Coaching is a fantastic job simply because a big part of what you end up doing is interacting with people and building relationships. Because of this, how you manage different personalities as a coach is of the utmost importance.
There are books, papers, star signs, Chinese years, theories, workshops, and many other tools to identify someone’s personality type, your own personality type, and how to manage the interactions between them and whichever one you believe in.
Experience has indicated that how a person behaves every day compared to how they behave when they are ‘stressed’ can vary and their personality can suddenly differ. What works one day may not work the next.
Personalize Your Communication Style
It’s certainly worth looking over several models and theories to give you more tools in your toolbox to help you engage with your athletes. However, much of what you read about can be simplified as communication. If what you or the athlete is saying is logical or sound, then the only reason for the message not to be received is that you aren’t using the optimum form of communication.
Take the following three phrases:
- “RIGHT, let’s smash out the first three reps and then really suffer on the final rep—I want BIG efforts throughout, don’t drop below….”
- “This is going to be a tough session, so we need to focus on holding good form feel the…”
- “We are going to all work together on these four reps. Generate strength off each other, and don’t leave anyone behind.”
Each of these phrases could work really well to motivate different people, but use only one of them (or expect that everyone will react the same way to one of them) could mean you miss the mark, and it could actively demotivate some members of your group.
To manage the different personalities you experience in coaching, you need to firstly identify them for yourself (self-awareness), understand your own position relative to the athlete (external self-awareness), understand the individual (empathy), and subsequently work, act, and communicate in a way that gets the best from that individual (leadership).
For simplicity, there are three phases of coaching as a profession:
- A developing coach
- A recognised coach
- A reputable coach
In phase one, the developing coach is learning how to adapt to different personalities, and at the very heart of their development is their own ability to learn how to get the coaching message across to the athlete. In other words, it’s about learning the profession.
When they reach phase two, they will have experienced many different athletes and will become successful with athletes they coach. They see themselves and others see them as coach or they become part of the profession. Usually, the coach will begin to identify a type of athlete, a distance of racing, or a personality that they work best with. The coach will begin to identify these people as their ideal customers/athletes.
In the final phase (and this is the crucial difference between phase two and phase three), athletes will seek the coach and the athlete will either ignore the difference in personalities, adapt to it, or end up leaving. A coach in phase three has only two options, either to choose a “my way or the highway” approach or coach the athletes in front of them. These coaches become leaders of the profession.
The interesting point through these different phases is that what is classed as “good” coaching or interpersonal skills are still the same. However, the balance of power shifts from the athlete to the coach. It is this shift of (perceived) power that will impact how a coach manages different personalities. In fact, where the coach sits in their own development is likely to impact how the initial phases mentioned above will be perceived by an athlete!
Interestingly, the very skills that moves a coach from phase one up through to phase two and finally to phase three should still be present and are at the heart of any coach’s personal development plan, but it may be that a misplaced confidence a coach has developed can lead them to forget the very basic skills that make up their job.
In order to manage the different personalities you’ll encounter in coaching, you need to be able to identify them, understand them, and understand how actions, language, and communication will impact the personality type. You also need to understand your own personality type and be able to recognize that only through this self-awareness, real empathy towards the athlete, and self-restraint from using a ‘one size fits none’ approach, will you be in a position to motivate and develop the different athletes in front of you.
Therefore, work out who you are, understand your own approaches, understand where you sit on your own coaching journey, and then use all your tools to understand and communicate with the individual athlete. Only then can you become the best coach you can be to that athlete in front of you.