What’s the worst thing about coaching?

And more importantly, how to overcome it.

That’s a rather strange question.

Anyone who gets to make a real living coaching is supposed to avoid such negative thinking because, as the saying goes, “If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.”1

But as I talk with and observe coaches all over the world, I know that for many, the “dream job” has turned into more of a nightmare.

The “worst thing” could be many things, but what is it for you?

  • Is it the time away from family?
  • Is it the angry parent who writes you a nasty email after their child saw more bench than playing time during last Tuesday’s game?
  • Is it the administrative tasks you’re expected to handle on top of your other (more important) duties?
  • Is it the unsolicited advice and opinions from others without skin in the game?
  • Or is it the soul-crushing defeat you feel after you invest more time than you had to give and energy you had to spare working with an athlete only to see them sputter and get left in the dust as others pass them by?(“Why did I waste my time?”, you ask yourself.)

These are all legitimate. Coaches everywhere face struggles like this every single day and they are very real.

But as I look around in coaching, there’s something more pervasive. A problem that I believe is at the core of all these other problems coaches face.

The Unscalability of Time

While doing some research for this article, I asked my Twitter followers what’s the worst part about being a coach.

Jack Han quickly replied that his time isn’t scalable — unless he writes or records his teaching.

I couldn’t agree more.

Coaches throughout history have felt this same pain. 

Let’s say you’re a Minor League baseball pitching coach. Each season, you likely work with somewhere between 15 and 30 individuals. No matter how well you manage your time, no matter how good your systems to handle greater athlete loads, no matter how good you are at your job, you are limited to the number of athletes you can help on an annual basis. It doesn’t matter how efficient you are, there will always be an upper limit on what you’re able to do set by the organization who pays you.

But this issue doesn’t only exist in the highest levels of the sport. Anyone who fits our definition of professional coach knows this to be true. There are only so many hours in a day. Eventually you just run out of time to do more. Coaches everywhere are trying to do more and more with the few hours they have left in their days. As a result, any efforts to improve one’s output requires more hours of input that could be spent elsewhere

This inability to scale one’s time is pervasive and has led to more than one good coach leaving the profession altogether.

But this problem has a solution that goes all the way back to a man born over 2300 years ago in the Italian province of Syracuse.

Archimedes’ Long Lever

“Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.”

Archimedes (287 – 212 BC)

We should all be familiar with leverage. In the physical world, leverage is what we use to move objects heavier than what we’d typically be able to handle.

But when we apply this idea to our lives, leverage is something that enables asymmetric results. With leverage, you can divorce your inputs from your outputs. Without leverage, one hour of work returns you one hour of pay. With leverage (and applied in the right place), one hour of work can pay you for decades.

Until recently, there have been two classes of leverage: labor and capital. 

  • Labor in that you have others working for you
  • Capital in that you can manage money that multiplies the effects of your decisions

But as Naval Ravikant has pointed out, a new form of leverage has emerged within the last few centuries: products with no marginal cost of replication. And generally speaking, there are two forms: code and media.

The core principle of both code and media is that you can do something once and “replicate” it infinitely for no additional cost to you. Code and media allow you to scale your time and knowledge at a scale never before available to mankind.

Johannes Gutenberg (1400-1468)

One of the earliest examples of this is Johannes Gutenberg’s development of the printing press back in 1450. For the first time in human history, the cost of replicating a piece of writing was less than producing the first version. No longer did monks need to copy the Bible out by hand. Rather, we could send the Bible to the printing press and produce more copies in a month than we had been able to in an entire year previously! It should come as no surprise that the Protestant Reformation was birthed out of this marvelous advance in leverage-building technology.

And as we’ve improved technology, we’ve developed more ways to build leverage.

Applying Scale to Coaching

One example for coaches would be developing an iPhone app full of your teaching. With this app, you can upload your knowledge into the app one time and share it with others at no additional cost to you. Build once, replicate infinitely.

Similarly, coaches who write, host a podcast, or produce any other media to record their thoughts, ideas, and teaching build leverage with each new piece of media they put out.

This is why I believe writing is so important for professional coaches. The coaching industry is very competitive, and it’s tough to stand out as it is. But when you write online (for example), you are building assets that can go to work for you 24 hours a day. Believe me when I say this: the people running these organizations are looking for good, smart people to fill those jobs. By writing online, you drastically increase the chances of them finding you.

Why Scale is So Important

You may not realize it, but this article is an example of leverage.

At the time of this writing, I will send this article to 496 coaches who subscribe to my Monday Morning Edge newsletter. Without leverage, I would have to have this conversation over 250 times to reach everybody who will open the email and come upon this article. But with leverage, I write it, publish it onto WordPress, send out the email, and boom–you’re reading it today.

How To Build Scale

Now we’ve come to the point in the article where you’re asking some version of “What should I do about this?”.

As a general rule of thumb, broad, generic “do this” advice is less helpful than giving people heuristics and the pattern-matching tools to find opportunities in their own lives in the future. Which is why, as we come to the end of this article, I’m going to share three questions you can store in your head to ask to help you identify and build scale in your life.

  1. Can the impact of the action I’m about to take extend beyond this moment in time?

Leverage leads to results that continue out into the future. Having an important conversation is good. Having that same conversation with 25 different people isn’t. If it’s not critical that each conversation has to be a 1-on-1, record an audio clip, write a memo, or shoot a video that the people you’re trying to reach can watch on their time.

  1. If I do this often enough, will compounding work in my favor?

Compound interest has been called the 8th wonder of the world. Building scale helps you take advantage of its wondrous effects. Writing one article with your thoughts on a topic won’t do too much for you. Write 10 articles and you’re gaining traction. Write 100 articles and compounding works for you.

  1. How can I do something now that future me will be grateful for?

Eating a cookie pleases present me. Future me is grateful when I chose to walk past the cookie.

Similarly, walking new staff through the on-boarding process yourself might be the easiest thing today, but creating a self-guided on-boarding process for future hires scales your time.

Get in the habit of asking these questions often and you’ll find places to apply leverage and build scale. And once you do that, it just comes down to execution.

A Better Way Forward

The transition to building scale requires more of a mindset shift than anything else.

It’s not easy. You won’t “get it” right away.

Instead, you’ll slowly improve.

You’ll get in the habit of asking questions to help you identify opportunities to scale.

You’ll find ways to apply leverage.

And slowly-but-surely, you’ll build the systems that help you get better results for more athletes.

Because at the end of the day, that’s what we’re all after, isn’t it?

Thanks to Greg Revak for reading early drafts of this essay.

  1. I was trying to find out who to attribute that quote to and saw Confucius, Harvey MacKay, Mark Twain, and Marc Anthony (and a derivative authored by Steve Jobs). I suppose we’ll just chalk this one up to folk wisdom. []