How to Increase Your Coachability
Written by Fritz Nugent

There is a vast range of coachability. What does it mean and where do you fall on the spectrum?

What is coachability?

In one word, coachability is your attitude. Specifically, your attitude towards stress. How do you mesh with change, adversity, difficult situations, difficult people, shortcomings and failures? Our willingness to learn directly influences our coachability.

Coaches Favorites

The coaching staff at Invictus has a weekly meeting. During that meeting a large portion of time is devoted to discussing our members, both current and brand new to our space. When introducing a new member during staff meetings to the coaches who have yet to meet some of the new members, the onboarding coach describes the new member to paint a picture for the rest of the coaches. Coachability is a prominent topic that comes up. As coaches who LOVE to coach, we also love coachable athletes. And there are infinite ways to be coachable, just as there are infinite personalities.

How an athlete takes coaching cues and feedback speaks directly to their coachability. When coaching an athlete for the first time, before I provide feedback on anything movement-oriented, I am assessing verbal and non-verbal communication. How open is this athlete to coaching? How do they carry themselves physically? How large is their ego? What does their body language say about their comfort with themselves, with me, and within this new space?

Fixed vs Growth Mindset

We have written about fixed vs growth mindset before. There is a massive connection between an athlete’s coachability and growth mindset. If you think that your characteristics are fixed, stagnant, or unchangeable, then you may be operating from a fixed mindset. It is very difficult for an athlete with a fixed mindset to improve.

A good coach knows who has fixed vs growth mindsets, and we work to knock stubborn athletes out of fixed and into growth.

A coachable athlete in the gym displays openness to criticism and a willingness to take a step or two backwards to drill a sequence. It’s a good day when we get to do the shiny thing. Most of our time, if we really want to improve, should be spent drilling aspects of the shiny thing, and not only the shiny thing. 

Athletes who begin to ask the right questions and are willing to take steps back now to take giant leaps forward in the future fall into a category we at Invictus call “thinking athletes”.

The “Thinking Athlete”

When Bryce interviewed Marcus Filly on the Invictus Mindset Podcast, Marcus introduced the idea of a “thinking athlete”. We now use this term in staff meetings when describing athletes who go above and beyond in their search for understanding and growth. They ask questions. They want to improve. They are willing to be patient and realize that sizable goals take time to tackle. They are able to leverage a growth mindset to make meaningful changes to their training, technique, and mindset. They are willing to learn!

How to Increase Your Coachability

Coachability is not fixed. Our abilities are directly linked to our willingness and ability to learn. Here are some approaches to help you improve your coachability.

Ask Questions

When something doesn’t make sense, ask your coach to elaborate. Coaches will throw out cues to athletes on the floor, and we hope the cues work. Sometimes they do, and sometimes not. If you are confused by a cue, ask questions to clear it up. Don’t know what questions to ask? Try these:

What am I doing that you’d like me to fix?
What do you want me to feel?
I don’t understand, can you elaborate?
How am I supposed to do that?

The purpose of these questions is to open up further dialogue between you and your coach.

In addition, a good coach will have a clear intention behind why they chose to program X or teach X or cue you with X. Confident coaches love to be asked to explain something in more detail. This can be in front of the group at the board, or even in a one-on-one setting after we break from the white board briefing. Both can hold value. And the better you become at asking questions, the deeper your learning, and if you are also working on applying the lessons you are learning, then I guarantee your coachability is improving, too!

Learn from the Group

While the group coaching setting has some limitations, there is a ton of benefit to working in the context of a group. If you are a thinking athlete (or working to become one), you can improve your own skills by watching others move and listening to the coach as they cue your classmates. Not everything you hear and see will pertain to you and your current understanding, but some of it will. And oftentimes, you will learn something that you can directly apply to your own training or movement.

When in Doubt, Patience

When I’m coaching, I can tell who wants the quick fix. Some athletes just want to do the thing. Other athletes want a true fix and a progression. I do my best to give the athletes who desire true long-term growth the most impactful corrections and a pathway forward. With the quick fix athletes, I try to nudge them towards getting curious about the long-term solutions. If you have a lot of life left to live, then I suggest patience.

The quick fix will lead you to short-term solutions which oftentimes function like a band-aid. This is not patient. This is ego-fueled and short-lived.

The long-term solutions are progression-based. If crafted well, progressions should work to correct the root of the task, build the base, and allow for continued slow and steady growth. This is at the heart of coachability.

How to Apply Coachability

Next, here are some real-world examples of how to apply the principles into your own training.

Want to get your first muscle-up and you can only do 3 strict pull-ups? Better start with improving your strict pull-up strength. Find a coach to help you develop a progression and begin following it. The coachable athlete decides to do this immediately. They trust their coach, and they are willing to spend time building a base.

Want to get stronger? That doesn’t mean hitting 80%+ every day. True strength, in my opinion, comes from an organized and patient approach. Staying the course and trusting the plan is a worthwhile lesson for any athlete to learn or re-learn. Once again, find a progression from a coach you trust and diligently follow the plan.

Want to get faster? I know many athletes who wish that they could push metcons at a higher pace. One aspect is mentally getting gritty and embracing that dark place. However, we can’t live in that zone. In order to improve your ability to suffer, you must work on intervals and less intensive longer training. Once again, progressions here are very helpful because you can build upon each week. Learning takes place! The thinking athlete knows this and structures their training weeks and months accordingly.

With practice, you can also learn to do this for yourself. Ask questions. Learn from the group. Be patient. And follow the progressions!