Can Good Athletes make Good Coaches?

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By Erica Maré

It is often expected of professional athletes to become a coach after they have retired. Here is why that does not always work out.

Good players need talent, but they also need good coaches. By being a coach, you place
yourself in a very vulnerable position to public scrutiny and evaluation. It is one of those
jobs where your tactics and ideas are measured by something that is, most of the time,
totally out of your control: winning or losing.
There exists an assumption that professional athletes should go into coaching once they
have retired, but is that really such a good idea? To be a good coach, you don’t have to be a
good athlete. To be a coach you need instincts and a charismatic personality to get your
athletes fired up to play. Having the ability to do the sport yourself won’t help as much as
knowing how to win the game. This because as you get better at the sport you play, your
ability to communicate your understanding or to help others learn the specific skill, often
gets worse.
According to Canadian gold-medal hockey player, Therese Brisson, retired hockey players
who played at high levels rarely make ideal coaches. These ex-athletes know what to do, but
they can’t communicate how they do it. Being able to communicate this type of information
comes from coaching experience, not from playing experience.
In a research study done by Sian Beilock, she asked a golfer to describe a putt he just took.
He replied, “I don’t know, I don’t think while I putt”. When this happens, your performance
comes from outside of your conscious awareness, and this makes it difficult to teach what
you know to someone else. For well-learned activities like taking a free throw or hitting a
simple putt that you have performed many times in the past, thinking about the process of
what you’re doing can be harmful. But it’s not only trying to describe your performance that
disrupts it; performers often can’t put their actions into words in the first place. That’s why
we have good athletes, and then we have good coaches.

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