I was a coach before I even knew it. As a kid, I trained karate and spent every free moment playing soccer, basketball, running, and racing. I was very competitive and wanted to excel at everything. I looked up to my older brother, national sprint champion and excellent football player, and soon my peers were looking up to me. Coaching followed naturally, as others started coming to me for guidance.
I believe that everything is built on relationships and interactions, and my coaching philosophy has deep roots in dojo kun – the guiding principles of karate:
- Seek perfection of character
I have coached many athletes, and each of them was different from the others. To be effective, I had to build trusting relationships and lead by example by becoming what I call a servant-leader. I help athletes take responsibility and ownership of their results, but it is also important for me to help build better men and women who will thrive in society.
- Be faithful
I came to understand that a coach promotes the emergence of a personality, its intrinsic values and specific talents. He helps the athlete to allow himself to be his true self. I once worked with an athlete who seemed “uncoachable.” We used to butt heads all the time. I didn’t know how to approach him. I couldn’t give him any constructive feedback, until I realized that his former coach used to be rough on him, and the only feedback he ever had was always negative. I told him that the athlete he used to be should give up his life, so he could go on to realize his full potential. That opened the floodgates of emotions and our relationship grew from there for the better. His performance started to gradually improve. He is a different person today.
Coaching is an ever-evolving field, and the nature of my job is to push boundaries – both the athletes’ and my own. Having understood this, I came to the conclusion that the status quo is the “cancer” of coaching. I had to learn to accept feedback, which meant stepping out of my comfort zone in order to grow. How am I doing? By asking this question I’m getting more information on how I influence and affect the performance of others around me.
- Respect others
Giving feedback to an athlete is a very delicate, yet necessary, operation. There is no power to exercise in this relationship. Without confidence, empathy, respect and unconditional acceptance of what the coach communicates, feedback can become a weapon, triggering defence mechanisms. The athlete may refuse to accept change and keep repeating her mistakes, or worse. Again, the quality of the relationship is essential.
- Refrain from violent behaviour
Working as a strength and conditioning trainer with athletes coming from other coaches, I realized that communication extends beyond what happens in my gym. If the other coach is focused on one aspect of the athlete’s performance, and I’m blindly working on something else, it’s a recipe for disaster. So I started to build better relationships with other trainers. It’s not an easy task, given many coaches’ need for control. But even if it’s sometimes difficult to work with people with vast expertise and big egos, it is essential to obtain the best results for the athlete. Realizing it has allowed me to see the coaching process more clearly, taking my own ambition and ego out of the equation.
Gabriel Sylla has been in the coaching business for 17 years. A former high-level karate athlete, today he owns a strength and conditioning business for elite athletes and trains general population clients as well. He is pursuing a degree in high performance coaching and technical leadership, and is also coach and head of strength and conditioning for the national team of Senegal. Send Gabriel a message or request an appointment.