I started working with my first memorable coach on a year round basis at the beginning of Grade Seven (yes, that was you Darren Skuja!). I joined our local track and field club, the Comox Valley Cougars – which is still going strong by the way! The year prior I had competed in some of my first track races through school. I remember one in particular, an 800m, how much it hurt and how much my lungs burned afterwards. A swimmer had won the race, and I finished around 3rd or 4th. All I know is that race ignited a competitive fire inside and the desire to see what I could do if I actually trained for the race.And I wanted the guidance on how to get strong and fast over the off-season.
Over my twelve competitive years as a runner I was truly lucky to have some amazing coaches. They were positive, encouraging, and truly cared for the whole athlete. Most of my coaches have run alongside the team, and even continued to compete. They were passionate about their sport and willing to share their wealth of knowledge. As a mountain bike racer, my very knowledgeable brother (much in thanks to his longtime coach who imparted everything he knew to Geoff) was my coach. It got me thinking about how great coaches can pass on enough knowledge to help their athletes become more and more independent, self-aware, and self-motivated.
During my doctoral studies my lab studied all things motivation. One particular theory at the center of it all is called Self-Determination Theory. Through a plethora of studies in many areas, in sport this theory explains how the coaching relationship can foster self-determined motivation, or more internalized motivation and all of its positive consequences. Through meeting three basic psychological needs; our needs to feel 1) autonomous, 2) competent, and 3) cared for, coaches can truly impact motivation for better or for worse. Here is a great synopsis video on Self-Determination Theory and how coaches can apply it in practical terms:
As a mental performance consultant I have observed Self-Determination Theory in action. The best, motivational and inspiring coaches truly listen to their athletes, value athletes’ feedback, don’t show favoritism, and care about their athletes in and out of sport. On the contrary, I have worked with athletes frustrated because they crave knowledge and their coach gets defensive whenever questioned, provides more negative criticism than constructive feedback, and/or does not communicate clear expectations.
As I continue to train and balance it all with a family, I still value the incredible motivation my current coach, Calvin Zaryski provides me through constant new training challenges. I’ve been with my current coach for eight years now. He always incorporates my feedback and “scheduling stressors” into my training program. I believe a great coach respects the impact life in general can have on physical training and recovery! There should be room for flexibility and modifications on a daily and weekly basis, we are not pure physical robots! As athletes we need to trust the growing knowledge and self-awareness we have of our own bodies. And along the way the best coaches often wear the sport psychologist cap when needed as we figure out the athletic journey together! Having a coach I trust in helps take the thinking out of training. I do what is on the plan, albeit with modifications and changes as needed and communicated with my coach. I haven’t been injured in forever (knock on wood!) and I credit that to a highly educated and personally experienced coach who knows his stuff, knows when to push me beyond what I think I can do in a workout, and when to wisely hold me back, when I might have thought more would be better!
With summer race season around the corner, be motivated and confident by working with a coach you continually learn from, listens to you, and in whom you trust can help you better than you can help yourself prepare for race day!