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How Mean Can a Coach Be?

I recently shared an article on facebook written by Matt Foreman on Catalyst Athletics titled “Harsh Comments From Coaches…And Why They’re Awesome.” Here is a little snippet from the article with some great comments coaches may have made or thought about saying to their athletes:

“Coach to athlete: “You know, this morning I saw a dead animal on the road. It was squashed wide open with its guts hanging out, and there were worms crawling around in it. And that dead animal looked better than the snatch you just did.”

Coach to athlete: “As soon as you get done being weak, unathletic, slow, and clumsy…you’re gonna be really good at this sport.”

Coach to athletes: “You know how it is when you go to the doctor, because you think you have some horrible disease? So the doctors draw your blood, and then you have to wait to get the results? You’re hoping the news will be good, but you feel like crap because you know it’s probably gonna be really bad. That’s how I feel over the weekend when I know I’m gonna have to come to practice on Monday and watch you guys.”

Coach (after watching an athlete perform a snatch): “You want to know what the best part of that lift was?”
Athlete: “What?”
Coach: “When it was over.”


You can read the entire article HERE. Big thanks to Matt Foreman for writing that one, it was a great article and while very amusing also covered some great things regarding coaches getting their athletes to get their shit together. The article is about the horrible things coaches sometimes say to their athletes and how they actually help. Well after sharing that article I got a message from a novice female kettlebell athlete asking my opinion about how mean a coach can be to their female athletes and if they have to take more care with the ladies they coach. My response to her has lead me to write an article about coaching in general and coaching female lifters.

I love hearing people in our Athletic Conditioning class say that I never give out positive reinforcement; I wish these people got to deal with MY coach! Ha! My coach would make you cry if he saw the horrific kettlebell snatches some people pull during class or the close to back breaking deadlifts I have witnessed. Understand something people, my job, what you pay me for, is to come up with a workout that will help get you stronger and faster, show you how to do the movements properly, and keep you from getting injured. Notice I didn’t say that you pay me to be nice, or be your friend, or tell you that you did a great job when in reality you look like dog shit or your posture is almost identical to a 95 year old trying to lift their pants on from the floor. If you have an exceptional lift or you crush a workout with great form, then I will tell you that you did good. You may hit a one rep max that wipes someone off the big board in the gym and puts you down for king of the hill, but if it looks like shit I am going to tell you so, I’ll still write your name up there and congratulate you but if your posture sucked and your legs were shaking I am going to tell you what you need to work on to make it better. That is my job. Your job when you come into this gym isn’t just to go through the motions, it is to do the movements correctly and safely and with maximum effort, if you are lacking in technique or effort I am going to call you out, that is my job. This is all in regard to people in our classes, who I am actually much harder on, for a reason; once you reach a level of technique and strength and speed that allows you to compete in powerlifting, triathlons, kettlebell sport, indoor rowing, then we begin more detailed one-on-one coaching where I program special workouts for you to hit a competition goal. If you are training for a competition I am actually a bit nicer to you because these people have already worked to a level of technique that I don’t have to drill them day after day on how to lift, or run or row, they know how, and they are here every day, dedicated to competing. If you are in class I am harder on you because I want you to get to a point where I don’t have to harp on you about technique or form or posture. What people don’t realize is that coaches are judged by the success for their clients, so when people see your lifting sucks, you are slow, you have bad technique and poor posture and you are weak physically and/or mentally, they will often wonder why your coach has not fixed you yet. You represent your coach, so when your coach is hard on you it is to get you better, because his success is based on your success.

Now about coaching female athletes. I was asked if I felt female athletes needed more “care”. And the answer is yes. Now this doesn’t mean that I am nicer to my female clients all the time, because I am not, but I do think our female athletes need a little more positivity more often than the men. I have stood in front of both female and male clients and repeatedly said “no, wrong, too late, pull harder, too early, no, no, no, wrong”. But the guys, well, I basically don’t ever have to be nice to them, my job is not to be nice, my job is to make you better. With that said, I am pretty nice to all of our athletes who train for specialty competitions. As stated earlier, if you think I am not nice you are more than welcome to call up my coach and deal with him, or go over his head and deal with his coach who is even more blunt. I told the person who messaged me about coaching female clients that we were lucky in that every female client we have coached from lifters to runners to kettlebellers to figure competitors to models, that they were all very dedicated and would literally go through hell and walk across hot coals if we told them to. We have also dealt with very strong women who had wills of iron and were determined to succeed. The only truly emotional rollercoasters we have ever seen in coaching females is when we have had to put bikini and figure competitors on restrictive diets before competition to lean out, and this is not a slight on them or females in general, I am also an emotional and negative person when I have to cut calories and drop weight, so we are sympathetic to this type of situation. Lucky again for us the female kettlebell sport athletes we coach are all above the 68kg weight class with no ambitions of cutting to the next weight class down, and they’re all great where they’re at!

As I said above, I am much harder on our people in our regular classes, because they need more guidance and more structure and more coaching both inside class while lifting and after class regarding their diets and alcohol consumption, and again we don’t have to worry about any of those things with the athletes we coach to compete because they know in order to be successful they must walk the straight and narrow path. But I am most certainly a bit more positive and forgiving with our female athletes, giving them more positive feedback more often, but I will still tell them when they look like shit while lifting or if they are dragging ass. The guys, well, I expect you take my criticism like a man and just do better next time!

This brings me to my next point, about coaching in general, and something that makes a good coach, a good coach knows how far they can push an athlete before they mentally break down. A good coach knows which of their athletes may have issues from their childhood needing approval and the “I’m proud of you” from their coach more than others. And a good coach knows when they can hammer a client into drilling a lift or technique or “goating” them into pushing harder by ridiculing them, but they know when enough is enough and when to tell their people they did good. With that said, a good coach also knows when to walk away, when to give up on someone, to recognize people who are not coachable, and when to hammer someone until they quit or just tell them they are done coaching them. Is that an asshole thing to say? Yup. But you don’t pay me to be nice right?! Yeah. A good coach knows when to tell someone to get their ass into the gym because they’ve missed a couple days, and a good coach knows when to walk away after someone has missed weeks on end. My coach knows how to deal with me, my addiction to exercise, my lack of sleep or not eating enough, he knows to tell me to stop when I am pushing myself too hard, he knows to tell me to calm down, and he knows when to chop down my ego when my head gets too big. We have formed a relationship and I would not be half the lifter I am today without him, I would also not be half the coach I am today without him. I have learned so much form him and passed that down to my athletes. Personally, I think there are a lot of coaches in kettlebell sport who are too soft and not hard enough on their people, but I know in Olympic lifting and in a lot of team sports I have heard of some brutal coaches. Lindsay and I have both fought in the ring, boxing and Muay Thai and we have had great coaches who hammered us to death when we needed it and picked us up off the floor when we need them. Going from an athlete to a coach is a life changing experience and one I am glad I started and am continuing to get better at. We love all our people, whether they are just here in the gym to live a healthier life or if they are looking to step on a stage with the best looking body anyone has ever laid eyes on or if they want to stand on the podium after lifting more weight than others or moving faster than others.

So, if you are currently training with us, in class or as a specialty athlete looking to compete in a sport, you know how we roll and how we coach. If you are reading this and you are not part of Pride, and you have a coach who is always super nice to you but you are not hitting your goals you may want to find a new coach who will tell it to you straight and not hold your hand or stroke your ego. If you are reading this and you have a coach who demeans you all the time but you are in the best shape of your life and hitting formerly unthinkable goals then just suck it up and keep taking it and keep hitting your goals! And if you think your coach is mean, just know there are way meaner coaches and remember you’re not paying your coach to be your best friend, you are paying them to get you better, stronger, faster. Lastly, remember you represent your coach and your gym! Dedication and maximum effort and successfully meeting your goals will make your coach happy, and they will let you know when they are happy with you! But until your coach tells you they are happy with you, stay dedicated and do what they said the first time and do it right and give it all you got! No matter how mean your coach is, trust me, they want you to succeed.



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