This sentence is a defining phrase in UK Military leadership and in militaries across the world. It establishes the necessity for high standards to be maintained for top class forces, and the role of the leader in ensuring them. It can apply as much to standards of dress as to the application of military education and training. It’s about discipline in both the leader and the led. If you let the little things slide, then big things will slide.
In coaching, especially in coaching high skill movements and in coaching towards complex goals, the same applies. A Snatch, a Clean, even a Deadlift, can be broken down in to a series of separate movements that require discipline to get right. The journey towards a lengthy and complex goal equally requires discipline in maintaining nutrition, sleep, adherence to the programme, and so forth. The mindset that allows a sloppy setup in the Snatch, or allowing 1, 2, then 3 days off of a programme can easily become habit and will only undermine the goal.
I write this after having spent the last 7 years training and coaching others in 3 CrossFit gyms (2 non military) and at a personal level, with hundreds athletes, on a variety of team, group personal goals. I am not a military physical training instructor, although have spent those last 7 years developing multiple CrossFit and formal coaching qualifications
I have also spent almost half of my life in an organisation where broad, functional fitness is paramount to success. From leaping through windows with weapons and kit, to covering up to 30 miles with 25kg in 7-8 hours cross-country, to controlled descents out of helicopters and ascents up cliffs…and in all global environments, and at a moment’s notice. To maintain this level of ability, you can imagine the broad fitness training required at a group and an individual level. At a group level, we maintain extremely high standards of success to be achieved, with mandatory tests and very robust group build/maintain programmes.
However, at an individual level people are generally left to their own devices to train, either to a proposed programme or to their own. Increasingly, definitely as a result of the CrossFit boom, free weights are used, as well as far more complex movements, especially gymnastics. With these new movements comes an increased risk to the individual…when performed badly. This is not opinion. It is fact. Increasingly, individuals are seeing movements performed in a gym, lifting a barbell and lifting it badly. Or they are seeing tyre flips, attempting the largest tyre themselves and lifting it badly. Or seeing handstand walks, attempting it themselves and…. So on. The same is true of sports nutrition…a little bit of information or mimicking others…and a goal is undermined or even disastrously ruined.
So, as a coach, trained to deliver those movements correctly, walks in to the room and sees poor form (or sees poor form being ‘taught’ to others despite that person having no such training whatsoever), what should they do?
Should they continue with their own workout and ignore it? Do they have a responsibility to step in and propose guidance? Should they ignore poor form and only step in for dangerous form?
There is no definitive answer.
However, if is my personal opinion that “the standard you walk past is the standard you accept”.
As a qualified coach and qualified to identify & rectify faults in some movements, I feel a responsibility to step in, especially when I know the movement to be dangerous – and even more of an imperative if someone is ‘teaching’ dangerous form. I feel this from a personal discipline point of view and am not being a dick when I step in to help out, regardless of the ego underneath the bar at the time. Where I am not qualified, but still know the ‘thing’ to be wrong, it is my responsibility to point them to a credible and qualified reference; for me, this is especially the case with nutrition. To walk past, and then to see a future injury or failure knowing you could have intervened, is a weakness.
If a coach walks in and fails to maintain standards, how does that look to others in the room who know you are a coach, know that what is being done is wrong, and see you do nothing? How have you maintained you credibility? It tells others that you do not hold high standards.
For me, virtuosity in coaching is as (more) important than virtuosity in the movement by the athlete themselves. That is not to say that the coach must be able to perform it 100% correctly, of course not, but they must step in when they know what is being done is wrong and offer advice and guidance to rectify it. If the athlete chooses to ignore you, then your ego is the thing that must then back down – there is only so much you can do (“lead a horse to water but can’t make them drink it “), but your conscience is then clear.
If you walk past one person, then you just might walk past the next person, and the next. Before long, the standards around you fall and you have not only a massive job on your hands when you are called upon to remedy it, but no credibility to stand in front of them anyway.
I’d be really happy to read and discuss your thoughts on this.
“The Standard You Walk Past is the Standard You Accept”