This post is an offshoot of this thread on the Barefoot Runners Society forum. This post made me revisit my thoughts on barefoot coaching, a topic that has been a tad controversial.
For those that may be interested, here are a few things that may help you along the way:
- Develop a basic understanding of the biomechanical principles of exercise. This doesn’t necessarily require an education in anatomy and physiology, but some knowledge is needed. Google and the Internet will serve you well.
- Develop a thorough understanding of the elements of better running form as described from a wide variety of different sources. As of right now, there is no consensus on “the right way to run.” The best approach is to study a variety of methodologies. I recommend ChiRunning, Pose, Good Form Running, and Evolution Running. Each one has pros and cons, all of which you should understand. These three schools take different routes to the same basic goal, but use dramatically different teaching methods, analogies, and learning cues. Think of each one as adding tools to your coaching toolbox. I also recommend reading “Tread Lightly” by Peter Larson and Bill Katovsky. This will help you understand running form from a skeptical, scientific point of view and free you from the dogma of each of these methods. Also start reading Barefoot Ted’s Google group.
- Develop a thorough understanding of barefoot running. This should be achieved through experience and interaction with other barefoot runners. Know common injuries and what they tell you about form, how to individualize transition plans, and be able to relay information about when and where barefoot running is appropriate. Read books by experienced barefoot runners. I suggest Ken Bob Saxton’s, Michael Sandler’s, and my own book as a good primer. Read posts on the Barefoot Runners Society forum.
- Develop your ability to teach. You may be an encyclopedia of running form information, but the information is worthless if you cannot effectively relay the information to your clients. Develop the ability to distill complex ideas into simple teaching points using analogies and stories. The goal isn’t to impress people with your knowledge. The goal is to help your clients run better. Understanding human behavior helps immensely. I recommend Elliot Aronson’s “Social Animal” (old edition is just as good and a fraction of the cost) and John Wooden’s “Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Court.”
- Develop the ability to look at unusual problems from different perspectives to find unorthodox solutions. Really good coaches are able to treat their clients as individuals, which requires the ability to synthesize information and find out-of-the-box solutions. I recommend reading Chris Guillebeau’s “The Art of Non-Conformity.”
- Don’t fall in love with any single idea. There are many means to the same end- better running form. Don’t dismiss any ideas without thorough examination and experimentation. Likewise, don’t buy into one single system or idea. Always remain a bit open-minded and skeptical.
The Certification Issue
My long-time readers may recall my rants against the barefoot running coach certifications (or any certs for that matter.) I still stand by those opinions. I firmly believe certifications are unnecessary at best and flat out destructive at worst. They inhibit the free sharing of information about a topic that’s in its infancy. They promote the idea that any one single idea or concept is superior at the exclusion of other ideas or concepts. That’s just bad teaching.
They CAN be useful in one situation, however.
If you collect multiple certifications from different schools of thought, the information gained can be invaluable. Certifications only become problematic when future coaches only earn a single cert, then begin teaching it as if it is the only approach. Clearly no one method is the answer for all, and any good coach will recognize that. A variety of approaches allows a coach to individualize their instruction based on the specific needs of their client.
We need more coaches. We need people that have a passion to help people. If you have any interest, I urge you to consider coaching. Helping someone become physically active is an immensely rewarding experience. My suggestions here aren’t meant to be a “you need this” post, rather a suggestion for some guidance to gain some important coaching skills.
Who’s considering becoming a coach? Is there anything you’d add to my list above?