Communicating Your Philosophy and Methodology

Identifying and explaining how you work with athletes is critical to growing your coaching business.

roundtable discussion on philosophy versus methodology

Your coaching philosophy and methodology are central to your coaching in many ways. These foundational aspects will likely be how athletes and many others in your field come to think of you—what makes you different and what makes you successful. You should be willing, and even eager, to communicate your philosophy and methodology to your athletic world in some way.

The most respected and effective coaches I have known over the last few decades made their mark by publicizing how and why they coach. So how do you make your platform for coaching known, without being a nuisance? I would suggest that you promote it to your potential audience in your sport—and do it over and over in subtle ways. Let’s explore how you can do that.

Coaching philosophy: The basic beliefs that guide your everyday behavior.

  • Who are you as a coach?
  • Why do you do things the way you do?

Start by keeping your philosophy simple. Since your philosophy is the starting place for establishing your methodology, it should be easy to understand. In the Methodology and Philosophy workshop I offered my philosophy: “That which is measured improves.” And I explained that it reflects my methodology of determining the weaknesses that are holding an athlete back from achieving his or her goal.

If those weaknesses are determined and measured frequently and regularly, they are practically guaranteed to improve because they are always uppermost in your mind and in the athlete’s. Why am I giving this workout? Both the athlete and I know the reason: We are trying to improve a weakness that is preventing the athlete from realizing goal success. It’s simple.

Of course, it isn’t always easy to identify a weakness. This is usually a huge challenge and may come from any area of the athlete’s life. The weakness may be physiological: The athlete may simply need the fitness to go faster for a given distance. It could be mental: The athlete may not believe they are capable of achieving the goal. It could be social: The athlete’s spouse, partner, close friend, or other important person in their life is not supportive of the challenge. It could be a lifestyle matter: The athlete has too many responsibilities in their life and as a result doesn’t get enough sleep or is always psychologically stressed. Or perhaps the athlete has a terrible diet.

Regardless of what you decide the weaknesses are, your job as the coach is to help the athlete “fix” the weakness. Some weaknesses in this brief list above are obviously much more difficult for you as the coach to strengthen than others. But then, nobody said it was going to be easy as a coach.

“Identifying and explaining how you coach to your world of athletes is at the heart of growing your business.”

Joe Friel

In the above example, you can see how my coaching methodology comes directly out of my simple, easily understood philosophy. Can you identify yours? Once you can, then you can focus on how to communicate your way of coaching—your philosophy and methodology—to the athletic community. Let me turn the pages of my coaching history back once again to explain how I did this.

Of course, you are most certainly facing different obstacles as a coach than I did in getting started. In the first several years of coaching I didn’t know anyone else who was making a living as a freelance coach. That certainly isn’t your situation. There may be hundreds of coaches in your sport within a small radius of where you live. But my solution to the problem I faced may give you some ideas of how to promote your business. After all, identifying and explaining how you coach to your world of athletes is at the heart of growing your business.

Coaching methodology: The system that informs your work with athletes.

  • What you do as a coach and how you do it.

Within eight years of my entry into freelance coaching, my business had reached its growth limit in the small town I lived in. Just about everyone there who was willing to pay for coaching was my client. And there weren’t that many throughout my state (Colorado) that I hadn’t already reached out to in some way. The potential market of serious athletes who thought they needed a coach to improve their performance was rather small in the 1980s. So I decided I needed to grow my coaching business by making myself known throughout the country.

“The key to the success of this marketing plan was to make sure the stuff I wrote reflected my coaching philosophy and methodology.”

Joe Friel

In those first eight years, the primary promotion that grew my coaching business was a weekly column on fitness I wrote for the hometown newspaper. Over several years the local community of athletes became aware of who I was and how I coached. Of course, I didn’t come out and just state my philosophy in those articles. It simply became apparent over time to those who read my brief piece every week.

When it came time to grow my business beyond Colorado, I could do it much the same way as I had done in my hometown. I just needed to think bigger and write for wider-reaching publications and magazines. By this time I had written more than 400 newspaper columns that could be the start of magazine articles. I identified several national magazines that I figured many in my potential market subscribed to, and every month I wrote a letter to the editors of those magazines suggesting an article I could write for them. I was persistent. And it finally worked. Within a few months the editor of Women’s Sports & Fitness Magazine began to wonder who this pushy person was that kept sending letters to her and finally decided to give me a chance.

I wrote my first article for them. They seemed to like it and gave me more assignments. Then other magazines also gave me a chance. The byline for every article I wrote included contact information. Within a few months I was being contacted by athletes around the country. My plan had worked. But the key to the success of this marketing plan was to make sure the stuff I wrote reflected my coaching philosophy and methodology—even if I never came flat out and stated them. That’s not so hard to do if you know your “why” and “how.”

My point here is that your philosophy and methodology are central to who you are as a coach. If someone reads something you wrote for a media platform, meets you at a race, listens to you speak at a clinic, reads your comments on social media, visits your website, or makes contact with you in any way, they should come away having a good sense of what kind of person you are and how you coach.

The starting place for this is a simple and easily understood philosophy that is apparent in your methodology and even in you personally as a professional coach. You must live your philosophy. People should not be confused about what you stand for in coaching. If your philosophy is too long or convoluted by scientific terminology then you will simply leave them confused. And you shouldn’t be spouting out your philosophy like a fountain all the time. Be subtle. Don’t force it on people. What you stand for as a coach should be apparent in who you are. And just as with your coaching style, be willing to listen and be of help in any way you can.