Do as i say, not as i do. Over weight man in karate uniform with black belt

Do as I say, not as I do: How a lack of congruency in your coaching can cost you members

Building congruency in your coaching is all about building alignment between the values you promote and the actions you take. We are all human and as such, at least some of our values will be aspirational. By this, I mean that most martial arts coaches will at least make a solid attempt to ‘walk their talk’, even if they don’t manage it every time. When there is a disconnection between what you say and what you do, there is a very real risk of losing the trust of the children and parents you serve. A lack of trust in the case of teaching martial arts to children can lead to the lack to a loss of authority and credibility.

If you are from my generation, at some point you may have heard your parents use the phrase ‘Do as I say, not as I do’. I guess that back then, our parents didn’t really understand the incongruence and confusion they caused by saying one thing, but doing another. If you look a child in the eye while performing a drill the wrong way while describing the right way, what do you think the outcome will be? Experience suggests that it will be less of ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ and more ‘Monkey see, monkey do’.

Many of us have gone through the process of building a list of club values but how many coaches actually live by them, even though they were often the ones that created them in the first place? If you have been in martial arts long enough, you will have seen the coach that promotes healthy eating, only to live off junk food. They chastise their younger students for not trying hard enough when they often fail at the first hurdle of a new challenge. They sell humility to their followers only to spend the majority of their time promoting themselves and their own interests.

Congruency means leading by example

A lack of congruency will not only harm your coaching but also your marketing efforts too. If you promote yourself as the premium martial arts club in your area and new prospects turn up to find a rundown, dirty training hall with a martial arts coach in an old t-shirt and tracksuit bottoms, they will be wondering if they have the right venue. If you market your club as a great place to build a child’s confidence and you throw them into open sparring in their very first session, the child is unlikely to come in for a second session (even if they make it through their first). Take the time to ensure that your marketing materials represent the activity that goes on in your classes. Where you are pushing specific values, make sure that the way you teach your classes is in line with coaching methods that develop those values.

Want tips to help build great engagement and retention? Sign up for our wEEKLY NEWSLETTER

How a child learns new behaviour is pretty complicated but one thing we do know is that observation has an important part to play in the process of learning. Psychologist Albert Bandura documented a Social Learning Theory in which he proposed that modelling and observation played had a key role in the learning process. While we often think that telling children how we want them to behave is enough, they will spend more time modelling what you do than listening to what you say.

In line with Abraham Maslow’s research (Maslow’s hierarchy of needs), psychologist Carl Rogers believed that humans have one basic motive, to fulfil one’s potential (self-actualise). However, Rogers believed that for this to take place, they require an environment of ‘genuineness’. In fact, he lists congruency as one of the main factors of being able to self-actualise. We all want to help our students to develop great character and reach their full potential. To create an environment in our martial arts classes that will facilitate this development, we need to ensure that we are trusted by our members. For this to happen, we need to have congruency between what we say and what we do. Without this, we are unlikely to form connections with our students that will encourage them to train with us for years to come.

One of the side effects of losing the students trust is a disengagement with the club and what we teach. When this happens, children that have been model students in the past can become unresponsive and even disruptive. Often this is seen as a problem caused by the child but this is not always the case. A study carried out just this year (2021) looking at the level of congruence between parents and children, found that the higher the level of congruency between the parents and child’s perception, the lower levels of antisocial behaviour. If you want a class of engaged students, make sure you are walking your walk.

I know in most cases, what I am telling you is nothing new. In fact, you could go as far as to say that most of what I have said is common sense. If this is the case though, why do we still see a disconnect between what coaches say and what they do? This could of course come down to a lack of self-control. We are all human and there is no way we can be on the ball all the time. In fact, it is most probably the case that when we sat down and documented our club’s values, we did so setting the bar quite high. This is fine but now we have to push ourselves to live up to those values. If we expect that from our student’s we need to lead the way ensure we factory congruency in to everything we do.

3 thoughts on “Do as I say, not as I do: How a lack of congruency in your coaching can cost you members”

  1. I liked this article and yes you do make the point that some of the content is known, obvious even. However walking your talk does take actual focus. Every minute of every lesson instructors are being watched (and judged) a true human trait is that we judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their actions. I liked this article as a solid reminder that the privilege of coaching youngsters comes with a very real responsibility to behave in a way that is congruent to ones preached values.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment Andy. I totally agree with ‘walking your talk’ taking focus…….. and practice. As humans, we are going to get it wrong occasionally but just like our students, we need to just keep practising. Saying that, it’s one thing to get it wrong and realise this and it’s another thing to be totally oblivious to it 🙂

      It is easy to forget the position we are in as it’s only in the years and decades that follow that the results of many of the lessons are realised.


  2. Really interesting research and observations Phil. I love the analogue with Maslov’s hierarchy postulated by Rodgers and his concept of an environment of genuineness, providing an enlightened path towards the panacea of Self Actualisation. A lesson for us all perhaps on life’s quest.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *