Me: What would you do with a client who was so untrained, that they couldn't do anything? Like not even a movement yet?Dan John: I’d teach them to plank. Me: Ok, but what would you do for the other 59 minutes in the session?

I started coaching 6 years ago and in that time I have been very lucky. I’ve had the chance to work with, speak with, and learn from some of the best coaches in the world, as well as all the training, research, and class work for a Master’s Degree in sport and exercise psychology. And something I’ve noticed that all the great professionals and academics have in common is a deep desire to help people. The professionals are putting thousands of hours in the trenches communicating with clients every day, subtly changing their approach to each client as they learn what works best for whom, finding the most efficient way to get people from Point A to Point B. The academics are working from the thousands of collected studies in the field to develop new theories and ways to get the most people from Point A to Point B. In an ideal world, the academics would see what’s going on in the field and test the most successful techniques in the lab and develop from there. The coaches would see what has worked in the lab and develop their own styles around those well-tested theories. But in the real world there is friction. Researchers and practitioners don’t talk to each other every day, and in health and exercise psychology the problem is much worse because unlike in the world of kinesiology, the coaches and academics don’t even talk enough to fight with each other.

This 4th issue of UNSEEN DEGREES is all about “why,” so I thought it only fitting that I elaborate on why I’ve dedicated my time and energy to bringing these worlds together. Simply, the mission of UNSEEN DEGREES is to help the most people help the most people. Most coaches learn about behavior change through trial-and-error, the way I did (which is really a nice way to say, “screwing up a whole a bunch”). I want to help speed up that learning curve by showcasing the great work that coaches and researchers are doing and give you the tools to do the same. The academics and coaches have been dancing around each other for too long and it’s time they shared the spotlight.

Coaching is Teaching

Dan John: First I’d have them plank, then I’d talk to them about what the plank is. How it’s the basis of all strength and why strength is important. I’d talk to them about tension. Relaxation. And how strength is a skill that you get better at by practicing. Then we’d plank again to show her how quickly you can get better. But really we need to find out where she wants to go and why she wants to get there, otherwise she won’t come back.

Something odd that I found out in the field was that great coaches and academics think about coaching in the same way. Many of the researchers looking at health motivation spend a lot of time looking at education, development, and occupational learning, too. This surprised me at first, but after spending more time with great coaches like Dan John, that overlap makes sense: coaching is teaching. We teach movement. We teach nutrition. We teach our clients the healthy lifestyles they need in order to get to the health and fitness goals they want. Dan was a teacher for decades both in the weight room and in the classroom. He calls teaching, “The Gift” and says it is what separates the decent from the great. I’m not saying you have to teach in a classroom to be a great coach, I’m saying great coaches are teachers. So when I asked Dan John what he would do with a client who couldn’t squat, hinge, push, pull, or carry safely yet, he responded like a teacher. “I’d teach them to plank.” Teaching is at it’s heart, a process. A slow, deliberate process of finding out where clients are at, then introducing them to that next step that’s going to lead them in the direction they need to go. Of giving people the space and time to explore things safely on their own and the feedback necessary to make adjustments. Coaching is the same thing. And my great hope is that you’ll come back to UNSEEN DEGREES to find new tools that will help you teach your own clients how to find their own paths as well.

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