Episode 3: Your Core Values as a Coach
This day started off like every other day. We warmed up on the ergs. And then we got hands on our boats. We went and launched our boats. And we headed east. I was coaching that day, so I was in a motor boat as it's very common for a coach to be. And my co rowing coach, Catherine, was also in a motor boat. So, we headed east with our crew, and we stop a little bit east of this I-35 bridge. And that's the Interstate I-35 that stretches from Mexico to Canada. And we stop and we talk about what the key content is for the day. And then it's time to get going and my motor boat won't start.
So, this is a really common thing to happen with just old equipment. And we had really old equipment. We were a club team. And so I was pretty annoyed and I told Catherine to go ahead and head east with our crews and I was going to get my boat started. So, I stand up and I put my left foot on the edge of the boat and I put the pull cord to the motor in my right hand. And imagine like a lawn mower that starts with a pull cord rather than a button. And so I start pulling the pull cord and the engine isn't starting
And then it gets stuck. And when it gets stuck, it launches me towards my foot. And then all of my body weight goes where my foot is. And suddenly the edge of the boat gets put underneath the water. And so then water starts to come into the boat. And so I run to the opposite end of the boat just to try to get the water to stop. And suddenly there’s water at my ankles. And then it’s at my knees. And then it’s at my hips. And then suddenly I’m treading water. I’m freaking out. And I’m like, “Catherine! Catherine! Come back!” But she's speeding off in the opposite direction. And even, she couldn't hear me ‘cuz her motor was so loud.
And so there I was, suddenly treading water and it was black outside. It was dark night still, like 5 a.m. And the water was so cold. And I was all alone by myself.
(Music by the Little Bicycles)
Welcome to the third episode of the Strong Athletic Podcast. I’m your host, Nadia Kean. In this podcast, we study the science and art of coaching and being coached. We decided to produce the Strong Athletic Podcast as our contribution to keep people active, whether it’s in sports or simply doing things that are good for their body. I personally think that a natural departure from sports is okay. The kind of the departure that comes after a gratifying career, or maybe after you finished high school or college and you've graduated, or maybe after you just want to go and do something else. I think a premature departure from sports is really unfortunate. The kind of departure that comes after you’ve had a bad interaction with a coach, or a bad interaction with a teammate, or for some reason you feel like you're being pushed off of a team. And I think that it should be taken seriously when people leave sports but they'd rather stay in them. So, that’s one of the goals of the Strong Athletic Podcast is just to give people resources so that they have a better experience in sports, a better interaction with their coaches, or if you’re a coach, a better interaction with the athletes. This podcast is totally free for you and it's because we have badass sponsors.
Today’s sponsor is Strong Athletic. So, Strong Athletic is my t-shirt company.And the goals of Strong Athletic are in alignment with the goals of this podcast. We like to put powerful words across the chest of bold humans. And we also want people to realize that they don't need anybody's permission to use the words ‘strong,’ ‘athletic,’ or ‘athlete.’ You’re authentic. You're the real deal. You are strong, athletic. Find us at strongathletic.com.
For the next two episodes, we’re going to focus on your core values as either an athlete or a coach. If you've never thought about having a core value in sports, I think that you should. And I bet you already do, you just might not think of them as a core value. An example of a core value in life is maybe you put trust before anything else, or you always make sure that your family comes first. A core value in sports would be your key belief either as an athlete or as a coach. For instance in college rowing, our core value was that you always show up to practice. You just don't miss practice. And then the second core value was that you always show up to practice on time. And this was essential for making everything work on schedule. And if people missed practices, maybe once every year, and that's how few people missed practice, then you might understand it and you might think of it as a mistake. But if someone was missing practice multiple times a month, then you would realize that their goals were not in alignment with the team. And then you just have a discussion about it.
I'm choosing to focus on your core values because I think that they impact and tie into why you choose to stay in sports and also why you leave. The topic is actually so vast and important to me that I'm breaking it down into two separate podcasts. In today’s podcast, we’re going to focus on the core value from the aspect of the coach’s perspective. And then in our next podcast, we’re going to focus on core values from the athlete’s perspective. Now if you’re an athlete, that doesn't mean that you should just hit ‘stop’ and not listen to the rest of the podcast. If you're an athlete, today what I want you to do is do these activities from the perspective of a coach. So, you might be a coach yourself and also an athlete, or you might have never been a coach before ever. But what I want you to think about is what you think a coach’s core value should be. In the next episode, coaches, that's exactly what I want you to do. So you're going to think about the core values that an athlete should have, or the athletes that you coach what you would hope their core values are as athletes on a team.
If it's your first time joining us for the Strong Athletic Podcast, first I want to welcome you. Thank you so much for joining. I actually only do this podcast for you. And so if you're not listening, then there's really no reason for me to be doing this. Throughout my podcast it’s common for me to encourage you to hit ‘pause’ and think about the questions that I'm asking you about during the show. Some people like to just quietly think about them and then hit ‘play’ and listen to the podcast. Other people like to journal about them. We've gotten some cool emails from people talking about their Strong Athletic Podcast journal. And thank you for sending us photos. If you have a special journal that you have put to the side just for the Strong Athletic Podcast, I want you to send us a photo of it ‘cuz we want to see what it looks like. Maybe we'll even have a journal challenge at some point in the future.
Now back to the topic on hand, your core values. At this time, I want you to hit ‘pause' and you're going to take some time to think about your core values either as a coach or the values that you think a coach should have if you're an athlete. Then when you're done with that, you're going to hit ‘play’ and you'll come right back to my sweet voice. And I'll keep on leading you on this divine road to coaching bliss.
Okay. So, welcome back. I'm going to read you my list. And then I'm going to talk to you about my concepts from my list in more detail. So my core beliefs as a coach are the following. The first one is that my ideas are valuable and I don't have to coach just anybody. My second belief is that learning is consensual and the athletes have the freedom to learn what they choose to learn. I can’t force them to learn things they choose not to. My third core belief is that I must be an expert communicator. My fourth is that I have to treat athletes with respect and expect the same from the athletes. My fifth core belief is that I have to be trustworthy. Trust is essential in a teacher-student relationship. My sixth core belief is that I need to learn how to interpret the indicators that athletes are giving to me during practice. And my seventh core belief is that my coaching style must be adaptable.
So now that you've heard my core values, I want you to pause for a moment and look back at yours and see if any of our core values are similar or if they're different, if they vary. Maybe you only came up with two core values. Or you had a really long list of 20. I do want you to look at them and think about them. And then hit ‘play’ when you're ready to move on.
So now we’re going to loop back around and focus on each of my core values. Take some time to study them why they are a core value so you have a better understanding of them. And then after this podcast, you are going to either start to incorporate some of my values as your own. Or you might not, but you'll have a better understanding for why you don't want to. Now for athletes who are doing this drill and you’re thinking about your coach or coaches in general, I want to listen to my core values and think about them. And then if you think that there’s a possibility that your coach should incorporate some of these values into their coaching practice, then you might even have them do this activity and talk to them about why you think that one of my values is important and would be good for the team.
The first core value: my ideas are valuable and I don't have to coach just anyone. This core belief came after a long time of coaching. And I definitely wasn't thinking this way the first time I coached. But I think about it more and more these days. And it gives me freedom to be myself whenever I coach and also it takes away the guilt from worrying that I'm not coaching the right content. When I first started coaching, I didn't have my own information. And so I would coach other people's information. So for instance my first coaching job, I was the assistant coach for the Austin Marine Club juniors. And the head coach was Jennifer De Haas. Jennifer had a massive impact on me as a coach and also as an athlete, and I learned a lot from her. Essentially when I first started coaching under her, I was coaching her content to the rowers. As a result, I didn’t actually value it as much as I would have valued it if it was my own. And I remember there'd be some days where the water conditions weren't quite right or the athletes just weren't getting it. And so I actually just let them do other things. So, I wouldn't stick to the plan that Jennifer had. And I remember she would get pretty irritated or frustrated, and rightfully so. Because she knew that those technical aspects that we were working on, or the strategy that we were working on were actually really important. And although I didn’t have buy-in, she did. But she couldn’t control the situation when I simply just would let the athletes do something else and wouldn’t have them focus on that hard stuff.
As I started coaching more and more in developing my own concepts of the sports that I coached, I really did think that the strategy and the technique that I was coaching was really, really important. And then later on, I actually started to feel pride. I felt pride associated with the concepts I was coaching other people. And I started to realize that that was my intellectual property. It was valuable to them and it was valuable to me. And then I started to run into people that I didn't actually like, or respect, or trust. And I started to find it very, very hard to coach them on the ideas that had taken me so long to come to. Nowadays I'm really lucky. And it's that I can select who I want to coach. And so if there’s an athlete that I don't like working with, I essentially don't have to because it's up to me of who I take on as somebody who studies underneath me.
For whatever situation you might be in, you might not have this option. So if you're a high school coach or a middle school coach, college coach, and the athlete is on your team and they get to be there, they have a right to be there, you can’t necessarily tell them, “Hey. Sorry. Not coaching you today.” But you can tell them reasons why you wouldn’t want to coach them. And we'll go into that a little bit later. But just know if you're a coach, your ideas are valuable and you also get to choose who you want to coach. You don’t have to coach just anybody, especially if they're not treating you with respect or you don't trust them.
Let’s move on to my second core value. And I actually borrow this one, or the wording for this one, from my wife, Carla. Learning is consensual. If you don't even know what this means, then I'm so happy that you're listening to this podcast, because it's important for you to know. So, just because you’re a coach and you have all these ideas or all of the information, it doesn’t mean that the athlete has to learn from you. Now you might wonder why an athlete wouldn’t want to learn information that you think is going to be helpful to them. And if that is a question, then great. Let's discuss that.
So, let’s go based off of your relationship with the athlete. So, if you have a great relationship with an athlete and there's that trust and that respect there, then when an athlete doesn't want to learn your idea or incorporate your idea, it might actually be because they don’t agree with it. So, let’s remember that that athletes have brains and the older that they get, and the more mature in their sport they get, the more experience that they have, they're going to have their own concepts for how they can play the sport.
So recently I had a coach coaching a concept at practice, and I actually disagreed with him. And so I had him explain the concept to me a couple of times because it went against the fundamentals of the sport that I did. And it just didn't sit well with me. I didn't want to start to utilize his idea because I didn't agree with it technically. However, you know, this story has a good outcome because as my coach explained the concept more and more and I started to understand it better, I actually got behind it. And in the end, I think it's a really, really great idea. But the thing is that my coach couldn't have forced me into that. So just by my coach saying, “This is a great idea. Let's start to do this now.” That wasn't enough for me. Even though I respect him, I still have my own brain and I can think for myself. So, I wasn't just going to shake my head yes and say, “You're right. You know all of the information. I'm doing this from now on.” That's not the type of human I am. As my coach explained the idea to me more and I started to utilize it and experience it and understand it, that's when I decided that I had buy-in to it. But remember coaches, you can’t force the athlete into that. They have to come to it on their own. And that almost keeps things on your shoulders because you essentially have to become a better coach in how you coach things. And if the athlete doesn’t agree with you, that is okay. They have their own brain. They can think for themselves. You can't force information on to them.
Now you are a coach. And some of you might coach one person, or you might coach many people. If you coach one person, you're the private instructor for one athlete, I tend to think of it as the athlete hires you rather than you hire the athlete. So essentially, I would have to say that you should go with what the athlete wants to do because ultimately it’s their body, their brain, their participation in the sport. However if you coach multiple people, you coach a team, and you have 29 people saying, “Yes. I'll do it that way.” And one person saying, “No. I will not do it that way.” There’s going to be some times where this might work out for you. And there's going to be some times where it doesn’t. For the most part I'd say if you have 29 people buying in and one person not buying in, then at that point it might be the one athlete that actually needs to adapt and start doing things the way that the majority of the team are going to do things. And so you just have to have a hard conversation with that athlete about, “Hey. I know that you don’t necessarily agree with this idea, but the entire team does. And so we have to do things as a unit.”
Moving forward if you always approach athletes as people who can think for themselves, their brain as a sacred space, and you treat teaching as a consensual thing, then I think you'll be in a good place. I do like to ask athletes if they want coaching. And I don't assume that just because I have ideas to coach to them that they want to hear about them. So perhaps just treat coaching as more of a, “Would you like coaching today? Fantastic. This is what I saw.” Rather than a, “I'm going to coach you. You must listen to it. You must incorporate my ideas.”
So moving forward, let's go to my third core value and it's that you have to be an expert communicator. So communication comes in many ways, but one thing I just want you to keep in mind is just because you've said it does not mean that it means something to the athlete. So for example, in rowing if I say to an athlete a very common rowing phrase such as, “Don't rush the slide.” But let’s say that the athlete came from another boat house, so that jargon doesn't mean anything to them, or they're new to the sport. Then “don't rush the slide” would not mean anything to them. But if I continually say those phrases to them and I don't see what I want to see as a result of it, then learning hasn't taken place even though I've said something. So that's when I’d have to stop things, break it down, and explain to them what “don't rush the slide” means.
Another way that you have to be an expert communicator is by keeping your body and your voice in a neutral way. Now coaches, some of you coach a sport where you're not necessarily really close to the athletes. So rowing for instance, sometimes I can be a hundred meters away from an athlete. And I have you make sure that they can hear me. But I need to be loud without sounding angry. So, that's a bit of communication too, just knowing that the way you speak to somebody can unfortunately sometimes have a massive backstory that comes along with it.
I was recently talking to my friend Melissa and her kids. Melissa is one of the founders of a team in Austin called the Team Free Radicals. And Melissa was telling me about all this research that she had recently found about people who are in sports and how the previous trauma in their life impacts their experience in sports. So this is definitely a topic that we're going to cover in an upcoming podcast, but for now coaches, I just want you to realize that people are coming to you on your sports team from all different types of backgrounds. And the way that you're communicating to them might be okay for one athlete, but to another athlete it’s appalling, or it sets them off, or it makes them feel afraid or unsafe. And so the way that you carry yourself, and the way that you speak to them, and the way that you use your words, or even your word choices that you use, can communicate way more than you intended. So just be on the lookout for that. And if you have athletes that you have a great rapport with, but you also have athletes that you don’t have a good rapport with, you should check in to see the type of communication that you have with those people and try to get a sense for why one type of communication works with one athlete and that same exact communication does not work with the other. I promise you if you do this, you'll get good results.
Other things that have to do with communication are making sure that you're actually annunciating your words. You're not mumbling. My friends joke about how my mouth moves when I talk, but really I'm just trying to make sure that people can understand me. (Low mumbling) Because otherwise I’d be just really mumbling. My sister and I used to mumble like this. And no one really understands us except for each other. (Resuming normal voice) So, that’s part of communication. Knowing if you have anybody on your team that can't hear very well or at all and making sure if you do they can see you whenever you talk. And also if you have people that their first language is not the one that you're coaching in, making sure that they understand what you're telling them because they're having to translate everything in their brain while you coach them. These are all factors that impact communication.
Finally, my favorite trick for communication. After I speak to somebody, I ask them just to say back to me what they think I've said. And then that can help make sure that there's no miscommunication taking place. So for instance, if I said to somebody, “Yellow banana.” And then asked them to say back to me what they think I just said and they say, “Purple octopus,” then I know we definitely had a miscommunication. But if they say back to me, “Yellow banana,” then I know that we are good to go.
So, my fourth core belief as a coach is that I have to treat athletes with respect and I have to expect the same from the athletes. And so this really ties into some of the ideas that we've already spoken about in the first three core beliefs. Respect is the backbone of my relationship with anybody. And when I am working with somebody that I don't respect, I definitely have a harder time. When I'm working with somebody that I do respect, a lot of things come easy because I know why I'm there and I want to be there. Now you can't really force respect, but the good news for me is that when I meet somebody, I treat them with respect on the get-go and I essentially respect them until they give me reasons to not respect them.
So I know that some people in the world work in opposite ways. It's not that they lack respect for somebody, they're just more neutral. And then they have the person gain their respect throughout time. So, I’m a little bit opposite. But I do want to let you know that you must respect the athletes and show them that you respect them. So think about the person that you respect the utmost in the world, and they don't have to be necessarily in sports, and then treat athletes that way.
If athletes are not treating you with respect, you need to have a conversation with them about it. If it’s an entire team, then have the conversation with the entire team. If it’s one athlete, have the conversation with just that one athlete. And try to do so in a private place where it's just you and them, and not everybody listening.
I think that respect is something that can be fixed and mended. So if you lose respect for somebody, try to think of respect to something that you want rather than something that is an extra add-on. So if at some point, one of the actors that you work with does something that makes you question the respect that you have for them, perhaps have a conversation with them and just try to get to the root of it, especially if they're going to be on your team for a long time. And so not only will you treat athletes with respect and expect the same from the athletes, but you’ll also have respect be one of those things that you want on your team.
So let’s think about the next core value. Be trustworthy. I want you to think about trust and what is worthy of trust. And so, how do you carry yourselves? How do you act around the athletes? Do you tell them that you believe one thing and then you do something else? So for instance for rowing when I was in college, I really, really wanted to be there. And there was this one time I missed practice by accident. And it was at the worst time you can miss practice. It was the day before a race. But I never missed practice ever. So when I missed practice that one day, my team didn't lose all their trust in me or their respect for me because it was highly uncommon. But if I had missed practice once a week, and then I missed it on that super, super important day, then it would make sense that my team wouldn't know if they could trust me. What I said was important to me, the team, was different than my actions, showing up to every practice.
Trust on a team can present itself in a lot of different ways. For instance, a lot of athletes write in to me and they tell me that they are not played in games. So, they’ve trained their asses off. Their coach told them that they were good to go prepared, and then game day comes around and they're just benched the entire time. That’s also a factor of trust. An athlete was told one thing by their coach, but then at the moment in which it was really important, when it’s time to compete essentially what you spend all of your time practicing for, the coach did something entirely different and surprised the athlete. The athlete was shocked. And then suddenly, they're not even sure if they can trust this person. So as a coach, I want you to test how your actions might impact the trust that you have between yourself and the team, or between different athletes. Remember trust is essential in the teacher-student relationship. Many people don't feel safe learning from somebody that they don't trust. And essentially when you're a coach, you're a teacher. And you're teaching people while at practice. That trust really has to be there.
So, number six. My core belief might sound a little cryptic. Learn how to interpret indicators that athletes are giving to you. An indicator is anytime an athlete does something at practice. If you're a track coach, that would be when an athlete sprints. If you're a basketball coach, it would be when an athlete shoots a ball into the basket. If you’re a soccer coach, it’d be when an athlete is doing a drill that you're working on for footwork. It’s anytime an athlete does anything in sports. That’s an indicator.
Now, what you're trying to feel for and figure out as the coach is if the athlete understands things, or if they don’t, or if they understand them and they can do them well or not. Those are basically indicators. So as a coach, your job is to pay attention to the results that the athlete produces during practice and then from that information, you are going to coach them on concepts. And so, you basically use an athlete's productivity during practice as your map as to what you should be coaching the athletes on. So essentially, you watch. You digest. You assess. And you coach. And you're always taking their key product, which is what they’re doing, as an indicator of what you should coach them on next.
My final core value is that my coaching style has to be adaptable. And this is because I work with a lot of different athletes. And every single athlete is gonna learn slightly differently. And that's why we have this podcast because we're going to go over ways in which people think and in turn, how they learn. And so my coaching style has to be adaptable if I'm going to coach all of these humans. And then that also means that your coaching style also has to be adaptable. This means that coaches, you have to start using different phrases. You have to explain your technique differently. And also one of my favorite things to do when I coach, if there's a concept that I really, really don't like, I actually think about how I would coach it and how I would boast it as a good concept, just to make sure that it's not one that I should use. All of these types of little small tricks make it so that I do keep my coaching style adaptable. And when I can tell that people are not progressing or they're not learning because I'm watching the indicators that they’re giving to me, then I just try to change it. Worst case scenario, I just ask athletes to tell me how they want to be coached. Because athletes, they’re smart. And sometimes they know.
So now I want you to hit ‘pause’ and think about what we’ve just talked about. And then when you’re ready, I want you to hit ‘play.’
So, this brings us to the story at the beginning of the show. So, it's pretty funny. I mean, it's awful. But I was in my boat, then I wasn't because my boat sunk underneath me. And I was underneath one of the dirtiest bridges in all of Austin swimming around and kicking around in really cold, dark water. And nobody was there. And the thing was, was that luckily I didn’t panic. But I could have just been livid. Because it was cold. It was dark. I was underpaid for the coaching job I was in. I was tired. And I was in there for about 30 to 45 minutes waiting for people to come back. But at some point in there, I just found the humor in it. And I had on a life jacket, so I wasn’t, you know, I wasn't in harm. The water wasn’t cold enough for me to get hypothermia or anything like that.
And so when my crews started coming back towards me, one, I was super happy to see them, and two, I thought it would be funny to coach them from the water. And so that's what I just did. So, they were coming up and then I started coaching them on things in rowing like, “All right. Set up at the catch. Drop your blade in.” And they were looking around. I remember them looking around and looking for me and they couldn’t find me. And then suddenly someone spotted me in the water and they just like, “Ahhhh.” And they freaked out. And then the whole boat stopped. And then, “Oh my god. Oh my god. Are you okay? Are you okay?” And then I was like, “Yeah. My boat capsized. And I’ve been treading water.” And then my co-coach Catherine came and she pulled me out of the water. And I was soaking wet and drenched.
But it was okay because the thing is that even though I was underpaid and I was tired, I knew why I was there. And so I showed up to the practice the next day, and it was all fine. And the reason I was there was because I respected these athletes. I believed in their mission which was to create the best rowing boats that we could and to be the fastest rowers that we could. They made me feel appreciated. They made me feel respected in their actions. And I appreciated them. And I respected them. And so, falling in the water one day wasn’t enough to make me want to quit.
So, your core values. What's your takeaway from today? I really hope that thinking about these things is going to do something for you. And again, if you’ve never thought of your core values, I want you to because coaching is a hard job. Nothing about coaching is easy. And a lot of coaches are underpaid or working for free. And so you're having to figure this stuff out by yourself, and you're working with all these different athletes. And coaching is not easy. But if you have your core values and core beliefs as a coach, I think that's going to really help you out especially when times are hard.
So this is what I want you to do. I want you to go back to the list, also known as the 20 questions that I asked you in Episode One. If you didn’t listen to Episode One yet, after this podcast I want you to go back and listen to it so you know what I'm talking about. You’re going to go back to that list, and you’re going to go over the first five questions. And I want you to now see if your current core values, the ones that you've created, are gonna impact any of your responses that you had originally had for those first five questions. I want you to think about if there's adjustments you need to make personally. Are there small tweaks in your team culture or your relationship with the team that could be made that might help things out a bit? You can think about that now and hit ‘pause,’ or you can just think about it later and just keep on listening.
That’s going to bring us to the end of the podcast. I think that you have a lot to think about and a lot to chew on. I want you to come back to our next podcast with an open mind, ready to think about these same questions from the perspective of the athlete. You know, for now I just want you to realize if you are a coach, if you haven't been thanked today for coaching, I just want to thank you from myself. And like I said, coaching is a hard job. And sometimes you’re going to have people telling you thank you so much for doing this, and they’re going to really show you that gratitude. And other times you just might not. So, you have to just find that gratitude from within. For now you know that me personally, Nadia Kean, I’m thanking you for coaching. And also, I’m thanking you for listening to this podcast because it really shows that you’re invested in yourself and you want to be a better coach.
All right, my friends. So, it’s now time for us to say bye. I hope that this information is really gonna help you out on your journey into becoming the best coach possible. Remember, coaches need to be in sports. Athletes need coaches.
I want to remind you that you can find us on iTunes with Apple Podcast. You can find us on Stitcher, on Spotify Podcasts, and also on PodOmatic. And also you can just listen to us straight up from our website at strongathleticpodcast.com. If you have people that you think should listen to our podcast, please tell them about it. And if you’ve listened to our podcast a few times, I really want to ask you if you don't mind subscribing and then also rating us. And that's going to help other athletes and coaches such as yourself find our podcast.
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Music today is by The Little Bicycles.
Tune in next time to examine your core values from the perspective of an athlete. This is Nadia Kean. I am going to sign off of the Strong Athletic Podcast. But before I do so, I want to remind you that you don’t need anybody’s permission to demonstrate your strength. You are strong, athletic.
(Music by the Little Bicycles)