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Misdirection in Coaching – Be a Magician

I was watching the movie, Now You See Me, recently and I couldn’t help but think that sometimes we have to be like musicians when we coach.

Magicians are known for their misdirection. While you’re staring closely at their “trick,” they’re actually deceiving you in another way. They have a plan on how to get you, the observer, to think or do exactly what they want, when they want. Pretty cool, right? It seems that becoming a musician takes a lot of charm and intelligence, not unlike that of a successful strength and conditioning coach.

Pay close attention…

Now, stay with me on this next comment before you decide to flog me.

In the past few years, I’ve found that I’m actually paying less attention to my focus on technical aspects of coaching and putting more attention on personal interactions. These personal interactions include everything from light conversation during warm-ups to body language when an athlete enters the gym to the way their movement looks compared to a known baseline.

Of course technique is important, but sometimes we need to look harder (cue Rafiki from the Lion King) beyond that which all of us normally see. Sometimes we need to find out what “song” really makes each of our athletes tick and play those chords. In fact, it may actually be a certain song for some individuals!

Whatever it may be, you have to relate to them as people and figure out what’s going on with them in that moment in order to then figure out how to help them perform at their best.

And, like a magician, sometimes you need to trick them into believing….believing in themselves; believing in something that they never thought possible.

Because the Northern Lights are just…magical

Misdirection in Coaching

If honesty is the best policy and transparency can be related to honesty, we should be completely transparent with out athletes, yes? Well, maybe not ALL the time. Sometimes we may have to keep hidden agendas.

There are times when you should tell your athletes exactly what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. Other times, you may need to bring more attention to something “shiny and fun” that gets them excited, while the real importance lies in the background, unnoticed (as usually happens in magic tricks…see what I did there?). Although, this trickery (and the depth of said trickery) often depends on the athlete at-hand.

If you’re working with younger athletes and the goal for the day is reactive ability, or agility, you can create a game that will be fun for them, all-the-while achieving your true goal. As athletes get older and their capabilities increase, their trickery becomes a little more….tricky (sorry, I have dad jokes).

If you’re working with high school or college-aged athletes, you may need to be more creative in your misdirection. A good example would be to create mini-competitions in the weight room amongst teammates. Say the team has been bored or just has a bad attitude toward warm-ups; create a competition within the warm-up that sparks some fun. They’re enjoying it now and you achieve your desired results from the warm-up.

One of my favorite misdirections, and one I just used today, actually, is hiding plates from athletes. We all have athletes that get in their head, or just don’t believe they can move any more weight. Send them off to get a drink, or distract them in some way, and then add smaller, thinner plates underneath the bigger plates. When they come back for their next set and make the weight, you can then reveal the added weight. Make sure you’re reasonable with the added weight, though, as you don’t want to actually add too much so that they’re unsuccessful!


I’ve provided just a few examples, but there are truly many ways in which we can use misdirection in coaching. The fun of it is that you can be as creative as you want, but you should also keep in mind that you don’t always need to use misdirection. It’s a tool, like anything else, that you should use only when a situation calls for it.

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