Learn,  Lift

A Good Coach

I signed up for another Crossfit competition. In July, I’ll be competing in the Individual – Scaled category at WODSunset in Niterói. I’m perpetually looking for competitions with either mixed-gender teams or individual events since, if I’m on a team, I have a built-in English speaker to help me translate when my brain is too fried and, alone, I have the capacity to only compete with myself.

I’m excited.

It’s a commitment though. I remember signing up for a 10k a few years ago after a successful 5k run. Promptly after I signed up, I stopped training due to work and travel but thought, “Hey, I’ll give it a shot and take my time. I’m not trying to win.” Big mistake. I got so winded after the first mile that I decided to call it quits and walked over to the diner nearby to accept my defeat.

In the last few weeks, I’ve felt such conflict between travel, work, and seeing friends/family before heading back to Brazil for a bit. To prioritize all of that, plus training, is nearly impossible, which means I’ve had to compromise on the latter. After taking a one-month break in February, I want to keep myself as strong and consistent as possible in order to do my best in July.

From time to time, I have a nearly out-of-body experience that makes me wonder what on earth prompted me to start focusing so much on being an athlete. I never liked sports and didn’t even make it through a whole season of basketball in elementary school. (I was, quite literally, the worst on the team.) My dad was a musician and my mom studied fashion, so when I started getting interested in poetry and art, that made a whole lot more sense to me. While I still consider both myself, and my parents, creative people, I don’t think any of us would have expected any sort of focus on physical activity from me.

But then I think of someone I never got to know very well: my maternal grandfather. Arguably the most athletic person in our family, he played football all through high school and most of college. Afterwards, he became a Physical Education teacher and coach. A very good one at that, from what I hear. He died of leukemia when I was very young, but I’ve heard many, many stories through friends, family, and students at a dinner/fundraiser his high school hosts every year in his name.

Lately, comparing the coaching style between the United States and Brazil, I find I have a lot more opinions on good coaching than I realized. I’ll go off on rants about how important it is to watch, listen, and get feedback from your athletes first before offering advice to ensure that it’s tailored to them and their needs. How important it is to understand and respect the differences in everyone’s bodies and goals. How careful you should be with your language around strength, food, diet, nutrition – you never know what battles your athletes have fought before coming to you.

In just three months, thanks to some very good coaches who took the time to really watch me and ask me how I felt in each movement, I’ve been able to remove the pain I was feeling in my wrists, elbows, and shoulders when doing cleans and snatches. My form was wrong. No matter how much recovery I did or how much practice, I would never have fixed the problem if it weren’t for their level of patience and expertise. It would have been very easy for them to just keep shouting out generic cues and tips. Instead, they chose to record my movements, watch from different angles, ask me to try different variations – and then ask for my feedback on how it felt. I have so much respect and admiration for them. The gift of knowledge is indeed a special one.

So when I pause to reflect on how much time, effort, energy, and emotion I’ve been putting into my own training and how important it is to have a good team of coaches around you, I think back to my grandfather. The way he used to watch, be quiet, observe, and then provide feedback instead of pushing, pushing, pushing. I think that he too much have pushed through the pain during practice and games. How he too impacted the way his athletes saw themselves, their skills, their bodies, and their futures through his coaching.

It makes me smile.


  • Chaitanya

    That reminds me how much I miss my workout coach. As well as made me think about how can I be a good coach at work. Thanks for reminding me the importance of good coaching.

    • Erica Varlese

      Oh my gosh, yes! It applies to so much – especially at work, as a lead, or doing support, or any of that. It’s such an under-appreciated skill to know how to teach and how to encourage people to use that knowledge.

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