Get to know yourself – and the people around you
An issue I’ve had when meeting coaches before is having some form of bias. My biggest advice here is to drop your ego and go in with an open policy to change. Some of the collaborative partners with the biggest reputation have offered the lowest returns, whilst the ‘amateur’ coach has given me a thousand doses of wisdom.
However hard it may sound, don’t make inferences from the information you receive immediately. Coaches, parents and other sports scientists tend to jump to conclusions in the absence of context. I’ve done this many times. Conclusions drawn from pure speculation are very seldom accurate, especially when there is emotion involved. If you are unsure what an individual means, ask them to clarify and give them the opportunity to provide some more context. Usually, you can clear up any misconceptions here.
However, an important point to remember on your first encounter is not to be a pushover, especially if you are the first person to make contact. I’ve had plenty of encounters where coaches make assumptions about my programme. Striking a balance can be hard, but it’s really important that you do not undersell your priorities as well. Good relationships are reciprocal, and you can gain value by digging in your heels from time to time and showing that your intentions do matter. Avoid being aggressive/condescending, but just be firm and bring it back to the fact that you are there to help the athlete first and foremost. Listening more than you talk, nodding and offering your insight on the individual helps to reinforce your common purpose (the athlete).
In my experience, you can’t do everything in one call, so you better be prepared for the long-haul. A follow up email of “really enjoyed our conversation the other day, would like to do this again soon” shows a great sign of intent – you want to do this again, frequently. Simultaneously, you may want to contact the parent to say you’ve had a great chat with their club and are looking to align your programmes to help their son/daughter. The benefits of this are twofold. Firstly, the parents know you are offering a credible service to their child, and secondly, you establish a clear investment in their child’s long-term athletic development – it’s a win-win.
On the second meet/call, it’s good to bring some practical programming to converse about. As mentioned earlier, never play down the importance of your objectives. Power should be distributed evenly here, as you can help them as much as they can help you. By the end of this meeting, clear expectations should be set so that individuals know exactly who is doing what so that training priorities do not overlap. This is a great way to avoid injuries and overreaching.
The ‘who, what, how and when’ method is one of my favourites to introduce to a coach, as this is a clear contract outlining accountability (See Table 1):
Table 1: The who, what, how and when method for developing interdisciplinary collaboration.
Once this is established, you each have a fantastic blueprint for your programming. To establish trust in this method, it’s really important you don’t tread on their toes. Stay in your lane and do your bit really well. This simple method is accountability criteria. You do your bit and I’ll do mine, nothing more, nothing less.