The Importance of a Coach
Take a minute to picture in your mind’s eye a “coach”. Did you create the image of a coach in movies or real life, standing on the sidelines, clipboard in hand, screaming at an athlete? Did you picture a person that you email once a week to give information about your weekly runs and wait to get back your schedule for the upcoming week? Did you remember fondly a person who helped you navigate a difficult time in your life? Did you picture your doctor???
The function of a coach for most individuals is to provide information, insight, strategy and perspective that comes from years of experience. That’s what Bill Belichick does at New England Patriots practice and during games. That’s what Red Auerbach did for the Boston Celtics for so many years. It just so happens that both of those people also wore a whistle and are/were very good at meeting the team goals of winning championships. I have had athletics coaches nearly my whole life, for soccer in my younger years followed by more than a decade and a half for running. I wanted to run fast, and they wanted to get me to run fast. We had a shared goal. My coaches not only provided me workouts, but they listened to what I had to say about how my body was feeling, what workouts I responded well to, monitored my outcomes, changed plans and evaluated what other things were happening that would affect our shared goals. Ultimately, I had excellent coaches that were able coach my limited talent to a pretty high level with running.
Not every coach has a whistle or stop watch around their neck. The Doctor/patient relationship is analogous to the athlete/coach relationship. Patients come into the office and they share their problem which can be used to create a goal. “My heel hurts when I run” transforms into a goal, “be able to run without pain in the heel”. Our job as physicians and surgeons is to help you accomplish that goal and to share it with you. Much in the way that a coach does, doctors provide a plan based on years of training, experience, perspective and compassion. We provide direct interventions, we give you work to do at home, we monitor your improvement, we change the plan to help you respond better or faster based on what has worked or not. But the patient has a big role in accomplishing the shared goal. Treatment for most foot and ankle ailments is very rarely passive. Patients have to perform their “training/homework”. They need to be honest about what is working and what is not. They need to provide their “coaches” with other information that may be getting in the way of shared progress.
I have found that treating patients with the team approach is incredibly powerful. It increases patient buy-in with the treatment plan to achieve a shared goal. It helps assuage patient anxiety that they feel they are dealing with their problem alone. It creates accountability for all involved, physicians and family members, to be “on the team”. Lastly, it allows for an open and honest discussion about any barriers to the goal in a non-judgmental way.
Dr. Benjamin Saviet