Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Anyone can instruct, but being a coach must be earned

The title to this post comes from a comment left by a reader on my last post. It really got me thinking. Yeah, you can decide you're going to be a "coach" and hang up your shingle The Coach is IN. But what do you have to back it up?  

You don't need years of experience to be a coach, but you're not going to graduate to "coachdom" the day after your orientation either. One must allow the time to learn, to experience, to make mistakes (and learn from them), to internalize what works and what doesn't work, and to develop your style. It might take a new instructor six months, it might take a year. If you've been in the industry awhile before teaching IDC, it might only take a month or two. But you want to earn the respect of your students on the way so they perceive you as a coach.

Being a coach requires a willingness to grow and change, and it takes a commitment; a commitment to learning and a commitment to your students. I know you're committed to learning - you're reading this blog! ;-) But you should also seek out continuing education courses (in-home, on-line or at conferences or seminars), read books on training, and read books on cycling. The Spinning website has a long list of great in-home CED. [Better yet, come see me at WSSC!]

But it's not just what you say, it's how you say it. Make sure to read books or articles on presentation and communication skills. Leading an indoor cycling class (or any fitness class) is really no different than being a presenter, so you're going to want to brush up your public speaking skills! (Tips on how to do this will be the subject of a future post).

After my last post, did you ask yourself if your students perceive you as a coach or as an instructor?

First, let's define the difference?

An instructor gives commands. She tells the students what to do as she decides to do them. Sometimes there's no rhyme or reason to the movements in class, and sometimes she's even following a profile in her head (or on an index card taped to her handlebars), but because she fails to let the students know what it is, they don't know the difference. They're just following orders. There's no greater goal to the class but to breathe hard and create a pool of sweat underneath the bike.

A coach, on the other hand, always has a plan and objectives, and explains them to her students. This shows the students that she's prepared and that she has her students' best interest at heart. A coach will begin the class with the following:
  • This is what we're going to do today.
  • This is how we're going to do it (how many, how long, how intense, via what mode, etc)
  • This is how you should feel
  • This is the benefit that this training session will provide you
  • And this is what we're going to do next week (and next month)
It's entirely possible that the individuals described in the two scenarios above are utilizing the exact same profile, doing the same movements to the same music.  However, the students' experience will be entirely different.  In the first instance, the students aren't let in on the what, how and why. They may go too hard (and as a result, not be able to finish the desired segment), or too easy (and therefore not achieve the desired result). They work hard, and might feel good after class, but there is rarely any connection from one class to the next and they rarely feel a spark of inspiration.

In the second scenario, the students know what to expect, and are going to be inspired to work harder (or easier if the format requires - but the operative word is inspired). Their perception is that the instructor is well prepared, and that he has planned this training session out just for them. They're not in the dark about what's coming next and can plan their efforts accordingly (e.g. how hard and for how long); therefore they are much more likely to achieve results. They sense a flow in every class, and from class to class and know how this training session fits into the long-term plan.

Their opinions about the second person will be different than the first, even for the same exact ride

Your goal as a coach is to empower, inspire and educate your students. Do this by learning how to present your class and your goals to them in a professional way. Practice communication and presentation techniques that show your students that you want to help them reach their goals and are planning your classes with that in mind. It may be your goal, but if you don't let them know it through your communication prior to, during and after your classes, they'll just think of you as just another instructor. A good one maybe, but you want to go from Good to Great don't you? (to borrow the title of a very good book on management that applies to coaching as well).
Here's an example of describing the goals for an upcoming segment in a class, and what it will do for your students:

"We're going to do four 4-minute intervals on hills, to just above your threshold. For each one, I want you to focus on a different goal. The first one you'll stay seated working a harder grade at 65 rpm, focusing on powering through it with a smooth pedal stroke. The second one you'll do jumps on a hill with smooth transitions, controlling your intensity with your breathing. The third one will be a fast seated climb, maintaining the same intensity with less steepness and higher cadence of 80 rpm. And on the fourth one you'll stand up for most of it, controlling your cadence to 75-80 rpm, relaxing the upper body, and noticing how this is different from your seated climb. 

During the 2-minute breaks on the flats in between each hill, you're going to use your breathing to recover quickly and prepare yourself mentally for the next climb. Our goal is to become a better and stronger climber while improving our smooth pedal strokes and increasing muscular endurance. Are you ready to start? Great, let's go!"
Can you take this example and apply this concept to different segments of road? Here's some homework. Write a brief description of how you would coach your students through the following (give the what, when, how long, why and what they should feel):
  • a 10-minute flat road at an aerobic pace, cadence 90-ish rpm
  • a 15-min tempo pace with 2 minute high cadence seated drills to 110 rpm
  • a 30-minute rolling hills segment
  • a long flat with several high intensity jumping segments
  • a 20-minute climb with switchbacks
  • 5 high intensity short intervals to 5-8 beats above LT
  • 3 medium length threshold intervals
  • Three 10-minute loops of increasing intensity

The next question I want you to ask yourself is the following:
Do YOU perceive yourself as a coach?
Do you believe that you can be a coach?

We'll talk about that in the next post.

Now, go out and empower your students!


Gaia said...

Thank you so much for this, Jen! I've been following your blog and would like to let you know I appreciate all that you've been unselfishly sharing with everyone. Yes, coaching requires you to develop your "athletes" not just physically, but also mentally and emotionally; educate, inspire and encourage them to be at their best. I have had the wonderful opportunity to work with a great coach who did just that, and it has changed the way I approach coaching (aside from Spinning, I also coach a local college distance running team). Again, thank you so much! A great article, as always!

Robert said...

As much as I agree with the fact that one must rise above the "barking orders" type of instructor, I wonder whether you're describing a trainer, rather than coach. A case of semantics, maybe, but I see another step higher than what you describe - maybe there's another word for it.

All the learning, the knowledge, the ability to empower and inspire is all excellent stuff, to which everyone should aspire. But to change one's own perception towards others (and viceversa) is to put aside one's ego, the self, and serve the best interests of the rider(s). "Serve" is a very apt word here - maybe that's the next step up from a coach... a servant!

Imagine a ride where an individual is going "against the grain" and doing their own thing. An instructor would bark louder or turn up the music, demandd that they follow the leader. A trainer would try to communicate by explaining why they should be following, for their own benefit. A coach would allow for individuality (empowerment), so long as it was safe. A servant, IMHO, would go one step further and find out the cause of that individuality - prejudices, experience of bad instructors, training for a different purpose (e.g., track cyclists can hold 140rpm without problem).

Sorry to ramble but I do think there is that extra extra quality to take what you said yet another step higher. Who knows, maybe there's yet another step after that? I haven't found it yet but that doesn't mean it's not there!

lamspin said...

Hi Jennifer,
You surely made us do some thinking and self-assessment. I am sure most of us want to be perceived as a coach.
Based on you definitions, I think I can be perceived as one or the other depending on:
-when I teach a level 1 class (45 min) which always has some beginners show up--who would be my priority of attention--I think I am an intructor because I have to do alot of demonstration, cueing more in techniques, form...than as a "real" ride.
-But when I teach level 3 class (1hour), I think I am a coach because my cueing is more in to intrinsic coaching--asking questions instead of telling them what to do and let them find the answers to motivate themselves as they ride...
I also based on their comments at the end of the class to evaluate my role on that day. Maybe I should do a survey (?) :>)
One of the presenters at the CFP conference gave his advice which I took it to heart: "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care"
Thanks COACH! Following your guidance, I believe I can be a great coach to my participants.

KalaSpins said...

Jennifer- I have a question for you...
Do you find that when you prepare your students for a ride, and when they can expect what is happening, they are less motivated?

I had a friend who hated to go to Spinning classes that featured loops or any type of repeating pattern. Once the first loop was done she knew what to expect and instantly became bored.

I feel that when I explain the upcoming ride (or the next section of road) it gives my students the correct mind frame on how far and hard to ride and what they need to save their energy for. They are more than happy when I tell them to push it a little harder because a flat road is coming up.

I just wondered what your opinion on this was, and if you have ever dealt with students who become "bored" with a loop/repition set ride and how you coached them through it....

Jennifer Sage said...

Thanks Gaia and Le, I appreciate the kind words.

Le, you're right in that with a beginning class, you probably have to stick a little more to "instructing" - it's kind of like Maslow's hierarchy of needs! They need the basics, they need the how - the more advanced advice will just go over their heads right now. Yes, a little motivational coaching is helpful to get them through the tough parts, but it's when they move past that beginner stage that you can really start developing them mentally and emotionally as Gaia said.

I love that comment "people don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." So true!

Melissa Marotta said...

Jennifer, this post was so meaningful to me. I think about this distinction a lot. During my time in NYC, coaching was such a huge part of my identity. When I moved to Burlington to start med school (and started teaching a few IDC classes on campus), it felt "off." People seemed to dig the classes, but I hated them. I wasn't proud of them. I felt off. Though I did everything the same, I didn't feel like a coach; I felt like a mere instructor. It was so unrewarding. The energy was different -- and I didn't have the same connectedness, the rich relationships I'd treasured over the years. I recently decided that I've been attributing my lack of fulfillment to these new external circumstances, these relationships that would take time to build from scratch. I spent a lot of time thinking about this as we kicked off 2009, and came to the realization that I was looking at it all wrong. Being a coach is not defined by external circumstances; it's a state of mind, the belief that you really can help people inspire themselves to accomplish their goals... and to help them use their minds clearly enough to identify what those goals are. I believed in that in My Old Life, and it was just a matter of re-connecting with that in My New Life. Two weeks in, it's made all the difference. To me, that's what your post was about. Thank you for articulating it so beautifully.

Dana said...

Great stuff!

In my certifications class, one of the first things the master instructor said was, "Coaches coach and riders ride." This post takes that concept and expands on it.

Thank you for all your hard work to make us better coaches.

Jennifer Sage said...

Interesting suggestion robert. I guess there is always that one step higher, a type of "enlightenment" in coaching if you will.

For the moment, my hope is to inspire instructors to take one step at a time, moving towards motivating their students intrinsically rather than extrinsically. Many instructors/coaches reading this post will be at varying places on the coaching continuum, some making their first foray into it. No need to become a guru right off the bat, although for those who are already coaching their students, growth never ends. There's always more to learn. And to me, that is one of the greater aspects of life.

John Wooden, famous UCLA basketball coach said, "If I am through learning, I am through."

Jennifer Sage said...

thank you so much for your comments. By the way, you write beautifully. I found myself reading your blog on your experiences in medical school and I was riveted, almost brought to tears! You have an incredible talent.

Your comments about coaching your class in Vermont shows the power of believing in yourself first and foremost. That's the subject of my next post (following my question of "Do YOU believe you are a coach") but I haven't been able to give it the time it deserves. It's an important subject.

Anonymous said...

Jennifer - I've been a lurker up until now. I've checked out Pedal-On and InnerCycling as well as your blog here. Thank you! You, Ms. Supremo Biker Chiquita, are a truly inspiring coach! Your style of teaching and blogging is not only educational but motivational. Thank you! :) Sarah

Let's Ride! said...

I agree Jen! I have been reading Melissa's blog too. I told her what a great writer she is and that her class/friends need to take advantage of her talent. I wrote a long comment the other night but I was a little delirious so I deleted it.

IMO, I want to be a coach and be perceived as one but I must also possess sooooo many other intangible skills that "make" me a coach. The comment I deleted was about how coaching is like being in sales. However, I think it is applicable. In sales, you have to know your product better than anyone else, you have to be passionate, enthusiastic, determined, empathethic, humble, confident, a good listener, a good communicator, have good work ethic, and the list goes on. But, IMO, what makes you a GREAT sales person is your ability to build meaningful relationships with your customer. Things like trust, respect, dependable, likeable, honest, sincere, etc. You see where I am going? Being a coach is so much more than just possessing a certain certification or talent for whatever you are coaching. You have to have "it" or you are merely a coach in your own mind. It's not about me, it's about my class. It's not about what or how much I know, but how well I'm able to convey or share what I know to the progress and success of the student/customer! This is the challenge. One of the most important things I've learned over the years is that I need to determine the "why" behind things. Why am I instructing/coaching? What is the goal? Why are the students here? What are their goals? What do they need? How can I best meet that need?

I know I am preaching to the chior but just got a little caught up there. Thanks for your Blog Jen. It helps me be a better coach!

Anonymous said...

Hey Jen,

I agree with the saying "People
don't care how much you know
until they know how much you care".

It makes a difference when an
instructor/coach shows how much he/she cares about the class, about
the people. They know the difference.

Thanks for making a difference
in our lives!