A friend, awesome coach, and fellow pork chop Lucas Azerado-Lobo (I had to use the full name) gifted us a copy of Conscious Coaching: The Art and Science of Building Buy-In by Brett Bartholomew. Brett is a strength coach, consultant and founder of Bartholomew strength. He spends his time working with military personnel and professional athletes from nearly every sport, essentially he’s one smart guy.

His book distills the lessons he has learned through years of education and experience into an understandable and applicable format. I love the concept but wanted to put together some thoughts of my own on conscious coaching before I finish the rest of the book and begin reciting all of Brett’s ideas as if I thought of them. I wrote a similar article on What is a Coach, to help guide you in your decision making that you can check out here if you’re in the market for a new coach.

This book was written by a strength coach for coaches, I think, however (after reading the first section) that it is a bit of a misnomer. The information is excellent for anyone in a leadership role that spends time interacting with and trying to get the most out of people. It’s presented through an athletic lens but the core principles are easily transferable into other areas. In a similar way, I hope the information in this article is applicable to everyone. I have very little interest in writing as a coach for coaches, maybe in the future, but at the moment I think there are a ton of great people, like Eric Cressey, Dan John and Joel Jamieson that are scratching that itch.

I have been fortunate enough to spend the last 5 years coaching elite level athletes, not just good, but truly the best. In those 4 years, I hope I’ve played a small role in their development, I am not for a moment pretending that I, or our team, are the reason that they have torn up their season. We aim only to offer the tools that they can use to build a legacy. What I do think we do exceptionally well build buy-in and want to share how before I read the rest of the book.

It is also important to highlight that my ideas of coaching consciously are exactly that, they are not a blueprint and what has worked for me may not be the right fit for you. Individual personalities, strengths, and weaknesses play a huge role in how you interact with other people, stoic silence, and boisterous charisma both work but only when they are authentic.

Contact Creates Intimacy – You knew your parents loved you when you felt your Mother pull you into a hug or your best friend tossed his arm over your shoulder after a great night. Contact has a therapeutic effect even when it lacks emotional connection, there are squeeze chutes designed to calm the nerves of cattle when the veterinary or herder needs to perform a procedure. In our own lives, we use an embrace to greet a friend or bid them farewell. When I step into a cage to fight the last thing I do is turn to my coaches, people I trust most and embrace them. The action is reassuring, it’s comforting and it satisfies our innate desire for touch.

 

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The awareness of contact and its value is a lesson I try to implement it with the athletes. I’ll play fight, put my arm around them when they’re tired or hug them when they come back from their season. These physical touch points are important, it means I genuinely care about you, that your important to me and we’re on the same team, you have my respect and I’m treating you like family. Even something as simple as an extra heartfelt high-five goes a long way.

You Get the Same Attention Regardless of Your Skill – Spending time in high-level athletics has taken away the aura of worship that we sometimes place on athletes, maybe if I meet Jordan I’ll lose my shit but until then everyone is judged on who they are as a person and what attitude and effort they bring to the table each day.

I’ve spent time with coaches who treat a top 10 player completely different from the guy trying to crack the lineup as if their worth is dependant on the tax bracket they inhabit. Unfortunately, being ultra-talented isn’t a free pass to act like an asshole, everyone is granted the exact same reception and opportunity.

In a busy setting, it can be hard to give everyone the same attention, when hundreds of athletes are coming through the door each day it becomes unrealistic to think you can have the same relationship with everyone but that is not an excuse to check out. It’s important I do my best to listen, empathize and provide value, they should feel like the most valuable athlete in the gym and be treated the same way as our top players. I might talk to 85 people in one day, not thinking twice about several of the conversations. I might not remember the short time I spent with a player that is new to the program, but they will because it is their first year training, they’re nervous and excited and every word matters. They’ll go home and tell their parents and their friends when it comes time to decide who they want to train with next year they’ll draw on those conversations and they better feel as if they are the most important player in the world because they are.

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The Interests Outside of Their Sports Matter More- If you spend your entire day dealing with interest rates it’s unlikely you want to spend your vacation discussing how today’s numbers compare to those in November. You want to relax, watch a movie, listen to an album or visit friends. Professional athletes are no different, the bulk of their year is spent focusing on or talking about their sport. They want to spend the off-season doing exactly that, turned off. It seems silly to think about athletes being ‘burnt out’ on their sport, the job seems so much better than most but the stressors are no different, we all need time to recharge.

I care about their sport only in how it relates to our development, otherwise, I want to talk about something else. Are you a die-hard Jays fan? Are you working on your short game? Did you go to the Drake concert last weekend? How was the cottage? I challenge myself to remember things that I’ve been told months, if not years in the past. Obviously, I can’t remember everything about every athlete but remembering a hometown, or what a girlfriend is studying in school doesn’t hurt.

We all want to talk about ourselves and our interests, take advantage of that natural disposition. Any strategy that opens up a line of conversation is valuable, we all listen to people we like and trust after all.

It’s important to note that in addition to emotional intelligence you must be able to coach. Technical proficiency can never be dismissed, but unless you can build buy-in you’ll never have an opportunity to show your technical skills. In the words of Teddy Rosevelt, “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”

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