Don’t Go Wasting Their Precious Time: Helping Coaches Help Us

A friend of mine is a physical therapist. He has years of experience helping people recover from trauma that causes them discomfort and limits their ranges of motion. He has tons of suggestions for strengthening muscles, improving stability, and reducing pain, all based on current theory and best practice. He is highly recommended by area surgeons and osteopaths, and on any given day, he is swamped with clients who want the best care for themselves or their loved ones.

Because we are friends, I bust his chops on a regular basis, pretending to get annoyed with him when he recommends a particularly odious weightlifting rep scheme or joking that if he ran a truly full-service operation, he would do my physical therapy exercises for me. Because we are friends, he usually responds with a shrug and a “Yep, life is hard.”

My friend gives the same caliber of advice and expertise to all his clients. Some of them balk at his recommendations like I pretend to, though they are not pretending. These clients will listen to him and then say they would rather not do what he is suggesting, is there any easier way for them to get the same results? He takes it all in stride, patiently re-explaining to his clients what they need to hear, which seems to be at odds sometimes with what they want to do. He and I have joked that for some people, the slogan for his practice should be, “Do what I suggest, or do whatever the hell you want.”

I get it. People as a species often balk at following advice, even if we believe it is in our best interest. I sometimes do this myself. Still, there is never a doubt that I will do what my friend suggests, because I have committed to certain personal goals that his expertise and support can help me achieve.

The same phenomenon happens with instruction and coaching in jiu-jitsu. The instructors I admire will give everything to their students, going the extra mile if they think it will help someone’s progress. For instance, they will add competition-style training to the schedule, take the time to go to tournaments to coach and support, and share resources and connect their students to others who can help them meet their nutrition or life-balance goals.

It is disheartening, then, when students who claim to want to train for competition fail to show up for those sessions. Or when students fail to make weight because they waited until the last minute, which means the instructor who cleared his/her schedule to be available to attend a tournament discovers there is no one to coach. Or when students pick the instructor’s brain for resources on nutrition, cross-training, and the like, only to leave the piece of paper with all the recommendations on the floor for the instructor to find days later, crumpled and covered in shoeprints.

To be clear, I am not saying I wish students would stop asking questions and requesting assistance. There is nothing more gratifying than being able to help someone progress toward a goal, and conscientious instructors take this on willingly. I know this from experience as a student, and I try to embody it as an instructor.

What I am saying is that I would like to encourage all of us to pursue an additional goal: acquiring the self-awareness needed to set goals that reflect our true desires. A group of sages called the Spice Girls once implored, “So, tell me what you want, what you really, really want.” Perhaps the reason people sometimes have a problem taking advice is because they are not truly committed to what the advice will help them do. I am not making a value judgment by saying so: There are plenty of things I am not committed to, and I find that to be perfectly acceptable.

It is when I claim to be committed to a goal, to the point of requesting that others invest their own time and resources in me, and then phone in my efforts or do not pull my weight at all, that the problem arises. No instructor should have to work harder than a student to help that student meet a goal, and no instructor should have to put up with having his or her time and effort wasted.

The moral of the story is, we must know ourselves and our motivations. If we are not sure of our goals, it is okay, even preferable, to think on it. I suspect most instructors would say that helping a student create realistic and attainable goals is always time well spent, especially if it safeguards against spinning wheels in the future.

So, let us all set goals, but let us also be honest about our willingness and ability to realize them. If we “really really want” to <insert goal here>, we must remember that, again in the words of the Spice Girls, we “have got to give.”

About Valerie Worthington

Here, in no particular order, are some of the things that define me: parents who are psychologists, a childhood spent in the New Jersey suburbs except for a year my family spent in Germany, studying English literature and learning theory, always trying for the funny--not matter how self-deprecating, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, a martial art I have been training for almost 20 years. I travel a lot and enjoy snacks just as much. I am reasonably intelligent, but this is undercut by my love of irreverence and childish humor. I am also the author of Training Wheels: How a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Road Trip Jump-Started My Search for a Fulfilling Life.


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