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How Coaching and Training Are Different

I once heard John Welbourn of Power Athlete make a statement which really resonated with me, and while I do not remember where I heard him say it or the direct quote, it went something along the lines of this:

"You can be a great trainer, and have all of the knowledge in the world of how to improve performance, but it doesn't mean you're a great coach."

It's a powerful statement which may be confusing if you're someone who is (or claims to be) a coach and holds a high level of technical knowledge in training people, and even more confusing to those who hold the high level of technical knowledge but aren't very good at the coaching aspect.

To dissect this statement, we need to understand what coaching is and why it's so critical in the scope of human development and performance. Coaching is a universal term which was not originally coined for sport. Coaching is actually a bit closer to mentorship than it is to training. But why?


When we look at coaching and the processes involved in it, we start to see how coaching is simply the process of leading someone from Point A to Point B. This includes laying out a plan for technical acquisition, and feedback both on the technical execution of skills and the habits surrounding the learning of those skills. This is where we need to understand the aspects of coaching which can easily be muddled with training, because coaching is highly derived on communication, assessment, instruction, and feedback. All of which cross multiple domains in both technical skills and in soft skills such as motivation and discipline.


Do not get me wrong, but there are great trainers who execute this process well when it comes to training for a sport or for fitness. But if we lack the ability to apply these things to more than just the X's and O's of developing a human, we fail to carry out true coaching. Coaching not only focuses on the technical aspect, but develops skills outside of them in order to enhance them. This may be identifying weak links in the social life, work ethic, discipline or motivation, and in personal accountability.


Admittedly, for the longest time I thought I was a coach. I thought I had it figured out. I was skilled in developing young athletes and in developing kids in training, but I don't know if I had really earned the title of coach. I wasn't developing my athletes outside of the weight room. They were the same kids on Day One of school as they were on Day 90, only slightly stronger and faster. But they hadn't really changed much from a mindset, discipline, or motivation standpoint. In short, I was developing one domain of my athletes, but I wasn't developing them as humans. And if we want to build high performing humans, we have to be adept in developing each aspect of them.


There is an art to this, no doubt. But it would be pertinent for those who train athletes or the general population to truly consider if they are coaching them or just training them.


Now, it's not a bad thing to want to just be a good trainer. This is actually a necessary role in the life of the individual to have someone who is so specialized and only hones in on developing one single characteristic or thing. This can be highly beneficial. But if you're looking for a holistic development of the individual you need to seek out someone who is able to help you along the way.


Now, whether or not you are wanting to coach (or currently are), or whether or not you are looking for coaching versus training, I find it beneficial to define a few things which will help you pick the right person to train or be trained by:

  1. Define your values. What do you want out of the relationship and the process which is coaching? How do you want to develop someone or be developed?

  2. Define your goal. You can't have be a coach or have a coach if you cannot define what your Point A's and Point B's are. And identify what preconceptions you may have about the path along the way.

  3. Define your philosophy. I'll give you an example: the three tenants of coaching I offer are Mind, Body, and Spirit. We develop humans in those three tenants in order to help them build a stronger future. Define what your philosophy is, or find someone to train you who has one you find may benefit you.

Again, if you're just looking for a single domain, a trainer can be highly beneficial. But it is important to note the differences of what coaches and trainers look like.

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