How to be Coachable

Let’s face it. With enough motivation, anyone can make it to the gym a few times a week for a 1-2 hour training session. What separates the person who simply gets in a good workout from the athlete who experiences steady, sustainable progress, however, lies in their willingness and ability to be coached. 

Being coachable means that you are capable of being taught or trained to do something better. It’s having the ability to admit that you don’t know everything. And ultimately, being receptive to feedback and open to improvement.

Unlike natural-born talent, coachability is something that every person has complete control over. While you may not be able to alter your genetics, you do have power over your attitude.

3 common virtues of coachable athletes: Humility, positivity, and patience

Set your ego aside

The first step to making progress in any sport is to recognize your own weaknesses.

When someone has a fragile or large ego, it hinders them from being self-reflective. Rather than accepting constructive criticism intended to help them grow (either from themselves or others), they are closed off and unwilling to learn new things. 

This presents significant challenges in highly technical sports, such as weightlifting, as the success of a lift is largely determined by technique, rather than brute strength. Every lifter, Olympians included, has areas of their lifts that are imperfect and require targeted training. 

Athletes with large egos are not only challenging to work with, but they limit themselves from reaching their true potential. Just like the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child,” it takes a team to create an exceptional athlete. 

This isn’t to just describe the meathead in the corner of the gym doing ¼ squats. The majority of us tend to take criticism personally and are quick to come up with explanations when met with honest feedback. It’s only natural to feel defensive when we’re told that we’re doing something incorrect. However, it is possible to reframe this conversation in your mind to see the value of criticism and use it to grow. Here are a few suggestions:

• When a trusted source asks if they can give you a few tips, always say yes.
• Halt your gut reaction to be on the defense. Try to be patient and open to what the person is saying, even if you do not agree.
• Recognize that you are not perfect. If you were, you wouldn’t be here training in the first place.
• Ask questions to better process the feedback. This will allow you to have a better understanding of what’s being said, and create a two-way conversation where your input can feel valued.
• Follow up with the person giving the feedback after you have had some time to work on their suggestions. This enables you to be an active player in your growth and creates a better bond between you and your coach.

Regardless of whether or not you seek out or accept feedback, you are going to be spending a significant amount of your time trying to improve. If you have someone on your side who is also committed to your progress, you can devote your time more wisely and expect to see growth at a faster rate.

Have a positive mindset

Coachable athletes radiate positivity.

They understand that having a “keep trying until I succeed” attitude is superior to an “I can’t” mindset. They choose to believe in themselves and their potential, even on their worst days. And they recognize that the ebbs and flows of training are natural and necessary; you can’t possibly perform your best in every training session, or even every competition. 

Maintaining a positive mindset is what keeps you motivated through mentally and physically draining workouts. There will be days that you feel gassed and miss what should have been a mindless lift. It can be beyond frustrating to not meet the standards you set for yourself. However, the point is to strive to not let the challenges you encounter affect the way you view yourself and your abilities. Successful athletes clear their minds of negative thoughts and continue to grind. 

Not only does having a positive attitude improve your performance (see our “Negative Thinking” post for more details), but it improves the mood of everyone around you. No one wants to lift with the person who lets their frustration run every training session. It’s uncomfortable to be around, and it’s infectious. It’s also extremely difficult to coach someone who is overcome with anger and negativity, as they are difficult to approach and typically unwilling to engage in discussion.

A successful training environment is optimistic, uplifting, and (sometimes) fun. It’s a place where people are eager to improve, and thrive as a unit. Just like negativity is infectious, positivity is contagious. When you step into the gym, be sure to:

• Come with a cleared mind. The stressors of your day have no place on the platform. View training as an outlet, distraction, or safe haven, rather than a duty or extension of a difficult day.

• Fill your training session with positive self-talk. Miss a lift? Figure out what was off and tell yourself you’ll get it next time. Feel tired or weak? Remind yourself that these are the days you grow the most. Don’t feel like training? Congratulate yourself for making it anyway.

• Give positive reinforcement to your teammates or training partners. If you’re not their coach, it’s not your job to tell them what they’re doing wrong. It is your job, however, to encourage them when they step up to the bar. To say “nice work” when they nail a tough lift. And to share in the training experience together.

Trust the process

Lastly, coachable athletes are patient. 

They recognize that it may take 400 reps with the bar alone to fix one small error. They accept that they may spend weeks working on one aspect of the lift and still see minimal improvement. And if they’ve been in the sport long enough, they understand that it can take years of consistent, unwavering labor to increase their PR by just 1kg. 

Athletes who come into the gym expecting instant gratification will not last in weightlifting. It is a grueling, monotonous sport. And it’s easy to get discouraged when the unseen work you put in every day doesn’t always show in the ways you hoped for.

Coachable athletes, however, recognize that PRs are a rarity, and they find additional ways to measure progress. They are both goal and process-oriented. Rather than always seeking to improve their max lifts at the end of a training cycle, they attempt to better themselves in each training session. Whether that be in terms of technique, consistency, or mindset. 

They trust that weightlifting is a process, and that their consistent efforts will pay off. They don’t second-guess the programming or argue with their coach. Rather, they work with them to understand the purpose of their training cycle and find ways to maximize their potential in the other 22 hours outside the gym.