No Lying on the Mats: How Horizontal Coaching Hurts Your Gym’s Morale (Backed By Science)


Ask any gym owners or managers pet peeve or gym parents’ concern about their child’s coach and in the top five you are likely to hear “sitting/lying on a mat during practice.”

I know it makes my list consistently.

We have a name for it: horizontal coaching.  And horizontal coaching is like fingernails on a blackboard to me.

Coaching is exhausting, to be fair. But, did you know that sitting down through practice or lying prone while your athletes’ toil away is having a negative effect on their effort?

Think about this: Ever notice how when someone yawns, you do too?

It’s because of what the phenomenon of what scientists call emotional contagion, the transfer of moods among people.

Multiple studies have confirmed this: people tend to display and experience the emotions of those around them.

If a coach lying on a mat while asking their athletes to complete a difficult conditioning assignment, that coach is inadvertently making it more difficult for the athletes to respond with high effort and enthusiasm.

In fact, research from the authors of the aptly titled book Emotional Contagion point to studies that show negative emotions adversely impact the group even more than positive ones help.

To be blunt, not only does lazy coach brings the energy down at practice but does so at a greater rate than enthusiastic coach brings it up.

Studies confirm that we do not live on emotional islands. Quite to the contrary our mood ripple out to those with whom we work, influencing not only other coaches’ and athletes’ emotions but the dynamic of the entire gym as well as individual thoughts, feelings and actions.

Lazy coaching influences a lazy gym atmosphere, which influences lazy beliefs, attitudes and efforts from our co-workers and athletes.

(Note: Of course there are exceptions to the rule. If a coach is disabled or injured and cannot physically stand, athletes and co-workers can adjust their attitudes and the coach can make up for the inability to be physically engaged in other ways. But those coaches are few and far between and they do not pertain to the able bodied folk who might have had a couple few too many the night before or who simply want to relax and check messages while their athletes condition…)

Get up, be enthusiastic and engage—as a coach you are a leader and it is up to you to set the tone for your athletes and to positively influence the culture in your gym.