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Do you push, pull or lead when you coach?

Tim Warneka explains why you should coach athletes the Black Belt Way.

You love coaching sports. You regularly coach, read all about your sport, and enjoy how coaching makes you feel…most of the time. But what about those times when you feel less than adequate - when you are having trouble coaching a particular child, teen, or adult? What is the problem? After working closely with sports coaches for many years, I have discovered that the problem more often lies with HOW coaches coach than with WHAT they coach. In other words, when conflicts arise between a player and a coach, the underlying problem most often is that the coach has not emotionally engaged the player.

The Importance of Emotional Engagement

Coaching someone into emotional engagement requires a high level of Emotional intelligence on the part of the coach. Emotional intelligence is the measure of how well coaches handle themselves and their relationships. While emotions are often erroneously seen as unsporting and unnecessary, nothing could be further from the truth. Recent research shows that emotions are very much the lifeblood of every team and every winning athlete. Successful coaches are coaches who inspire strong emotional connections between the players and the coach and among the players themselves.

The Black Belt Way In my life, I enjoy playing sports, and I have had some terrific coaches. Since 1989, I have been studying the revolutionary non-violent martial art of Aikido. One of the most modern martial arts, Aikido was developed by Morihei Ueshiba (c. 1883-1968) - the greatest martial artist who ever lived. Often called "The Way of the Spirit of Harmony," Aikido is the physical embodiment of the Win/Win strategy. In Aikido, Master Ueshiba was able to integrate the wisdom of over 2,000 years of warrior experience.

Aikido is a very difficult art that demands an enormous investment of time and effort. Earning a black belt in Aikido typically takes anywhere from five to ten years of intensive practice several times each week. While the results are well worth the effort, not everyone can make such an enormous commitment. To help you become an even better coach, I have combined the strength of Emotional Intelligence with the power of Aikido to create a coaching process I call the Black Belt Way. I use the Black Belt Way principles with individuals, teams & organizations to create greater success in their lives. Let us explore five coaching strategies from the Black Belt Way that you can implement today.

Five Tips for Effective Coaching the Black Belt Way

1: Stop Pushing & Pulling Unnecessarily

My many years on the Aikido mat have led me to important insight for coaching athletes on the field: pushing and pulling athletes is always less effective than genuinely leading them. Athletes are biologically hard-wired to resist being pushed or pulled, so effective coaches resist the impulse to push or pull them more than necessary. Coaches who master these impulses are more successful on the field. Coaches who learn to engage athletes emotionally have the power to channel their players' energy in ways that generate success for the entire team.

2: Seek Constant Improvement

Star athletes continuously seek to improve their skills, and the same should be true for coaches. Learning how to lead athletes more effectively can be challenging, but the same principles you use in coaching others can be applied to yourself. Many coaches make the mistake of achieving a certain level and then resting on their laurels. Do not make the same error. When was the last time you took a coaching class or implemented a new coaching strategy? Seek coaching success by continually improving yourself and your coaching methods.

3: Remember to Practice

Every successful athlete, from Tiger Woods to winning Olympic athletes spends far more time in practice than they do playing. To improve continuously at coaching, you must practice, just the same as the athletes around you are practicing. Sound strange to think about practicing your coaching skills? It should not. You will be a more successful coach if you commit to refining your coaching skills through practice. Rather than putting in time on the field, treat every interaction with your athletes as a chance to practice a new coaching skill. Pick a coaching skill that you would like to hone and consciously practice it - for a day, a week, or even longer. Then pick another skill and do the same thing. You will be an outstanding coach in no time at all.

4: Trust Your Body's Wisdom

Experienced athletes know that our bodies contain unique wisdom, which I call somatic intelligence, the body-based wisdom that allows athletes to make countless fluid, split-second decisions to hit the ball, hold the pose, score the point, and win the game. More and more scientific research is pointing to the value of somatic intelligence in coaching and other positions of leadership because somatic intelligence is a core component of Emotional Intelligence, which is a better predictor of success than either previous experience or high IQ. As a coach, being able to leverage your somatic intelligence gives you an advantage when the pressure is on, the game gets hot, and tempers grow short.

5: Even Coaches Need Coaches

No athlete ever made it to the Olympics without a coach. The same is true for coaches. One of the best ways for you to create success as a coach is to partner with a mentor, life coach, or fellow coach who can help you sharpen your coaching skills. You can also watch other coaches, adapt what you like about their coaching style into your own, and ignore coaching practices that you do not like. Similar to Olympic athletes who win the gold, the time and effort you put into this learning relationship will pay off with many more successful coaching strategies.


You are a good coach, but you could be even better. To increase your coaching success, why not apply the same strategies that have worked for warriors for thousands of years? Appropriately used, these five strategies from the Black Belt Way will provide you with a valuable advantage for success in the coaching field. You have to coach, so why not be successful at it? Try coaching athletes the Black Belt Way, and you will be pleased with the results you get.

Page Reference

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  • WARNEKA, T. (2006) Do you push, pull or lead when you coach? [WWW] Available from: [Accessed

About the Author

Tim Warneka holds a black belt and is the author of "Leading people the black belt way: conquering the five core problems facing leaders today", a fresh approach to leadership that combines the strength of emotional intelligence with the power of the revolutionary non-violent martial art of Aikido. Tim uses his unique principles to create success for individuals, teams, and organizations through leadership coaching, consulting, training, and keynote speaking.