Having worked as a coach in a private girls boarding school for many years with an Equestrian Centre attached, I have worked with many many coaches coming through the centre.
We have had Olympic medalists, World Cup Riders, Australian representatives in all Olympic Disciplines, Cutting trainers, Natural Horsemanship Clinicians, those just starting out on their coaching journey and everything in between.
I have ridden and coached in several different countries, learning from as many coaches as I could along the way.
One thing that stood out was the difference between those who were professional riders, who coached for a living and those who were professional coaches who rode for self improvement. Of course there are those in the middle also, but the contrast between these two groups of coaches was huge.
I wanted to know what worked, what didn't. Being a good coach isn't necessarily about how much you know. It's about how you can share the information in a way that your student understands so they are able to make changes not because you said so, but because you have helped them know in themselves that this or that approach is the best way to go.
A rider will only make a change for the better long term, if they truly believe that the change is right for them, and they can see how making the change will improve their results in the future. They have to feel that it is right in their body, they have to know it before they will do it consistently.
It doesn't matter if you are coaching pony club kids, polocrosse riders, dressage mums, barrel racers, eventers or someone to jump rabbits. I'm not here to tell you what you should teach, everyone has slightly different views on whats important.
I just here to help you with some tips that I have learned over the years, in my pursuit of excellence in coaching. I have been passionately curious about learning and teaching since I was 15. That is what drives me.
I also work in schools with gifted children and those that are on the Autism spectrim. Often it is a fine line between the two of them. I know that as a coach, I do things very differently. Some say it's a fine line between genius and insanity, I would say I spent more time in the latter but strive towards the first.
Working with Autistic Children is similar to working with horses. You need to be very grounded in yourself, willing to compromise and adapt whilst maintaining clear boundries and a great imagination.
I can honestly say I have watched and immersed myself the coaching style of well over 50 coaches both in Australia and overseas.
Most of these were Equestrian Coaches but I also made the effort to study under coaches from other sports, and within the education system, simply to see how they related with their athletes and what strategies did they use to get the best performance possible.
Here are a few things that I observed from the coaches who were able to get long lasting results. Those who had students competing at a high level successfully, whilst maintaining their integrity and keeping the horse as the number 1 priority.
I have also included some great quotes from some of my mentors
They have imagination and are willing to adapt their coaching style to suit the riders needs.
They are able to keep the riders values as a high priority.
They explains the why's of the exercise, not just the do's
"They are able to make corrections without causing resentment" John Wooden
They continually grow and improve their skills.
"A dares teach must never cease to learn" John Cotton
They are aware of and respect horse and rider thresholds, and respond to them accordingly.
They respect and work collaboratively with other coaches
They start a lesson with an end in mind, but are willing to adapt where necessary.
They are understand fully the mechanics of both horse and rider.
They don't let a rider make the horses problem, their problem
They don't make a riders problem theirs either.
"They have a clean ego. Nothing to defend and nothing to prove" Joe Pane
They talk straight and tell the truth, but always with compassion.
They develop and maintain trust
They show loyalty
They acknowledge the unsaid. They hear what is being said in the silence.
They listen as much as they speak
They have clear expectations and boundries
They are willing to hold themselves accountable, as they also do their students.
They own their mistakes, and know the lessons within them.
They have respect, not through intimidation, but through the ability to have the riders know they have the integrity, competancy and compassion to help them grow
They keep judgement out of the coaching session.
They are 100% present for their students at all times during a coaching session
I am not saying I can do all of the above consistently myself, but it is certainly something I strive towards. For me personally, I'm not out to coach the next Olympic team.
If we look at statistics in eventing for example, in last year there were around 98 riders who have competed 3* and above, 236 2*, 535 1* and 4,737 who competed Prelim or below. That's not even considering the tens of thousands of riders who are competing in other disciplines, pony club or simply ride for the enjoyment.
Nope, I never ridden 4*.
Nope, I have never ridden World Cup and
Nope, I have not ridden a FEI Grand Prix test
but, I have spent tens of thousands of hours studying my craft, as so have many of other wonderful coaches I have had the pleasure to work alongside. We're out there to help the masses, and happy to pass on a student to a coach who has the knowledge, and the experience who understands the art of quality coaching to take my students to the next level.
Yes, there is no doubt, experience and riding ability is hugely important, but not at the expense of those which I have mentioned above!
So, what makes a good coach?
The ability to know your strengths and weaknesses, be proud of them, acknowledge them, and be willing to develop both.
Most importantly, be passionately curious about your craft!