Get Better at Sports or Exercise: The Third Person Approach

Can you coach yourself? Sure you can. Oftentimes, we are our best motivators. However, there is a reason why we turn to professional coaches and trainers to help us reach our goals; other people keep us accountable, track our progress, and give an objective standpoint of what our bodies need. So if you are thinking about dedicating yourself to being your own coach, the best way to go about it is taking the Third Person Approach.

Before I explain what the third person approach is, let me first clarify that coaching yourself does not necessarily mean you have to do everything a coach would. We coach ourselves all the time just to get through the day. Coaching yourself can vary from getting into a mentality to eat better, to reaching a goal at the gym, to training for an athletic competition.

Take a moment right now to think of your overall goal. It could be losing weight, running faster, getting in better shape – anything. Go ahead, take a minute to think about it.

Now, think of what you need to do to accomplish that goal (a method). It could be drinking more water, pushing yourself harder at practice, or committing to the gym three times a week. This part might be harder to think of on your own. Look it up or ask a friend if you need to. You can make a note to do it later, but have it in mind.

This goal is what you’re going to coach yourself towards, and this method is what you’re going to use to get there. If you didn’t think of one now, that’s okay. The purpose of that exercise is to frame the approach I’m about to explain to you.

The Third Person Approach

Unless you’re in the professional sports world where you have statisticians or strength coaches recording your numbers, you have to prove results yourself. I call it, ‘The Third Person Approach.’

This approach will allow you to coach yourself no matter what your goal is. Often times when I struggled to get to the gym to workout, or get in the driveway to practice basketball, I would simply tell myself: “Just ‘Effin’ do it!” So I’d drop to the ground and bang out 20 pushups, do 100 jumping jacks, or blast a “pump-up” song through the speakers of my car. That’s an example of the Third Person Approach. I have a friend who will take a cold two-minute shower every day because it helps get his blood flowing. That’s another example of the Third Person Approach.

My clients, whom I put through various strength programs, get instant gratification when I give them quantitative or qualitative results of their performance. Quantitative results include showing them they increased their 5 rep maximum weight in just 8 weeks. With my more dedicated clients, I write down circumference measurements and check back every couple of months. I never let them know what I’m thinking; I just show them results a few weeks/months later.

Other notes I write down are qualitative (observational). Let’s say that at the end of our Monday workouts we do an endurance circuit to finish out the day. Carefully, I will take notes on behavior: how hard they were breathing, any complaints they had, their form, etc. This makes it easier to see progression or regression week to week.

Sometimes, they’ll ask: “What can I do outside of here to help?” Since nutrition is heavily reliant on performance, I will tell them to use the app My Fitness Pal to record their daily intake.

This process works. It’s proven. That’s why I’m dedicated to it. The idea behind the Third Person Approach is that you can use this approach by yourself by looking at yourself from an outside perspective. It’s a way to track progress, keep yourself accountable, and see results.

How to Apply the Third Person Approach

The basic principle of this approach is to record everything related to your goal. Think back to the exercise I had you run through earlier, where you thought about your goal and your method. When you make a plan for how you’ll accomplish your goal, you’ll have a related list of things to focus on. All of those are what you should track.

For example, let’s say my goal was to run a 5k race by the end of the month (starting from running nothing). My method would be to train incrementally until I could run 4 or 5 miles comfortably and 3.1 miles at race pace. In order to get there, I would have to run consistently five days a week, drink plenty of water, get plenty of rest, remember to stretch, and track my running times. Those are all of the factors I’d have to track to make sure I could coach myself to reach that goal.

You can apply this to your sports practices, or to your gym workouts, or to your everyday routine simply by writing down what you’re tracking. Write down repetitions, times, routes you jogged or cycled, how you felt after each workout, and positive or negative thoughts running through your head. Was there something you ate that held you back? Did you feel uncomfortable doing certain moves? Was there something that particularly motivated you that day? Write it all down!

Looking at your self-coaching journal two weeks or a month out will give you a wholesome picture of your progress. You’ll see where you started, where you are now, your strengths, your weaknesses, what you should change, and what you should keep doing.

At that point, you’ve accomplished the Third Person Approach! Keep up your momentum and keep tracking.

Good luck!


- Blog by Sean Possemato