‘Coaching is about understanding each athlete and their mind’
Clarissa Chun, the first female wrestler from Hawaii to win an Olympic medal, has made a successful transition from her competitive career and now works as an assistant coach for USA Wrestling. Here, the 37-year-old shares her experiences and offers advice to athletes considering following a similar career path.
- Coaching should be a selfless act but it is incredibly rewarding, explains the Olympic medallist
- Continual learning and regular courses are vital for development
- Take advantage of Athlete365’s free mentorship opportunity to explore your own post-career options
Putting the athlete first
To anyone thinking of making the transition to coaching, my advice would be to dive in. Explore the possibilities and be open to continual growth. I was initially uncertain of the path I would take after such a long career in wrestling, but continuing to do what I love made complete sense.
But it’s important to recognise that coaching should be a selfless act; you should want to pour everything you have into the athlete. I work with a mixture of athletes – senior, cadet and junior, schoolgirls – and it’s always about how best I can help them.
If you’re not the greatest at a certain technique, go and search for someone who is – and pursue their advice. Set out to find the optimum way of helping the athletes in all areas, drawing on your own experiences or by speaking with others. You’ll discover there are so many different ways you can help your athletes, beyond your own experiences.
Continually learning and growing
As a coach, you should be regularly attending courses – and this means you never stop learning. On these courses, you get to share ideas with other coaches, many of whom are from different disciplines. I’ve expanded my knowledge by doing courses with coaches from fencing and shooting, for example.
I’ve been coaching for less than two years, but after each tour, each championship, each training camp, I take something new away. Taking notes and looking at how you can do better is important.
Letting go of your ego is key, too. Don’t be afraid to seek out those who have been coaching longer, whether it’s in a local setting or internationally, and asking how they think you did, or how you could do better.
For me, it could be my competitive nature that continues to seek improvement. But it’s simply about being the best that you can be, and this puts you in a better position to help the athlete. The moment you stop learning, you’ll know you’re not in the right place.
One question I often get asked is if travel is harder as an athlete than as a coach? It’s definitely harder as a coach.
With being an athlete, your primary focus is yourself – you take care of your own needs and figure out what works best for you. As a coach, it’s about understanding each athlete and their mind – how they think, how they react to things. Each person is different to how they approach anything, whether it’s practice, competition or simply getting up to start the day.
Coaching is challenging in that way because everyone responds differently. Finding the best way to motivate athletes is key.
Passing on your knowledge
Suggest areas of improvement to the athlete, without being pushy. For example, I’ll make it clear I’m no sports psychologist, but I’ll gently explain what worked for me when I was competing.
But above all else, one of the greatest pieces of advice my coach gave me, which I try to pass on to the young athletes I work with now, was to represent and carry yourself to a standard that would make your grandparents and your great grandparents proud. For women’s wrestling especially, there was a time when we experienced a lot of pushback from those against the idea of women competing in what was considered a male sport. As a result, there’s a microscope on how we carry ourselves – not just on the mat, but off it too.
Setting yourself to a higher standard is always a good rule to live by. The better we can be as a people, the better we can be for ourselves on the field of play.
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