A few weeks ago, during the Easter holidays, we were on a training camp with our tennis club. ‘We’ are a bunch of almost 70 people and, hence, for me as a physical trainer, it is a real ‘working vacation’. It takes considerable preparation in the weeks before, but also during the week there is little freedom and it remains a demanding job to entert(r)ain so many players of all ages between 8 and 68 years. However, especially after 5 years, the company is exceptional and we are more like a family. In addition, many of the youth players grew up with me as I grew as a trainer. They know me and neither do they have secrets to me anymore. They know I like to tease them and vice versa I can have some jokes as well. They know that physical training is 'working', that I believe that ‘you don’t get what you wish for but what you work for’, but also that ‘fun’ is ‘fun-damental’ to achieve any higher goal. Work hard play hard. That’s the way we are married.
One fine day during last training camp, while we were working out at the beach, some of the teenage guys saw the opportunity to throw me in the (very cold) water of the sea. Of course, in view of our relationship, it wasn’t a real surprise, but I still consider this as a compliment. Kids do not throw every trainer in the water. I want to be accessible as a coach. I want to be one of them.
Sometimes I am surprised by the way some of those 12- to 14-year old ‘pupils’ dare to approach me: I wonder whether they would talk or do the same with any other 45-old guy. From the outside you might think I’m in a desperate lack of authority, but I think that their behaviour is a huge compliment to my address.
I try to treat my athletes as I’d like to be treated myself. I try to be authentic and not to act. (Of course, sometimes you have to set your own troubles aside when you are coaching.) In that way I am also very proud that no single athlete has ever not been honest with me in my more than 10 years as a coach of hundreds of athletes and players.
I hope and I assume that you also have received compliments in your life. Maybe it’s not a bad exercise to do for yourself, to try to remember (and even write down) your lifetime top-5 compliments. Probably you will find out that it was not only the message but also the messenger who made it one of your top compliments.
The above examples also demonstrate that the message is not necessarily spoken. Sometimes it is neither in the words but in the feeling that’s behind the words. Talking trash not seldom originates from jealousy. That might be the ultimate compliment: they wish they were you !
Very often the message comes as a behaviour and sometimes it is not what it seems at first sight. As a triathlete I remember an important national race in which I was one of the top favorites for the win. But I didn’t... because of the teamwork of my opponents, who were faster swimmers. Afterwards I heard that they had the plan to stay together until the end of the bike leg, giving me no chance to come closer and make my comeback during the run, in which I excelled at that time. I had a difficult moment accepting that one of them was even injured and actually not able to run or finish the race, but that he only had participated to give the other one the chance to beat me. However, I quickly understood that this meant I wasn't ‘mister nobody’ at that time.
Everyone likes to receive compliments. Coaches do, athletes do. However, giving compliments is the coaches’ job! Compliments are necessary to keep on going, especially when the going gets tough. Giving as much positive feedback as possible is indispensable to get the best out of your athletes. Most people are not encouraged by taking them down all the time. At least, that’s not my style. Whether your athletes are young or less young, talented or less talented, ambitious or less ambitious: they want to stretch their limits, they want to transcend themselves, and you want to help them. That’s your core business and you are being paid for that. Whatever way you do that.
PS: the above pictures were taken during last training camp in Mallorca, Spain.