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Don't Worry! Athletes Won't Fire You if They Get Too Good Too Fast

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What You’ll Learn

  • The difference between calibrative and directive feedback and its importance to your coaching style 
  • How to leverage calibrative feedback to make your athletes more autonomous, which will help you grow your business in the process 
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A coaching relationship usually begins and ends according to an athlete’s needs. 

Maybe the athlete needs direction and a roadmap. Maybe their own motivation is lacking, or maybe they’re looking for someone with specific experience and skills that can complement and enhance their own. 

BUT one thing is sure: the athlete is looking for help with something they can’t do on their own. And, at some point, they decided that the best way to get that help is to find a coach. 

At first, you as coach are in charge. You’re the one directing the athlete on what to do. 

This type of coaching relies on what is known as directive feedback. 

That is, you directly set the training plans, initiate the majority of communications (posts in CoachNow) and provide the feedback necessary to get off to a good start. You push the athlete to work harder, supply that little extra dose of social pressure, and give external motivation to help them achieve their goals. 

And don’t get me wrong, directive feedback is valuable at the beginning of a coaching relationship. 

When your athletes first begin working with you, the two of you essentially speak a different language, complete with unique nomenclature, acronyms, style, etc.

Every coach is a little different, and the directive phase of the relationship ensures that you and your athlete create a shared understanding. A foundation that you will build upon as your relationship progresses.

But here’s the thing: you shouldn’t seek to be a dictator in your coaching relationships. While it may be useful at first, a directive feedback loop shouldn’t serve as your long-term goal. 

In fact, I’d say that a defining feature separating a good coach from a great coach is how autonomous they empower their athletes to be. 

Great coaches support and encourage their athletes to be autonomous through calibrative feedback. 

And, in my opinion, your goal from the start of any coaching relationship should be to shift from directive to calibrative feedback ASAP. 

So… What do I mean by “Calibrative Feedback”? 

In a calibrative coaching relationship, the ATHLETE takes the lead by documenting what they're learning, while you, the coach, provide supporting feedback as they gain momentum.

In other words, in the calibrative setting, the athlete is in the driver's seat leading their own development. 

Here you aren’t teaching the basics of large, sweeping movements, or encouraging massive shifts in their training plans. 

You’re there to make sure everything is moving on the right track, without ruling over the entire process. You simply provide subtle, functional feedback and ongoing support that keeps them moving forward efficiently. 

In short, provide insights that benefit your Athletes during, after, and even in-between your live sessions. 

You aren’t always going to be with them when they need to perform well in their sport – you owe it to them to make them autonomous. If they need you by their side to do well, you are doing them a great disservice. 

Full Stop. 

Now, I know what you are thinking.. 

The knee-jerk reaction I’ve seen from coaches is one of fear: “Why would I teach my athlete to not need me anymore? Doesn’t that make me obsolete?”


In fact, after decades of being in this industry, I can confidently say that the opposite is true. 

Now, obviously there is nuance here… Of course, you need to provide tangible value and have enough experience to help your athletes reliably improve their game. 

But assuming you’re good at what you do, I promise that, if you master the art of calibrative feedback (in conjunction with asynchronous communication and micro-touch points), your athletes will not only improve, but will also feel empowered and motivated to improve on their own. 

The result? They’ll get better faster. 

And I’ve never once seen a coach get fired for making their athlete too good, too fast.

By focusing predominantly on calibrative instead of directive feedback, you haven’t made yourself less valuable… You’ve made yourself a necessary ingredient to their success. 

Because here’s the deal: your athletes are always going to have questions. There’s always gonna be room for improvement. And there’s always valuable feedback you can provide. 

They’ll stay with you because they value your input and feedback when they experience the results from constructing and acting on their training plans. They just no longer need you to supply EVERYTHING or rely on you ENTIRELY for direction. 

Shifting from directive to calibrative feedback helps your bottom line and the growth of your business in two major ways. 

First, as I hope I illustrated above, when your athlete gets better, you become a key ingredient to their success.

A happy client is a retained client and, though it might be counterintuitive at first, the more autonomous you can make your athlete, the more empowered and confident they will be in the long run. 

Second, helping your athletes become more autonomous will help you bring on more clients. 

Calibrative feedback, by its very definition, relies much less on you than directive feedback. You no longer need to create elaborate lesson plans indefinitely, pester your athletes to practice more, or spend hours sending long emails or analyzing every second of their video footage. 

As a result, you’ll have more time to bring on extra clients, while still delivering immense value to each. Over time, you’ll train your athletes to value your input, but not hold their hand every step of the way. 

Indeed, you should think of the transition from directive to calibrative as a form of “training”. Don’t make this change overnight - rather demonstrate over time how less, more focused feedback can yield better results in less time. 

Once they start to see the benefits, they’ll come to love this style of coaching. 

And, you know me... I’m always hoping to help you save time while increasing your impact. 

If you heed the advice in this post, you’ll do exactly that. 

I hope you found this helpful! 

As always, we are super open to all feedback on all of our content. Just shoot us your thoughts:

Here’s to empowering your athletes and saving time!

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