Béla Károlyi is regarded by many as the greatest coach of Olympic gymnasts. Looking at pictures of the man, he doesn’t appear to be a gymnast capable of performing the moves that his gold medal winning athletes are required to execute.

Tiger Woods has a coach (Hank Haney) but Mr. Haney never achieved the same golfing success as his student.

Jim Schmitz coached Team USA in the 1980, 1988, and 1992 Olympics, has trained 11 Olympians – including three athletes who have clean and jerked 500 pounds and two who have snatched 400 pounds – and led teams to national championships seven times.

It is also claimed that the same is true in other major sports as well. Some great coaches were once players, but few had Hall of Fame playing careers. Other good coaches never played but led their teams to victory.

These are examples given as to why coaches don’t require any personal, higher level experience. This notion is false.

Béla Károlyi is in his 70s now. Károlyi WAS a successful competitive athlete, having been a national junior boxing champion, a member of the Romanian hammer throwing team competing in the 1956 Olympics. The man was literally an Olympic-level athlete. He enrolled at the Romania College of Physical Education, studying and practicing gymnastics. He later met his wife Márta through this gymnastics program. After they both seriously participated in and formally studied gymnastics and higher-level athletics, they coached for 20 years after their competitive careers before being recognized internationally.

Károlyi was a high-level athlete and a gymnast first before he coached others.

Tiger Woods’ coach Hank Haney is a Professional Golfers Association Teaching Pro, which requires (among other things) passing the PAT (Player Ability Test), a formally-scored test over multiple rounds of golf with each PAT having a different required target score. PGA Teaching Pros are also required to undergo a formal apprenticeship and pass numerous tests over the course of years.

Haney may not be a champion golfer but he is a high-level golfer with skills formally documented and acknowledged by the PGA.

Jim Schmitz lifted weights since his teen years, with a focus on being strong for football. Since strength coaching was a relatively new field back then, Schmitz learned the basics of barbell lifting by reading magazines and studying now-classic books on strength training. A 1968 graduate of San Francisco State College, Schmitz played on the defensive line and earned MVP honors for his team, but at 5’10” and 200 pounds he didn’t have the size to play in the NFL and decided to change his athletic focus to Olympic-style weightlifting.

Schmitz became good friends with weightlifter Walt Gioseffi and they trained together. Schmitz eventually reached a level where he could Olympic press 281 pounds, snatch 275, and clean and jerk 347 at a bodyweight of 200 pounds.

As Schmitz’s training knowledge grew, so did the number of his Olympic lifting associates. One of the first was Dan Cantore, a future Olympian and American record holder who peaked with best lifts of 281 in the snatch and 358 in the clean and jerk at 148 pounds bodyweight. Schmitz helped with his training and at competitions. He soon realized coaching was his calling and word spread quickly that he was an intelligent coach who could motivate athletes to perform their best at competitions. Soon after Schmitz was coaching Ken Patera, a super-heavyweight lifter (over 242 pounds bodyweight), who became the first American to clean and jerk 500 pounds and the only American to Olympic press over 500 pounds (505.5).

Schmitz wasn’t a champion weightlifter, but he developed an impressive amount of strength, was quite good at the Olympic lifts, and formally competed.

Sports coaches, especially at the professional and college level for most popular team ball sports, are not trainers. They are personnel managers. Their players and athletes arrive pre-selected, having already been successful elsewhere. These “coaches” are managing talent that already exists, created before the athletes arrived. This already-developed talent, skill, and capability is the reason the player made it to the team in the first place.

Coaches, trainers, or anyone offering more than introductory, novice-level instruction must have developed personal skill at a higher level and must have formally proven this higher level skill exists. Failing that, they must be able to point to their proven success stories, accomplished people they’ve coached that openly acknowledge their success is due in part to their coaching.

Training and dispensing knowledge requires overcoming communication barriers. These barriers don’t exist in your own mind. A good coach must be one of his/her own better students/trainees, having personally taken the journey and achieving some success. The coach first developed coaching skills by coaching himself. A coach/trainer that isn’t (or wasn’t) notably skillful in the area being taught is a poor coach.

Firearm instructors need not be champion marksmen but, like Károlyi, Haney, and Schmitz, they should first demonstrate personal skill development at high level. A novice-skilled person can never be a good coach for people striving beyond novice levels. Great skill may not be needed for instructing novices, which most gun owners, military and law enforcement personnel are. It becomes necessary to increase beyond that level, or to help those novices experiencing problems.

Of course, this personal skill development alone is not enough. A coach will ultimately be measured by the skill of his/her students. This requires having the means to measure the success of those students. The best way to determine the means to measure student skills is to have undertaken a formal process to develop and measure said skills personally. Being personally and intimately aware of what works and how best to overcome obstacles and plateaus makes one a better coach. A coach that competed would have the means to provide that measure for students, having first measured him/herself.

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