Sport is not complicated… but too often we, as coaches, complicate it. In my experience, this happens in different ways.
In individual sports, some coaches get mired in technical intricacies, and demand techniques are executed in a particular way. In team sports, it can be an over-focus on team tactics or strategy during training to the detriment of the individual’s development.
However, could it be that the best coaches are the ones who manage to stay out of the way of their athletes just enough to let them fulfill their potential?
Doctors don’t heal us, they help our body to heal itself. At school the right teacher doesn’t need to be brilliant, but just needs to make us do more of what we’re interested in. Do the best coaches just find ways to allow us to coach ourselves?
In The Talent Code, Daniel Coyle cites research that “Master Coaches” share the following traits:
- Quiet (they listened more than talk)
- Gave short instructions (not long, activity-stopping monologues)
- Were sensitive to the personality of those being coached (We’ve discussed the importance of empathy before)
When it came time to talk, Master Coaches did not waste words on pep talks or complicated strategy. The breakdown of their communication showed that approx. 6% of what they said was showing approval; approx. 6% was showing disapproval; and a massive 75% of what came out of their mouths was pure, non-emotional information. They did not try to motivate.
Making things complicated is far easier than making things simple. The best coaching sessions are ones that are purposeful (i.e. working towards a stated purpose) and easy to understand. The best coaches can explain what is expected in 1-2 sentences of clear, concise information. For me, it is a red flag if it takes a coach a long time to explain a practice – it is an easy way to lose the interest of the athlete, which will lead to a poorer performance.
Like most things, coaching is a skill (at least, it is a collection of skills) which means we can practice it and get better. However, we can teach people how to coach but we cannot teach how to connect with others. Our ability to connect with others is more important when it comes good coaching.
An athlete / coach relationship cannot be manufactured overnight. To be of any real benefit takes time. That time would be well-spent if we referred back to the traits of a Master Coach above – if we listened more than we talked, if we gave our athletes clear, concise instructions, and were sensitive to their personality.
Coaching IS NOT about creating rock stars. It is about making others better off than they would have been without us. This sometimes means staying out of their way. In Brazil, footballers are not the product of better facilities or opportunities. Their academies don’t do anything different to ours. They have better raw materials because they don’t spoil them early.
As coaches, we can have great influence in the lives of the athletes we are fortunate to work with. Our most important job might be as a salesperson, because we are asking athletes to hand over their time, attention and effort. By doing so, we enter into an agreement – that we will help them achieve a desired outcome (improved performance / make them happier, healthier / etc). We are morally obliged to do the right thing by our athletes.
Out job is not to prove how much knowledge we have. Our job is to keep them coming back often enough that they, themselves, reach that desired outcome.
Perhaps we need to try and focus – not on making them better – but keeping them interested?
p.s. if you like what is discussed here you will love our free, email book club!