Updated: Jan 18, 2018
During the past 6 years, I have had the privilege of mentoring over thirty coaches. I have helped these coaches develop their product and ability to understand the exercises and methods they are providing, as well as their ability to make their athletes believe they can and will improve. Without fail, the coaches that have been successful are the ones who were able to communicate their message most effectively; these were the best salesman. Yes, I said it, great coaches are great salesman, and I believe great salesman keep the wheels of innovation and progress moving forward. Great ideas and great people that remain unknown are like a Ferrari without an engine, great to look at but ultimately useless. To become a great coach, you must understand the importance of salesmanship. Salesmanship can be defined in many ways; however, it is simply a transfer of knowledge and perspective. We may not realize it, but day in and day out we are continually selling. When we speak with our children, we are selling, we wake up in the morning, we are selling ourselves to get out of the house to make money, to have goals, to have dreams.
So, becoming a great S and C coach ultimately requires an ability to sell. I often hear, “I am an S and C coach, and all I want to do is coach. I don’t want to sell because selling is dirty”. This is absolute nonsense, and these coaches are doing their athletes and clients a disservice. What I mean by sales and salesman is infinitely more complicated than what we traditionally think when we hear these words. What we historically believe, is probably something shadier. As one of my favorite characters, Dwight Schrute, from The American TV Show The Office said “some people will tell you salesman is a bad word. They'll conjure up images of used car dealers, and door to door charlatans. This is our duty to change their perception.”. I firmly believe that understanding how to sell is something that will allow a coach to most efficiently transmit important information and expertise on movement, that will make the difference between good and great for your athlete.
As a coach, if you lack the ability to sell your philosophy, methods, cues or your product, you will find it hard, maybe even impossible to make significant changes in the domain of S and C. Becoming a better salesman, is not a maybe but rather a must. There are three key areas, in my experience, that need to be developed before becoming a great salesman and in turn a great coach; clarity, consistency and a willingness to persevere through times of failure.
Firstly, all salesman must understand their story. Who they are, what they offer and why they do what they do. As Sinek, S. (2009) in his book Start With Why comments that “people don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe”. Therefore, having clarity on why you do what you do will allow your philosophy to grow and have meaning. Also, when people know who and what you represent, it will enable them to decide if you are someone they want to follow and build a like-minded culture with. If you can concisely explain your story and your why it will allow you an excellent opportunity to complete your sale. What needs to be avoided is signing up an athlete or client under false pretenses. If you (the coach) have not presented yourself and your philosophy clearly ie: been upfront/transparent, it leaves the door open for relationships to become toxic. Be honest with your athletes and clients, make sure they know the ingredients of what you are selling. Stay away from false promises and tricks, you then become a conman, not a salesman.
Secondly, consistency must be demonstrated in actions and words. There is nothing more frustrating to a client then inconsistent feedback and coaching. This is something I have been guilty of on numerous occasions. This is especially true of new and young coaches. Young coaches are continually looking to for the next best thing and can, without intent, be using their clients as guinea pigs in their search for the that next best thing. When you observe master coaches, they are confident in what they prescribe and as Lachlan Wilmot, once said: “ any coach can write a hard training session, but it takes a true coach to make an athlete better with the minimum necessary stimulus.” This quote I believe can be applied to many things and I believe that great coaches are masters at understanding who they are working with and staying consistent with their prescription.
Thirdly, to be a great coach you must be obsessed with failure. Failure is the dark place where success is born. When we fail, we engage in deeper thought. Failure exposes our weaknesses and helps to build a more resilient character. In the book by Syed, M. (2015) Black Box Thinking: Why Most People Never Learn from Their Mistakes--but Some Do, the authors mention the story of the invention of the Dyson vacuum cleaners. For those who do not know, the Dyson vacuums are known for the technology of a bag-less vacuum cleaner. The idea of the bag-less vacuum cleaner came about because of one man’s frustration with the current state of vacuums. However, what is more interesting than the concept and invention is the number of prototypes that were designed before the Dyson hit our streets. It took a staggering 5,127 attempts to make it work. That is 5126 FAILED attempts.
Additionally, when you take a deeper look into failure, you will note that one of the most innovative, revolutionary and successful human beings in our time failed more times than you can imagine. Steve Jobs was first and foremost a college dropout who designed a flawed and unsuccessful computer called the ‘Lisa’, was fired from his own company and later started and failed in his next venture, NeXT.However, when we think of Steve Jobs now, we only see the successful man. He might have said it best, “Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations.
In the end, becoming a great S and C coach takes time. As the standard saying goes, “Rome was not built in a day” and neither will your abilities or your clients. A coach needs to be clear on his or her strengths as well as their weaknesses. Being true to why you do what you do and keeping on that path no matter what may come is essential to a coach’s value and integrity. A coach must practice what they preach, maintain consistency in actions and thoughts and strive to understand that the path of excellence is not a straight line. The path to successful coaching is will be laden with dead ends, pitfalls and traps. The point is not to avoid these roadblocks the point is to persevere through them.
Sinek, S. (2011). Start with why: How great leaders inspire everyone to take action. Penguin.
Syed, M. (2015). Black Box Thinking: Why Most People Never Learn from Their Mistakes--but Some Do. Penguin.