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  • Writer's pictureFarran Mackay

Unlock your coaching potential: Tips on making long lasting changes to your coaching practice

Farran Mackay CrossFit coach development

So you have just attended an inspiring weekend course that has given you lots of knowledge and tools to make your coaching more effective. You are motivated to change your coaching practices and you cannot wait to start in the next lesson you are giving.

Two weeks later, you do not feel like you have changed much at all, you feel pushback from the members and maybe also you colleagues, you feel deflated and uncertain...and maybe you wonder what is wrong with you as a coach that you cannot successfully apply the new knowledge and tools you have gained.

You are not alone!

What is often overlooked in the process of changing coaching practices is that coaching does not happen in a vacuum.

Coaching is a social practice that occurs within a social context.

Yes, I used the word “social” twice!

It involves people, and people are what drive the social and cultural dynamics within the community, including the norms, values, and expectations. The social context.

Coaching is a social practice since it involves a pattern of social behavior that is repetitive, established, and widely recognised within the community and culture. It involves a set of actions, behaviors, and attitudes that are considered socially acceptable and appropriate by the athletes and fellow coaches.

Let’s look at some of those words again…repetitive, established, and widely recognised within the community. So what happens when we change our actions, behavior, and/or attitudes?

People do not in general like change. People are most comfortable when the actions, behaviours and attitudes are predictable. If these aspects change, your athletes may feel uncomfortable, they may not understand what you expect from them, they are unsure if they can meet your "new" expectations. Bottom line, your athletes are uncertain.

As a coach you sense this uncertainty. You begin to question your coaching and you fall back to your old “tried and tested” practices. You are back to a pattern of social behavior that is repetitive, established, and widely recognised within the community. You fulfill the existing expectations of the social context.

And the end result is that your coaching practice hasn’t changed.

So how can we ensure lasting (positive) changes in our coaching practices? Read on for some tips...

Tip #1 - Approach the changes as fine tuning

Consider your coaching practice as a spider's web that you are in the center of. The strings and the anchor points are, among other things, the social practices and social context. What would happen if you tried to move the web in one large step? Best case scenario the web would be so distorted it would no longer be effective, and worst case it would be completely destroyed.

How can we move the web? By making small incremental changes in the strings and the anchor points.

And the same goes for your coaching practice. By taking the approach that you are fine tuning your coaching practice, you will ensure that the changes are small enough to still remain close to what is expected from the athletes. By making small incremental changes, over time you will successful have implemented lasting (positive) changes to your teaching practices.

Tip #2 - Prioritise the changes

Similar to not giving feedback on all the points of performance of a snatch in one go, don’t try to make all the changes you want to make in one lesson!

If you are not sure where to start, one approach you can take to prioritising the changes you want to make is:

  1. Create a list of the changes.

  2. Score how “easy” it is for you to implement each change (e.g. the amount of energy, time, preparation…) with 10 being extremely easy and 1 being a large challenge.

  3. Score how much “positive impact” it has for the athletes (e.g. technique, personal attention, efficiency…) with 10 being a large impact and 1 being a minimal impact.

  4. For each change you want to make, multiply the two scores together

  5. Prioritise with the change with the largest value (if there is a tie either pick the one that is the easiest to implement or the one that interests you the most)

Tip #3 - Let the community know

If people know some things will change, they are usually much more capable of dealing with the change, and in a lot of case also actively enable the change.

Share with the community that you have attended an inspiring course/workshop/webinar and you are excited to share with them what you have learned to help them be fitter/happier/more efficient/stronger (delete as necessary). Specifically share with them what you are changing, and what in turn it means for them. For example “ok so we are going to do the EMOM a bit differently today so I get the chance to give each of you more feedback”.

That way they are “in the loop”, you have removed a large amount of uncertainty for them, and you are ensuring that your "new" actions, behaviours and attitudes are predictable.

Tip #4 - Reflect

Self-reflection is critical to changing coaching practices. Ideally when you have changed something in your coaching practice you should be able to sit down and reflect, but in practice that is not always possible.

Whether you have the chance to write this down between lessons or at the end of the day, or simply have a moment to think about it while grabbing a coffee or a pee break consider the following questions

  1. What went well?

  2. What could be improved?

  3. What will I do differently next time?

Answering these questions will support you in making lasting and effective changes to your coaching practices.

Tip #5 - Ask for feedback

An “outsiders" feedback can give you invaluable insight into your coaching practice. When you are focused on changing your coaching practice, the feedback should also be focused on that specific aspect. To do so, ask for a specific question to be answered (e.g. “how often did I give feedback to each athlete”).

The question you want answered will also guide you to who you should ask. It could be a fellow coach, a member from the community, or even someone from “outside”. Whoever you choose, also plan how and when you will receive the feedback. For most types of questions you want answered, feedback sessions are most effective when done in person and immediately after the lesson while your memory is still fresh.

Tip #6 - Build a network of like minded coaches

Finding other coaches with the same coaching ethos as you can provide a great support in helping you grow and develop further as a coach. Your network of coaches can provide a sounding board for challenges you are facing, they can share their own experiences about specific situations, and most of all it can provide you with a sense of community at the coaching level.

Take your coaching to the next level

Feel free to schedule a call to have a chat over coffee (or whatever you want!) about your affiliate, team, or your own coaching.


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