Steven Macklin has been coaching in running and athletics for over eighteen years and during that time he has learnt the skills and characteristics required to be a great coach.
In the second instalment of a two part series, the endurance coach at Athletics Ireland shares insights from his own experiences and highlight the key traits needed to be successful in the world of coaching.
Here is Macklin’s rundown on the traits needed to be the best running coach you can be.
It’s all about relationships. The bottom line is that you are coaching people and not machines, building a relationship with your athletes and having open and honest communication is key for success.
2. Art vs Science
Coach the individual and match that to the event they are training for. Determine the physiological, mechanical and psychological profile of the athlete and match it to event demands. Not all athletes are similar and not all respond the same to different types of training.
Coaches must be resilient themselves and be prepared for a rollercoaster ride. Coaching is not an easy gig, so many ups and downs, challenges and so many questions without answers at times. We must be resilient, strong and be ready for the long haul.
It’s all about the journey and not the destination.
4. Positives in the negatives
Sometimes a poor workout or race is not always a negative. Just because a single workout or race doesn’t go as planned, don’t panic. Stick to the process, keep to your plan and usually it works itself out.
When something doesn’t go to plan, it’s an opportunity to learn which is positive in the long run.
5. Listen to your athletes
Stop sometimes and just listen to your athletes. It sounds very simple but sometimes as coaches, we can do all the talking, all the advice giving and sometimes we just need to sit back and listen to our athletes.
Let them be open and honest and give their reflections and feedback.
6. Don’t be afraid to fail
Don’t be afraid to fail, this is where we learn. When we fail we learn, bottom line. If we are not failing sometimes we are not learning.
7. Normalise excellence and lifestyle balance
Bring your best self to each and every day, have balance in your lifestyle as a coach. To perform at your best you must look after yourself as well as your athletes do. Busy people need to cultivate forms of rest (hobbies) because they are permanently unable to simply do nothing.
8. Positive reinforcement
Tell your athletes that you believe in them, this is powerful. How many coaches have said this to an athlete they coach? Try it and see what happens.
9. Improve as a coach by coaching
Get out and coach as much as you can. “Learning is experience, everything else is just information” Albert Einstein.
We learn in the trenches, get out and get yourself dirty!
Self-reflection is key for both athletes and coaches to foster learning and make improvements going forward.
Reflect on your own coaching style, your philosophy, your communication with athletes, your training ethos and your planning.
11. Encourage your athlete to be themselves
Teach an athlete to be the ‘best them’ and not try to copy others. Every athlete is an individual with their own personality and should always be themselves.
12. Don’t be afraid to change
If an athlete isn’t responding to the training you are trying to implement with them then change it. Bottom line is that every athlete responds differently to different stimuli so play around with things and see what works and what doesn’t.
It’s all about trial and error until you find what works best and essentially what produces the best results.
13. Recognise what brings the best out of your athletes
Do some of what the athlete likes doing in training. Sometimes it becomes all about what we think works as coaches, possibly working on their weaknesses etc. But athletes like doing some of what they enjoy, so make sure to incorporate this into their programme.
A good coach with a sound methodology is a weathered captain steering a ship… he knows the sea and can read warning signs. Study the sport, learn from athletes and other coaches and find that sound methodology. Be present with them as much as possible and read the warning signs.
Coaching and athlete development is like a random experiment, one where you cannot be absolutely sure what the outcome would be prior to performing the experiment. No coach can be 100% sure of any training plan, nobody has the magic formula, it doesn’t exist!
16. Athlete foundations
Do not neglect the foundations of athletic development when coaching athletes at a young age i.e stability, mobility, balance, coordination, agility, speed, strength, skill of running, quality of movement etc.
This will put the athlete in a better place to handle a certain amount of volume & intensity at a later stage in their athletic careers.
17. Training programme
When writing a training programme ask yourself why am I doing this and what is the reason behind it? Is it founded on logic and common sense? Have a reason for each and every day.
18. Athlete buy-in
A coach must help an athlete understand the theory behind the training they are doing to increase buy-in and belief. It’s important athletes understand what they are doing and the reasons and benefits behind it. This will help increase belief and buy-in to what they are doing.
19. Best coaching style?
The best coaching style is one that is genuine to you. Learn from but don’t try to imitate others. Be yourself and bring your own strengths to the table but always keep working on your weaknesses.
20. Knowledge is power
Any coach who is through learning is through! The biggest learning tool for a coach is the athletes themselves.
Learn from them, learn from others, learn from anywhere you can. Soak up every ounce of information you can get your hands on and then filter what is of most relevance to you and your athletes.
In the first part of this series, Steven Macklin shared the 15 things successful runners and athletes do, it can be found here.