach I think you have to make the person want to better themselves, you can want it for them, but until they want it you just sit back and wait either they will want to get serious or they won’t. I will say this you need to push a little just to get them out of the person comfort zone, and once they get comfortable again, you push again. Baby Steps…. oh and another no-no for coaching don’t talk about your students behind their backs to their teammates, and play them against each other. That is why my son quit running should he have been mentally stronger, maybe so, but he basically said that it was bullshit, and it wasn’t a team he wanted to be part of… so maybe he is the mentally strong one. No, he wasn’t the best runner on their team, but was at a varsity level in both sports. I am glad that he is talking about running again with a former coach one of the good ones 🙂 didn’t matter if a kid came in last place that coach was right there until his last one finished 🙂

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