Coaching Athletes

For my project I connected with the football team from the high school I used to go to and became a lifting coach for their summer program. I was qualified to do this because I am a certified personal trainer. Furthermore, I knew there was an actual need for someone to help out because I used to play football and I knew that there were some holes in the programming and practices that could have led to injuries.

Coaching athletes obviously requires a great deal of leadership and a good leader would be able to command better results from athletes. A big transformation happened with how I viewed the qualities of a good leader, my understanding of my own leadership ability, and what I could do to be a better leader. As the summer progressed and the athletes made improvements in their lifting technique and physical shape, I realized I would sometimes receive resistance form certain athletes. They seemed to just not want to really take the information that I was giving them that would helpfully improve their technique and hopefully reduce injury and improve performance. I realized that it probably came down to my ability to inspire the athletes to do what I was saying. I realized this was a quality of a good leader and a good coach. As the summer progressed I picked up on different ways to improve the responses to my coaching. I tried to make lifting more fun for the athletes and tried my best to try to get athletes to adopt a better way of doing things without any negative connotations for their previous ways. Overall, I realized ability to inspire and to connect with the athletes were as much an asset to a good coach as the knowledge of proper training and programming.

I started to think more about leadership and its relationship with my coaching when I was trying to give pointers to an athlete on his back-squat exercise. I remember vividly seeing his buckling in while doing the exercise with considerable weight. Immediately the possible torn ligaments and other possible injuries entered my mind. Since trying to help the team prevent injuries was a big part of why I was there, I pulled him aside and mentioned the issue that I saw with his form and the possible injuries. His response was “Yeah, I know that. The other coaches tried fixing it but I can’t help it”. I was dumbfounded by his response. I couldn’t believe that he actually knew about the issue and just believed that it wasn’t possible to fix. I’m a huge proponent of self-determination, and the idea that any individual can do anything within reason as long as they put their mind to it.

A short while after the back-squat incident I really began thinking about if there was a way to persuade him that he could in fact change his technique and it probably wouldn’t have been that difficult. I realized that there was probably some way I could have explained it or shown him to get him to really attempt at changing, but I just didn’t know how to persuade him. At the same time came the realization that a good leader is able to persuade. The benefits of persuasion are plentiful. Being able to persuade can help reduce conflict, move things along more efficiently, and illustrate that people believe in you. Since I was unable to persuade the athlete, I realized that I needed to add persuasion to the list of attributes of a leader that I need to work on.

While thinking about leadership I picked up on two other traits that I noticed from another coach: leaders need to be able to get people excited and need to maintain a good relationship with who their working with. When I started my project I kind of saw myself as a dynamic source of information. I had learned all this great stuff over the years with my own training and reading, as well as recently becoming a certified personal trainer. I figured my role during the project would be to observe the athletes and provided feedback to them. The necessity of being able to get the athletes excited didn’t cross my mind until seeing the other coach truly getting excited and in return getting the athletes excited. It makes the work they had to put it easier and better.

The other coach also had known many of the athletes for a while, so he had a much better relationship with the athletes than I had. I noticed they were more receptive to input since they knew him so well. Furthermore, he didn’t always make it seem like he was the coach. He behaved more like just another athlete on the team doing his best to inspire his teammates. This stuck with me because I didn’t see the importance of the relationship in being a good leader. I realized that it would probably do just as much good trying to get to know the athletes rather than just give them insight on ways to improve.

Realizing what some of the characteristics of a good leader is and comparing that to how I performed as a coach for the football team has made me into a better leader. I have held positions of leadership before, such as in student organizations on campus, but never something where people and performance relied so heavily on my abilities as a leader. It made me realize that I was not great leader, and that’s alright. The project allowed me to see where my weaknesses are, and that alone has allowed me to already become a better leader.

Realizing ways for me to become a better leader, and what characteristics a good leader possesses will hopefully result in better leadership experiences in the future. Experiencing first-hand what it is like to have real responsibility as a leader has made me want to get more involved in more leadership intensive activities, and to really test my ability to lead. Most importantly I want to go to get my MD and MBA after undergraduate, so realizing now what I need to work on will make me hopefully a better doctor and leader in the future.

This was the glamorous location for my project: the Lima Central Catholic High School weight room.