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©2020 by Jonathon Reid

  • Jon Reid

What Learning Spanish Has Taught Me About Coaching

I recently decided to learn Spanish…


Because I was planning to move/have now moved to San Diego.

Yes, that makes perfect sense. One thing though, are you aware that San Diego is in the USA… where they speak the Queen’s English?

I am.

I am also aware that my lovely lady is part Mexican, that there will be Spanish speakers at our wedding and that her Mexican Grandma (Gloria) can’t understand mi acento escocés (Scottish accent).

So, I’m learning a little Spanish for several reasons, a couple of which are:

  1. To be able to talk to la abuela de Karina.

  2. Turns out learning a language is fun, challenging and stimulating.

And since I’ve started learning Spanish I’ve noticed that the process has many parallels with strength and conditioning coaching…

1. The Program Should Fit the Athlete

My Spanish teacher (Roberto from Edina Spanish Lessons Edinburgh) encouraged me to learn Spanish by:

  • Reading, writing and talking about topics I’m interested in.

  • Reading, writing and talking about things that are specific to my reason for learning.

So, I can now:

  • Talk in Spanish about weightlifting, chess, lucha libre and the Toy Story trilogy.

  • Discuss Gloria’s favourite telenovelas.

Mission accomplished. (Hopefully the Spanish speakers at the wedding will be lucha libre fans.)

The individualised approach, my Spanish teacher told me, is much more effective than trudging through vocabulary that I wouldn’t need for my purpose.

I agree.

The words and phrases which were specific to my reason for learning stuck in my mind much easier than the words and phrases that had no immediately obvious relevance.

This made learning more fun and immediately relevant, developed my confidence and made the ‘less useful’ words, phrases and concepts easier to understand.

Lesson: Individualise the approach for better results and engagement.

2. Go Slow to Go Fast

el-le-van-ta-mi-ento … el-levan-ta-miento …. el levan-tamiento … el levantamiento…. el levantamiento de pesas…

If you can’t say it slowly, you probably can’t say it at full speed.

Just like if you can’t display proper movement mechanics slowly, then you’re probably going to struggle at speed.

Saying something quickly can cover for not knowing how to pronounce syllables or letters. We can just skim over them…

El leventamiento? No, señor, el levantamiento.

In athletic movement, speed can cover for instability. We don’t want our movements (or our words!) to be unstable…

Lesson: Learn complex techniques slowly and pick up the pace gradually. Hit all your key positions to gain confidence and to ensure that you understand the movement, then work towards full speed.

(Side note — El levantamiento de pesas means weightlifting — see point 1.)

3. Always Assessing

After 12 weeks of learning Spanish I asked Roberto if he was planning to prepare a test for me… “Why?” Roberto responded quizzically. “Every lesson is a test… I’m testing you every day and adapting accordingly…”

Strength and conditioning coaches can and should be assessing movement quality, strength and the psychological state of athletes, or ourselves, in every session — we shouldn’t only make notes about stats, observations and progress at the beginning, middle and end of the year.

Lesson: View every session from the eyes of a coach. Be observant and use this feedback to adapt as and when necessary.

4. Rhythm, Flow and Coordination are Developed through Whole Body Spanish

Spanish words, phrases and grammar have to be changed, altered and pieced together differently depending on the context.

Isolating words, finding their literal translation and slotting them in one after the other is messy, ineffective and leads to a confused ‘¿Que?’

By learning Spanish in whole sentences and in context, the grammar and sentence structure makes sense and the rhythm, timing and flow is more natural.

The same principle applies when learning whole body movements such as the Olympic lifts, sprinting or changing direction. Lots of muscles and joints are working together to produce movement. One could easily take the approach of isolating each component, but this is likely to lead to jerky and uncoordinated movement.

I’ve always preferred whole body movements and I feel I am now linguistically supported. Whole body movement leads to the development of timing and rhythm, or in strength and conditioning speak, neuromuscular coordination.

An individual muscle or joint should only be isolated if it is identified as being the cause of a kink in the chain, or if isolating a specific part of a movement will lead to the betterment of the whole technique.

Lesson: Learn the language of movement in a whole-body and context specific manner.

5. Tune In

“Buenas dias, Como estás? Bien, gracias, y tú, qué tal tu semana?”

Being presented with the day’s tasks seemed much less scary after five minutes of basic warm ups.

The hello, how are you, tell me about your week helped tune me into Spanish thinking mode and brought all the words and phrases I’d learned to the forefront of my mind.

Who’d have thought warming up would be so useful!?

A flying 40m sprinting test, an intense plyometric or a heavy deadlift without a physical warm up is a poor choice.

And anyone who has ever played sport will know you can’t perform your best if you’re not tuned in mentally.

Use the physical warm up to mentally prepare, either by focusing on the upcoming tasks or by explaining what’s coming up in the session..

Lesson: Always warm up and tune in to the task physically and mentally.


  • Individualise your approach as much as possible.

  • Assess progress and subjective feeling every session.

  • Use whole body movements to develop athleticism.

  • El-le-van-ta-mi-ento de pe-sas… El levantamiento de pesas. (Slow before fast)

  • Tune in to the task at hand.