This article was originally published on www.Medium.com in the fall of 2016. I think it reinforces the message that we can learn from every situation. I hope you enjoy!
Almost three years ago my lovely wife sold me on the idea of getting a dog. Insert Addison, a German Shepherd. In to our family. From that point forward my life changed from average adult to crazy obsessed dog owner.
I definitely like being the crazy dog owner better...
Having a dog comes with amazing benefits. Addison greets everyone who comes over at the door, she’s always game to watch movies on the couch, and is always first to the car when we go for walks, and obviously, she never says no when you’re contemplating ice cream.
Addie’s favorite flavor is maple. In case you were wondering.
As I quickly learned, owning a dog is waaayyyy more fun when they are well behaved, listen, and acknowledge every command. It’s never fun when you have to track your dog down in a local neighborhood because she saw another dog and ran off.
Addie’s a social butterfly. They say dogs take after their owners.
Training Addison is an ongoing process, but is a process I enjoy. Being someone who works in the Athletic Performance industry, I find a lot of parallels between coaching and dog training. It might sound odd, but I view both as nearly the same. A person (Coach) teaching/conveying information or skills to another person, or in this case, a 70 pound, spastic German Shepherd.
Set the Table
When training Addison, I was extremely cautious to make sure I had her in an environment where she could succeed. We trained early in the day so she full of energy (which was never an issue) and again at night when she was excited to see me and I had her full attention. I made sure we trained in an area where there wasn’t a lot of outside noise like people, other dogs, or toys. This series of small considerations made sure that I was her primary focus and she was my primary focus.
Performance coaching doesn't have that kind of control. Groups or clients come in at various times of the day, before, during, and after work or school, after practice or even before games. People come in with varying states of attention...hyped off caffeine or pre-workout, mentally drained from a tough day, hungover from the night before, or just plain tired. We train in a studio, commercial gym, or performance facility that typically has 50 other things going on to disrupt the attention span.
So how does this even relate?
We must place a premium on the training environment and control what we can control. To our clients, we, the Coach, are the variable that keeps everything the same. Our clients struggle when we struggle, when we lack focus, when we bring in outside noise, and when we are no longer stimulating enough for our clients. For us to recognize this, allows us to prepare and execute each training session to a higher standard that our clients need in order to succeed.
Put them in a position to be successful
When Addie and I were first going through obedience school and again when we started training her with an E-Collar, we approach both styles of training the same way. We made sure she was 100% competent with the most basic commands before we started to tackle harder lessons. If she didn't look at me when I said her name, didn’t sit or lay down when told to, then we didn't move on. This ensured we gave her plenty of praise (and treats) at nailing each command rather than setting her up to struggle with the more advanced lesson. Slowly, we would start to incorporate harder lessons and we actually found the process easier to do because she was so competent with the basic commands.
Teaching in the weight room or on the turf is no different. We must make sure our clients are ruthlessly good at the most basic of movements and concepts. Push, pull, press, hip hinge, squat, sprint. We must achieve proficiency of the most foundational movements in order to build a pyramid of success. It is up to the Coach to make sure the people we work with are within the correct variation of the basics to ensure they can take the most out of each exercise. Jumping up the ladder of progressions is worthless if our clients aren't able to take anything away from it.
Talk Less, Do More
Nothing will teach you how to communicate more effectively than working through a language barrier. Take that language barrier to the next level and try to communicate with an animal. When Addie and I train, everything is short, direct, and to the point. More times than not every command is one word, accompanied by a visual cue, to make everything as direct as possible. Sit. Stay. Down. Come. Break. Heel. No. Treat. She’s a dog, not a human. She either does the command or not, there is never an in between.
This was my biggest carry over to the training floor. When groups and clients are performing exercises in the weight room or movements on the turf, the commands need to be short, direct, and to the point. Adding too many words can be distracting and hard to digest in the heat of the moment. Going in to long, drawn out explanations as to why something needs to be done a certain way, though it has its time and place, can often create a noisy atmosphere that clouds our clients ability to perform at a high level *see paragraph one*. Make sure when giving direction, it's carefully planned out just like your training sessions are. You can write the best program, but if you can’t communicate it, it's just words and numbers on a sheet of paper.