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The Power of a Great Coach: Life Beyond Athletics

Updated: Jul 1, 2019

As a former athlete, you understand the impact that a great coach can have on you. Under the guidance of coaches, you’ve learned how to listen to feedback (or screaming criticism) and apply it immediately. You’ve learned how to put your ego to the side, and allow someone to show you where your weak spots are. You’ve learned how to ask good questions and actively seek out people who not only recognize your potential, but know how to effectively pull it out of you. Whether it’s in the athletic arena or in the game of life, coaching is one of the most powerful tools for courageous people who are willing to look at themselves objectively, push themselves beyond their perceived limitations, and elevate their game to the next level. Since my playing days have ended, I’ve developed a newfound respect for coaches. Balancing the performance of a team while striving to develop well-rounded individuals is no easy task. It can take months, or even years to develop an effective dynamic between coaches and players. When the communication and trust is right, it’s a beautiful situation. When it’s off, everyone loses. I was fortunate enough to have had some great coaches growing up. Not only did they get the best out of me on the field, they showed me how to conduct myself in everyday life. It wasn’t until I got to college that I experienced my first series of “bad coaches”. This is not to say that these coaches were bad people, their style of coaching just didn’t resonate with me. Years later, I found myself becoming oddly grateful for these “bad coaches”, as they became clear examples of what not to do when striving to get the best out of people. When I first started working with retired athletes, I emulated the qualities that were instilled in me by my favorite coaches, and made sure to avoid repeating the behavior of coaches I didn’t particularly care for. The day I chose to take on the role of being a coach, I quickly realized that I was going to have to define what kind of coach I wanted to be. Since I was not coaching sports, but guiding former athletes through their transition into the world outside of athletics, I had to think long and hard about the kind of coach I would have wanted in my corner during my own transition. Three years ago today, I wrote down the kind of coach I was going to be. Here’s what I came up with: “A great coach causes powerful inspiration and mind-shifts, enabling you to consciously expand your awareness of yourself and of the world around you. You stop focusing on your limitations, and begin to see all of the opportunities available to you. With newfound confidence you begin thinking bigger and taking bold action. You wake up every single day feeling fulfilled and excited to chart your new course with a deeper awareness of your own personal power. You start asking yourself (and others) better questions, which ultimately magnifies your power and effectiveness as you accelerate towards your own personal vision for the future.” When I moved back home after playing my last game of football, I was faced with the stark realization that for the first time in over a decade, I didn’t have a coach. There was no one in my corner to help me overcome these brand new obstacles coupled with “post-athletic blues”. The only people who could relate to my experience were other former athletes, and they were in the exact same predicament: feeling lost, confused, and not knowing which way to go next. For many elite athletes, preparation for life after sports is not only regarded as an afterthought, it’s often discouraged (even if subconsciously). Looking ahead is quite difficult when every waking moment of your time (and mental energy) is consumed with improving your athletic performance.  Despite the statistics, many athletes believe they will play professionally someday. Thinking about, talking about, and actively planning for life after sports directly conflicts with the belief that you’re really going to “make it” to the next level. I remember one of my college teammates saying to me, “I have to make it to the NFL, I don’t want to have to sit in a cubicle all day after I graduate. I don’t even want to think about it.”  Around my sophomore year in college, I realized that my chances of making it to the NFL were slim to none, yet I still had my own thoughts of “I don’t want to have to sit in a cubicle all day after I graduate. I don't even want to think about it.” I now realize that it would have saved me a lot of time (and heartache) if I had simply shifted my thinking, and dedicated more time to figuring out who I was outside of the game. While searching for jobs after graduation, I worked with several career coaches and temp agencies. I got the feeling they were trying to persuade me to take jobs that I had previously expressed non-interest in so they could cross me off their lists and hit their placement numbers. I didn’t encounter one person who actually took the time to help me figure out what it was that I really wanted to do with my life.  Former athletes who are currently unemployed or working in jobs that are far below their potential most likely ended up there because they had no clue what they wanted to do when their playing days came to an end. They had no idea where to begin their search, and no one to help guide them. As athletes, we know how to execute. Put a game plan in front of us, and we’ll work ourselves to the bone to practice, study, and execute on that game plan when the time comes. The challenge with starting a new chapter in your life is often that you don’t have a game plan. There’s no playbook, no film to watch, and nobody to give you direction. What is truly empowering is having someone in your corner during the process who’s been where you’ve been. Someone who understands how to leverage your current situation to cause breakthroughs and get you where you ultimately want to go. That’s the power of a great coach. Aside from lack of support, my biggest challenge after graduation was letting go of the notion that the football field was the only place I could find purpose and strive for excellence. Once I became receptive to discovering who I was off the field, things suddenly became really exciting. Fast forward several years later as I was coming out of my transition powerfully, it occurred to me that I wanted to become someone who could show others how to navigate through the “darkness” of their transition into the “light”. So I became an athlete transition coach. I must admit that I enjoy the rewarding feelings associated with helping others. I know there are many people out there who have benefited from working with me, and will continue to benefit from our time together for the rest of their lives. Whether you’re a former athlete or not, I encourage you to stop trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. If you know something is no longer serving you, try a new approach. Settling for an unfulfilled existence keeps you pacified and prevents you from asking yourself important questions that could ultimately lead you to a better quality of life. Settling lets you off the hook, and keeps you from reaching out to people who may be able to assist you. After reading this, my hope is that a fire lights up inside of you that causes you to start questioning where you are in life versus where you know you could be if you were willing to face the parts of yourself that need work. There are plenty of people like myself out there who are willing to give you guidance and support during times of hardship, all it takes is sharing yourself openly and honestly. When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.

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