By Leandro Lutz
Being an athlete is one thing, being a coach is quite another. You have probably encountered this scene: everyone admires you as an athlete and has already asked you for technique advice, training tips, drills or you may have already given Nordic skiing lessons to your family and friends.
But not everyone has the ease of coaching or pedagogical expertise to teach in the best way. Communication in the art of coaching and teaching is fundamental! But what if the language is a barrier? What if cultural differences and distinct levels of athletes are an obstacle? In the professional circuit of Visma Ski Classics, we have pro teams from various countries and athletes of diverse nationalities, cultures and languages. So, what’s the key to make everything flow smoothly?
The world of sports has made me a global citizen, I can communicate in different languages, I know many countries in the Americas, Europe and Asia and this time the sport brought me to China!
I came to coach roller-skiing in Shanghai and my new athletes are professional rowers and kayakers. By my side I have an interpreter with basic knowledge of technical English for sports training and the singularities of Nordic ski training, and the athletes just speak rudimentary English.
My training methodology is to be with the athletes at all times throughout the workout, whether skiing together in interval training, doing technique workout or in dry-land exercises. Then, most of the time, I do not have the interpreter helping me out. So, how do I communicate and pass on my knowledge?
KISS – Keep It Simple Ski coach!
This acronym summarizes one of the main ideas of what I have learned in my Nordic Skiing Coach Course in the USA. To be a standout professional you do not have to “talk difficult” or use the most modern means of technology, just be simple, practical, focus on the main parts of training, have patience and a lot of joy.
Yes, in a traditional culture like China, breaking the barriers that have always existed in education, culture and sports and bringing athletes to the same level as coaches is one of the fundamental steps for the all-encompassing integration. Even though I am from Brazil, an exotic country for winter sports, I am facing this challenge of the great linguistic barrier when coaching roller-skiing and being in a country with millennial culture and traditions.
The American coach Vern Gambetta speaks with propriety: “Teaching is communicating and communication is the key to effective coaching. Communication has the dimensions of sending and receiving. To be effective we must cultivate both dimensions of communication. Learn to listen as well as speak. Sometimes it is as simple as being there to support the athlete; words are not always the answer”.
Coaching is a huge challenge, but with that simple expression, KISS – Keep It Simple Ski coach, I’m passing on my knowledge to athletes and other coaches, teaching from the beginners to the most developed athletes, always with a smile on my face, showing sympathy for everyone and treating all athletes as equals, as if they were the best in the World.
Everyone can teach and everyone can learn. My girlfriend is an example of overcoming an obstacle in her life, and she has taught me some very valuable life lessons. She has lost her hearing but with a Herculean effort of communication she speaks and does lip reading.
From her, I have learned that communication is much more than listening and speaking, it is feeling, it is paying attention to the other person and it is looking straight in the eyes. Feel the sounds, feel the emotions and energy of the athletes and pay attention to what they intend to speak or express. I always put myself in her shoes and it helps me to communicate regardless of the language and culture I need to understand.
So, I believe that the art of coaching does not only depend on speaking and listening but on looking and feeling, from the youngest to the oldest, from the most experienced to the beginner and from the athletes to the coaches from different cultures, everyone can understand and share knowledge and learning.
By being here, I have gained the needed confidence to communicate properly. I can detect my success by seeing a smile on their faces after each training session; I can see that the hunger for knowledge and learning is present.
I came to coach roller-skiing, and I am already teaching English and speaking about Brazil and my experiences as an athlete in Europe, the USA and South America. This is the globalized world where everyone helps each other to grow together and where each one contributes to our common goal.
I coach and in return I receive gigantic lessons for life. It may be my Brazilian way of life and dealing with all the challenges that everyday life brings us, but I can tell you that a smile on the face and a glitter in the eyes of those who do what they like transposes any barrier.
Do not be intimidated by the obstacles of communication, perhaps the solution is simple and closer than you expect!
Keep It Simple Ski coach!