Katherine @lovetoclimb facebook page

What is coaching?

21 Feb 2014

I am aware it’s been too long since my last blog.  In my next one I will explain what’s been going on.  For now I want to talk about the new Coach Award Scheme.  It’s arrived and so far it’s a booming success.

For me the most important aspect of the course is the way in which it covers coaching skills.  For years the scheme never got off the ground because no one could agree on the terminology and many felt they already coached so what was the point of introducing anything new.  Whatever people felt they already did the concept of coaching in climbing is relatively new.  And whatever I think I did before, I know for a fact I am personally learning a whole lot more about the skills of coaching.

Foundation ball throw

At the recent Foundation Coach course at Awesome Walls we used throwing a ball to practise obervation skills: where to stand, which parts of the body to observe etc


In other sports top coaches are so skilled they can move from one sport to another.  A national rugby coach could move across to say cricket and once they have a grip of the game, they can apply their knowledge of how teams work together, handle pressure, motivate and win.  Shauna Coxsey’s (British Bouldering Champion and currently ranked 3rd in the world) coach for example is an ex national level middle distance runner.  Now a climber, he is not climbing anywhere near her level, but can apply the coaching concepts he learned in running to climbing.


For years climbing coaches have relied on what they know about the sport, either from watching and observing climbers, reading, their own climbing experience, or perhaps personal experience of being coached in other sports.  Many of these factors have contributed to how I have learned to coach.  Many of the coaching skills may also have come naturally, but they would rarely have been taught as in climbing we have not, until now, had any formal system.

Foundation learning styles

I'm not quite giving away the full story here, but believe it or not we were learning here about how people take on information - through the medium of dance!!


What does coaching in its real sense mean?  Is it shouting encouragement, giving praise and motivation.  At times, yes, but at other times definately not.  Is it teaching better technique?  Yes, but it’s not just what you’re teaching, it’s how that information gets delivered and knowing when that individual has actually grasped the concepts.  Is it structuring a training plan?  Yes, but it’s understanding that individual’s needs, life and motivations and one size does not fit all.  


Good coaches will have a deep understanding of the sport and this does rely on the coach having experienced the sport personally.  Many top coaches in the world are older, in their 40s, 50s and 60s.  It takes that long to become a good coach (because like anything it takes years to master a new language or new instrument) but also there is a long period required before that where they must first become proficient in the sport (that coach will understand what competition pressure, training hard and dealing with failure feel like).

Foundation Awesome Walls

Good coaching requires analysis, not hunches.  Your observation skills will be so heightened that you can drill right down to the key parts of the body that initiate the movement or where the fault is.  Good coaches will treat individuals as individuals; understanding theory behind skills acquisition, knowing everyone learns differently, that everyone has a different emotional make up and different home lives.  Good coaches will motivate, not simply by piling on the praise, but by saying key things at the right time.  Most of all good coaches will allow people to struggle, to understand that failure is crucial to the process.  Coaching is fascinating and complex.  


If you are interested in becoming a coach, visit the Mountain Training website and register.  The coaching courses are excellent and you will learn much more about what I’ve written here.  The photos here are from a recent Foundation Coach course I ran at Awesome Walls.  The next one, Development Coach is on 5/6th March.  If you want to read more about coaching I can strongly recommend The Talent Code - an absorbing read.