Everyone’s a Coach

heartfelt coaching, (c) 2011 by WoodleyWonderworks via Flickr (CC BY 2.0), no changes were made.

When your kids play sports, you get to know a lot of coaches. And when your kids are good at sports, you graduate to a new level of coach contact — the coach that is not necessarily your neighbor or the parent of a kid at school. If your kid’s coach does nothing but coach for a living, that’s a big step up. They are professionals. They know things you don’t, not only about the sport, but about your kid. They startle you with their ability to read your kid’s moods, emotions, and motivations. They disagree with you on what’s best for your kid’s state of mind, diet, or schedule. And after a point, they begin to leave mom and dad out of the conversation, preferring to go directly to the athlete. Yup, your kid isn’t just your kid anymore — your kid is “the athlete.”

If your kid keeps progressing (and isn’t completely burned out or injured by this point), you might even graduate to meeting college coaches, who are yet another species entirely.

But I won’t go there, because it’s not really necessary for what I’m getting at. What I’m saying is this: I’ve got some experience with coaches. I know what they do, I know their toolbox is both broad and deep, and I know that they are complex people with complex jobs to do.

So what is up with all these online coaches nowadays? They are everywhere. Lifestyle coaches, fitness coaches, writing coaches, marketing coaches. Suddenly, everyone’s a coach. For $50 a month, you can hire a fitness coach who will give you workouts, motivational talks, and tools to track your progress. For $2000 you can hire lifetime access to a writing coach to help you kick out your first novel.

My college-age daughter is a swim coach this summer — a proper, credentialed swim coach on a proper, USA Swimming-accredited swim team. She’s not a swim teacher this time (although she’s done that, too). There is a difference between teaching and coaching. Coaches get into your head. Sometimes good teachers do that also, but teaching is mostly about imparting information, while coaching is about setting you up for success. These swimmers are mostly beyond learning how to do specific things — she tries to help them to help themselves. That’s quite different from a teacher who shows you how to do a legal butterfly stroke or a flip turn. It involves changing a person’s mindset, attitude, work habits, and tolerance for mistakes.

I am perplexed about the rash of online coaches. I see them all over the place. I’ve taken classes from people who then tried to sell me “coaching” services. When I purchase online courses, I try to get specific information, or training in certain skills, like coding or Twitter. But coaching is personal. Some coaches work through Skype, others by phone. Some go through a website with a forum-type setup, answering questions on a chat board and providing opportunities for Google Hangouts and live webinars.

Can this work? I’m sure it’s possible. But who are these people? And why do they feel that they have the skill, the power, the sheer force of personality to MAKE YOU BETTER? They don’t even know you — and yet they are sure they can make you change.

You will be able to write that novel, lose that fat, grow that email list. They will know just what to say, and just how to say it.

I’m dubious. If that were true, I’d have seen more success from the flesh-and-blood coaches that have crossed my path.

And yet I’m tempted. Because I’d like to write that novel, lose that fat, and grow that email list. The one thing that stops me is the knowledge that I don’t yet know anyone with a spot in the Olympics. If coaching were that easy to pull off, I should have met at least one kid destined for Rio by now.