Situational Coaching

As a young coach I struggled to find my coaching style. I was naturally reserved, bordering on shy, and yet I wanted to be an Athletic Development coach. After following the examples of a few great coaches around me along with a little trial and error, I eventually settled into a style that I was comfortable with. And as a result I was able to effectively reach most of my athletes. Mission accomplished right? Well, not quite. Not too long after I was feeling good about my coaching, I started coaching with Rett Larson. Rett is one of the most charismatic and engaging coaches out there. Ideally, I would have welcomed the opportunity to learn from another coach that was so different than me.  Unfortunately, my competitive nature and ego took over. I couldn’t stand NOT being the favorite coach of EVERY athlete we were both coaching. Being an athlete’s “favorite” coach has a lot to do with individual personalities and shared interests, but an athlete’s favorite coach is also the coach that seems to explain things and motivate them in a way that just makes sense. So, while I was going to be hard pressed to win over the U-12 girls soccer team that had crushes on Rett, I still had to find a way to make meaningful connections with athletes that I had been missing the mark with. You see, even though I finally found my own coaching groove, I had yet to accommodate my style to those I was working with. I was a hammer and every athlete looked like a nail.

If the end goal is to effectively coach ALL athletes you work with, then the first step is to identify what coaching style you are most comfortable with. Coaching athletes that have different preferences and characteristics doesn’t mean you have to change your style, only ADJUST. So recognizing your natural style is important. In the book Successful Coaching, Martens describes three distinct coaching styles; Command, Submissive, and Cooperative.

Command: authoritative, coach makes decisions while athletes listen and respond to commands.

Submissive: passive, minimal decision-making and instruction, only steps in when absolutely necessary.

Cooperative: coach shares decision-making with athletes, establishes structure then guides the process.

Martens also provides overviews for 8 other coaching styles with a self-reflection tool that can help you to recognize specific characteristics that make up your coaching style. Download it here.

So, what is your natural coaching style? If you are anything like me, then it is probably a mixture of the styles that Martens describes.


The more critical part of this equation is being able to identify what type of athlete you are working with, so that you can adjust your coaching style accordingly. One way to deliver optimal coaching is by making adjustments that span and overlap individual sensory learning preferences. For the most part, athletes are predominately Visual, Kinesthetic, or Auditory learners.

Visual – learn by watching: Most people are visual learners. These athletes ask, “Can you show me again”. Take advantage of demos, diagrams, and video playback with visual learners. Keep in mind that your demos better be on point for these athletes; they will do EXACTLY what they see regardless of the verbal description that accompanies the demo.

Kinesthetic – learn by doing: Athletes are typically more kinesthetically inclined than the general population. These athletes will start practicing the movement while you are still describing or demonstrating it. Minimize verbal instruction and utilize more actual movement practice along with manual/tactile/rhythmic cues and positioning. You can also guide their intrinsic feedback mechanisms by asking questions like, “How did that feel?”

Auditory – learn by listening: These athletes repeat what you say and/or ask, “Can you say that again”. Auditory learners can be catered to by using speech patterns, musical elements, rhymes, and voice tones to emphasize important teaching points. Similar to the importance of demos for visual learners, auditory learners demand clear, concise, consistent, and specific descriptions and instruction. Also encourage dialog with these athletes. Allowing them to “talk through” the learning process will help.


We can also learn a lot from the Situational Leadership Model created by Blanchard & Hersey in the 1960’s. Developed as a way of helping business leaders get the most out of those they managed, its premise is to utilize specific leadership strategies based on situational variables. Basically, Blanchard & Hersey looked at corresponding the way one manages with an interaction of the employee’s Commitment and Competence. For example, a person with low Commitment and low Competence needs a different management style than someone that exhibits high Commitment and high Competence. I really like this model because it also integrates a developmental scheme to progress poor performers towards high levels of both variables. Brian Grasso, founder of the International Youth Conditioning Association, has tailored this model specific to sports performance coaching. Grasso looks at it like this:

Low Motivation Low Skill: Use a Direct coaching style; avoid singling this athlete out by “directing” coaching points to them in a subtle and personal manner.

Low Motivation High Skill: Use an Inspire coaching style; spend most of your energy motivating and challenging this athlete. They have natural ability already, but need someone to captivate their interest and inspire effort.

High Motivation Low Skill: Use a Guide coaching style; this athlete has the inherent desire to improve, match their eagerness with coaching that is focused on teaching them the technical aspects of athletic movement.

High Motivation High Skill: Use a Delegate coaching style; make sure these athletes understand the goals and structure of training then include them in the training process, gather their feedback on programming, put them in situations where they can teach other athletes. As a coach, your goal should be to develop all athletes to this category.

Here is short video of John Spence, a leadership consultant, explaining the dynamics behind the situational leadership model. He is presenting from a business management perspective, but there are strong parallels with sports performance coaching.

I truly believe that a great coach is one that can effortlessly adapt their coaching style to best match the athlete they are working with, even in team settings. In case you are wondering, the coaching battle between Rett and I was cut short before I could completely dominate the training floor we shared (I transferred to another facility). But if you ask me, I was well on my way to stealing his “favorite coach” status by some of his most devoted minion.

– Coach Hall

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5 Indefinite Laws of Leadership



A quick Amazon search for “Leadership” will return over 77,000 results, so chances are that a definitive approach for leading others doesn’t exist. In fact, the specific tenets of a leadership philosophy are probably secondary to actually having one in the first place. So even though I’m about to lay out a set of components that frame my beliefs on becoming a better leader, know that I encourage folks to define their own path. For me, that self-discovery process was supported by becoming familiar with multiple viewpoints on the subject. Perhaps this will help in a similar way.

*Disclaimer: This is not meant to represent an inclusive framework for leadership (not sure that exists). Rather, this outline has been a way for me to narrow down numerous principles and traits of leadership into a manageable approach. I simply can’t keep track of 20+ laws of leadership AND put them into action on a daily basis, regardless of how irrefutable they are.

I. KNOW THYSELF
It’s been said that “You can’t lead anyone else further than you have gone yourself”. There aren’t many people interested in following someone who can’t even lead themselves. Also consider that leading by example contributes to your credibility while providing a model for others to follow. For these reasons, self-reflection is the first place to start when developing as a leader. My intention is to first lead myself, then lead my family, and finally be a leader for friends and peers. I’ve found that these 5 elements provide the clarity to best know myself, and as such, they also serve as a roadmap for me to more effectively lead my own life. You can find examples at https://coachemup.wordpress.com/purpose-and-beliefs/.

a. Purpose: A life purpose is a personal mission statement which answers the question – “What were you put on this earth to do?” Try to keep it short and sweet so that it can be easily articulated. Ultimately, it’s something to compare your daily activities to. Are your actions congruent with your mission in life? Knowing your life’s purpose will help you stay focused on activities that matter the most to you.

b. Strengths: The majority of people focus on their shortcomings in order to improve their productivity and fulfillment. But maximum potential for success is driven by our innate talents and abilities. Instead of continuing to fight against your weaknesses, your energy is better spent targeting and developing your personal strengths. When we can live our purpose while leveraging our strengths, we’ll accomplish more with less effort.

c. Core Values: These are the attitudes and beliefs that form an internal compass upon which you navigate through life. A clearly defined set of core values helps you to align your decisions with what you stand for. Without them, it becomes difficult to consistently achieve a sense of wholeness from your actions and behaviors. Your personal core values (and who you are as a leader) are often a reflection of the leaders that made an impact in your life (parents, bosses, coaches, teachers, friends, etc.).

d. Why’s: Most people/companies communicate a combination of three things to others. What they do, How they do it, and Why they do it – and usually in that order. This sequence is certainly a logical and systematic way to deliver information. However, if we study the great leaders of our time, we see the exact opposite. First and foremost, they have inspired action by speaking directly to our emotions – not our sense of reason. Simply put, people don’t buy into what you do; they buy into why you do it. The last time you made a significant and meaningful change in your life, it was probably a deep visceral response to an ideal or belief that moved you enough for you to make a lasting commitment. It’s in that primitive place in us that the “Why’s” exist. From a leadership perspective, I need to know my own “Why’s” before I can communicate or model them to others.

e. Vision: A life vision is a snapshot of the future in which all the things important to you are manifested. Together with your core values, it will provide direction for your daily choices and behaviors. Some people will literally draw a picture of a scene from the future and make decisions that bring them closer to that vision (70th birthday party, retirement party, first book signing, etc.). Another way to develop your personal vision is to draft a copy of your own eulogy. It’s a bit morbid, but deciding what you’d like folks to say about you after you pass can be an effective way to frame your life path. Whatever your vision is, use it to answer the question – Is what I am doing now bringing me closer to my life vision?

II. BUILD RELATIONSHIPS
Expecting people to follow you based on your position or title is awfully short-sighted. Instead, what great leaders know is that followership is something earned by those who take a genuine interest in others. They ask about things like family, hobbies, unique skills, likes, dislikes, aspirations, and other aspects about people’s lives outside of work. Then they actually listen to the responses. Having these types of down-to-earth interactions is essential to building trust and will foster a culture of positive energy and support. It’s human nature to seek out those who show concern in getting to know us. And when we find it at home, or work, or wherever, we’re happy to deliver the best in us – without being asked or reminded. Theodore Roosevelt may have said it best – “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

III. FOCUS ON STRENGTHS
People achieve a high level of fulfillment and happiness when passion and skill intersect. Without a high level of natural acumen, passion will only get us so far. Conversely, it’s completely possible that we can be good at something, yet not possess an inherent desire to do that thing for the rest of our lives. Leaders can assist folks in finding this intersection by looking for, and magnifying, their skills/strengths. In fact, great leaders are able to identify strengths within people that they themselves were unaware of. Once identified, tell them and tell them often (it will probably be the first time someone has taken the time to tell them what they do better than anyone else). Follow this up with a plan to further develop and hone these strengths while putting them in positions to best leverage them. Imagine the possibilities of a passionate team composed of individuals who appreciate their own strengths and the complementary strengths of each other.

IV. THINK EMPATHETICALLY
The hard-lined, opinionated, black and white leadership styles are becoming less and less effective. Modern high achievers are seeking out leaders that inspire action, not dictate it. This isn’t to say that a firm approach doesn’t work, in fact, articulating distinct values and a clear vision is important. The key is being able to align your vision with the visions of others. That connection is most easily made when leaders use their emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is characterized by making concerted efforts to understand what makes other people tick, finding out what’s important to them, how they feel about what’s asked of them, and most of all – what inspires them. When a leader is attuned to others in this way, they begin to see the world as their followers do. Putting yourself in the other person’s shoes is a mark of serving as a vehement advocate for others – which builds trust. Thinking empathically doesn’t mean you’ll always agree with their viewpoints, just that you honor their perspective and humbly adjust the way you interact with them.

V. BE AUTHENTIC
Fundamentally, leadership is not just something we do – it’s a candid expression of who we are. So much so that when people try to fit into a persona of leadership, they come across phony and insecure. On the other hand, authentic leaders who are true to their values and walk the talk, are masters at gaining the trust and confidence of others. They are at ease with not having all the answers and instead foster a culture of synergy that captures the power and wisdom of many. The way that they allow their ego to die and embrace a level of vulnerability also makes those around them feel comfortable in doing the same. In the end, cultures built on a foundation of authenticity simply won’t be subject to the ceilings that stymie artificial and flimsy environments.

Here are some of the resources that helped form my thoughts on leadership;

1. Book: The Element – Robinson
2. Book: How to Win Friends & Influence People – Carnegie
3. Book: The Four Agreements – Ruiz
4. Book: Strengths Finder 2.0 – Rath
5. Book: The High Achiever’s Guide to Happiness – Caesar, Caesar
6. Book: The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership – Maxwell
7. Book: 25 Ways to Win with People – Maxwell
8. Book: Linchpin – Godin
9. Article: “What Makes a Leader?” – Goleman, Harvard Business Review, Nov. – Dec. 98
10. Article: “Managing Authenticity” – Goffee & Jones, Harvard Business Review, Dec. 05
11. Article: “Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time” – Schwartz & McCarthy, Harvard Business Review, Oct. 07
12. Blog: Harvard Business Review Blog Network
13. Web Video: “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” – Simon Sinek http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action.html
14. Web Video: “A Life of Purpose” – Rick Warren http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/rick_warren_on_a_life_of_purpose.html
15. Web Video: “True Success” – John Wooden http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/john_wooden_on_the_difference_between_winning_and_success.html

– Coach Hall

GJ

Coaches are leaders, and leaders build relationships. Theodore Roosevelt framed it up perfectly when he said;

People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

From a coaching perspective, this means taking a genuine interest in your athlete’s lives outside of the gym. Great coaches have this relationship-building trait deep in their DNA. They engage in discussions of family, hobbies, unique skills, likes, dislikes, aspirations, and other non-training aspects about athlete’s lives. Then they actually listen to the responses – making their athletes feel uniquely valued. As a young coach, this concept was foreign to me until I met Greg Johnson. Greg was an Olympic Weightlifting teammate and fellow Strength and Conditioning coach. As a weightlifter, he brought an emotional shot of adrenaline to every training session. If he missed a lift on the platform, we all knew to duck our heads in fear of being pelted by flying weight belt. He coached with the same vigor, taking command of a room with his charisma. It didn’t hurt that he was 6’3” and 240 lbs.

The guy was all heart and your best friend within minutes of meeting him. For that reason, his athletes would have run through walls for him. Additionally, he was constantly being invited to (and attending) birthday parties of the young athletes he coached. This influence alone would go on to form my “Birthday Party” coaching philosophy (read more about it here). My most treasured coaching moments involve sharing the floor with Greg – a superhuman coach. Tragically, this week marked the 8 year anniversary of Greg’s death. A car accident may have prematurely ended Greg’s life, but his epic character lives on in the relationships I build with my athletes.

– Coach Hall

Commitment or Compliance?

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the word “compliant” – particularly in the context of bringing a team of coaches together such to establish/improve standards and uniformity. I’ll start by acknowledging that standards and uniformity help drive replication and, in turn, predictable outcomes. This type of reliability is at the crux of systems that are developed and scaled by successful companies (think Starbucks). The more a company expands, then the more those systems are relied upon. Conversely, the absence of a sturdy system will result in an exponential drop in product quality.

So then, being compliant to the system is a key factor for success, but this is where semantics makes an entrance. Compliance is a word that I used fairly liberally in the past, and even then I’m not sure it inspired the type of behavior I was looking for. Looking back at some of those managerial days, when I reminded my coaches to stay compliant to the program, there was usually an initial response back to the company line. But it seemed somewhat reluctant, and inevitably I was having the same conversation a few months later. The compliance pep talk/overtone never really proved to be an effective approach.

I believe that words have more power than most folks realize. When I put myself in a coach’s shoes, the word “compliance” has the power to change the feeling of whatever is being discussed at the time – and not in a good way. Particularly when used among educated, driven, and high energy coaches. Generally, these are people who reject the notion of conforming to a formalized standard – especially one developed by a source/person that isn’t part of the daily work environment. In this way, complying is sterile and uninspiring.

As mentioned, it’s true that the quality of a company’s product relies on a certain level of structural/programming compliance; I’m just not convinced that speaking about it in a literal sense is the best approach. Consider that a “compliant coach” is a commodity – an ordinary and replaceable cog in the machine. The compliant coach conforms to the systematic rules of the machine so that efficiency and replication are maximized while waste and disruption are minimized. So what’s wrong an efficient, reliable, and therefore, sustainable machine? Nothing…if you’re the machine. Furthermore, this Industrial Model is built on two beliefs. One is that the coaches, or cogs, are easily replaced when they aren’t interested in being cogs anymore. And the second is that the machine can perpetually thrive using only the creativity of few (cogs do as they’re told, they don’t innovate or ask hard questions). If, however, this doesn’t jive with your beliefs, then it’s time to change the way we think, talk, and act when defining coaching and leadership in business cultures.

I believe that it is the coaches within the system, the human element of the machine, that will innovate and drive continual success. In as much, they are held in the highest regard, despite the easily seen results produced by the machine. I also believe this is where the conversation of greatness starts and finishes. Likewise, an organization without a tangible strategy to honor the personal and professional development of its coaches – is living on borrowed time. Soon to be made obsolete by former cogs.

One way to look at this is creating a culture (overarching philosophy) of commitment, instead of compliance. What if each coach approached everything they did (athlete interaction, programming, equipment maintenance, etc.) with an entrepreneur mindset? What if they planned and executed their work as if they all had financial/emotion ownership of the facility? Then the conversation changes from a compliance reminder to an excellence and commitment agreement. An agreement that high level coaches can get excited about, because they are made to feel as if they are critically important to the success of their company. The easy way to do this is to respect, support, challenge, and serve as their advocate. Additionally, few things make someone feel more important to “the cause” than being genuinely and strategically developed. Consider these excerpts from a recent Harvard Business Review blog post :

Investment in professional development sends a clear message that they matter now and in the future…And don’t forget to have fun. Celebrating exceptional work, big wins, and milestones brings people together and acknowledges their value to the business…Ultimately, everything you (and your people) do should be about the business. One way to strengthen that commitment is to align an individual’s interests with those of the business.

All that said, even within a philosophy that emphasizes ownership vs. compliance, it’s probably smart to examine the tenure and evolution of each coach as an individual. It’s possible that some coaches require a higher level of actual compliance than others (although I might not call it “compliance”). Here is a breakdown of the Dreyfus Model of Skill Acquisition and it’s application to athletic development coaching. I believe most coaches naturally develop along this progression when they work under an established system. As such, identifying which stage a coach is at can help to set expectations (know the rules before you break the rules) and speed the rate of progression. (Seth Godin definitions in red)

1. Novice

-wants to be given a manual, told what to do, with no decisions possible.

Coach one exercise at a time. Moving from one exercise/drill to another during a singular training session with no real reference or forethought about how the exercises/drills relate to each other. Scripted demonstrations and cues. They crave compliance.

2. Advanced beginner

-needs a bit of freedom, but is unable to quickly describe a hierarchy of which parts are more important than others.

Coach one workout at a time. Starts to understand the relationships between exercises/drills within a single workout. Still doesn’t grasp the full context of the global system and how the workouts are pieced together. They accept a moderate level of compliance.

3. Competent

-wants the ability to make plans, create routines and choose among activities.

Coach the system. Fully comprehends the entire system of training and the relative role of each workout, and, by extension, the role of each exercise/drill. They now “know the rules”. Only short-term response to compliance reminders.

4. Proficient

-the more freedom you offer, the more you expect, the more you’ll get.

The ability to make appropriate adjustments within the parameters of the “system”. These individuals will begin to make the system better with their strategic tinkering without the risk of disturbing the overall plan. They begin to resent compliance.

5. Expert

-writes the manual, doesn’t follow it. If you treat an expert like a novice, you’ll fail.

Remove the guard rails and let them proactively redefine the system by “breaking the rules”. They reject compliance.

A final quote that simplifies coaching development and compliance;

Master your instrument. Master the music. And then forget all that bullshit and just play.

– Charlie Parker, Jazz Musician

– Coach Hall

Do as I Say, AND as I Do

Growing up, a common phrase from my parents was “Do as I say, not as I do” (second only to “Because I said so”). This beauty normally got dropped when they weren’t practicing what they preached, and got called on it. The equivalent in the athletic development coaching world is related to coaches’ demos. Too often do we rely on our verbal descriptions of exercises and drills, while letting the actual physical demos get a little sloppy. Especially if we are reviewing an exercise that has been introduced already but the athletes don’t necessarily know it by name. Admittedly, I have been guilty of this. After ten years of coaching the Acceleration A-Skip, my verbal description is quite rehearsed, specific, and concise but I don’t always have a high attention to detail when demonstrating it.

Laziness isn’t always the culprit for poor demos; sometimes coaches have legitimate difficulty with physically performing certain exercises or drills. In which case, an athlete might hear “Don’t do it like me, but…” Sound familiar? Worse yet, you probably know coaches that avoid using some exercises or drills when training athletes, solely because they aren’t good at them themselves. The coach that’s still nursing 19 welts from the last time they tried 20 reps on the jump rope probably isn’t likely to use a jump rope warm up very often. It goes without saying that our athletes are the ones that are shortchanged most by poor coaching demos and exercise exclusions.

So there it is. Coaches need to demonstrate exercises and movements correctly. Nothing groundbreaking or new about this topic. However, next time you catch yourself just going through the motions when demonstrating or reviewing an exercise, consider these points:

  • Most people are visual learners and learn by modeling what they see. Regardless of your verbal description, many athletes will do as you do. This can be a good thing or a bad thing; use it to your advantage.
  • Position yourself and your athletes to best view the demo. Demonstrating from multiple angles will help athletes see and conceptualize critical aspects of the activity. Facing athletes is best for them to hear you, but not great for them to see some movement patterns. Athletes to your side and back are best for them to view most movements, but not great for them to hear you.
  • If using a Part to Whole teaching approach for complex movements, showing the Whole first can help to provide a conceptual model for the parts to relate back to. Athletes that know how a Buttkicker drill fits into a top speed stride cycle will have a higher level of drill transfer to the real deal.
  • Use slow motion along with full speed demonstrations.
  • Limit the amount of demonstrations that show what not to do. “What I don’t want to see is…” Read more about why in my Don’t Throw Your Juice post.
  • Video support is a great alternative for coaches that have difficulty with performing a particular exercise or drill. It isn’t cheap but a laptop with Dartfish software is perfect for this.
  • Utilize your studly and veteran athletes for demos you aren’t comfortable with. It will totally make their day too.

– Coach Hall

GUEST BLOG: Name That Tune

This post comes courtesy of Rett Larson – The original Super Coach.  Check out his website for great coaching and training tips, www.performancecorps.com.  Here are some insights to training young athletes…


When my mom was a little kid she had a vinyl record titled “Name That Tune,” and whereas we now have millions of video games, this was an audio game. Basically, the record had around 30 snippets of popular 1950’s songs. Each snippet was only ten seconds long, and at the end of each was a little chime that let you know it was over and that it was now time to actually name that tune. Well, nowadays whenever one of those 30 songs comes on the radio my mom will intone the chime at exactly the moment that it occurred on her old vinyl record.


In thinking about that this weekend two things occurred to me. First of all, how starved for entertainment do you have to be to play that record so many times that you’ve not only memorized all the songs, but also the end-points of all the snippets therein? Clearly her cup and ball game was broken at the time. The second thing was that her dedication to that record really highlights a coaching principle that we sometimes forget about, which is that athletes crave achievement.

Sure, of course they do – they’re athletes who obviously love sports, which are little vehicles of achievement. No big surprise there. Well, I think that we sometimes forget this obvious point when we’re training athletes, especially young ones. When faced with a team of 9 year olds, the temptation is to pander to their low attention span and give them lots and lots of activities to keep them occupied. Many young coaches will expend lots of energy throwing the kitchen sink at their athletes because they’ve forgotten that athlete love to see themselves getting better. Why do you think they’ll watch the same 5 Disney videos 300 times? A) Because Ratatouille is the most adorable rat to ever pick up a whisk and B) because they love knowing every line.

So, let them achieve during your coaching sessions. Pick one or two things each day and make it your goal to be knocking them out of the park by the end of the coaching session. Maybe it’s the perfect lunge, or a pro-style 2 point starting position. Maybe you just want them to memorize the muscles of the leg, or the conversion of pounds to kilos. The point is, keep it simple and repeat until they’re quoting you like a celluloid rat-chef.



Relationship Barometers

As a young boy, John Wooden’s father gave him a card with a Seven Point Creed written on it.  Coach Wooden would go on to use the wisdom in each point as part of his personal and professional belief system.  The fifth point on this creed was “Make friendship a fine art”.  As a coach, Wooden didn’t always foster immediate friendships with his players, but his genuine ambition to teach skills that served his players well after their time on the hardwood certainly laid the foundation for lifelong relationships – many of which were recounted in eulogies after his passing.  The notion that coaches can/should nurture personal connections with athletes is central to my own Coaching Constitution;

  1. Develop Relationships
  2. Have Fun while Minding the Details
  3. Learn Something New Everyday

I believe a personal relationship is more valuable than a physical adaptation.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy all the tactical components of designing, implementing, and adjusting training programs.  But I’m most energized from coaching when I’m able to learn about an athlete’s life outside of the gym.  Great coaches do this without even thinking about.  Taking an authentic interest in others is just part of their DNA.

Because it’s first on my Coaching Constitution, building relationships with athletes is always at the top of my mind.  Nevertheless, it also seems valuable to have some form of objective measure for these personal connections.  Here are three examples of Relationship Barometers.

Birthday Parties

This is a concept I began using shortly after starting to work with young athletes.  Prior to that, most of my coaching experience had been with collegiate athletes.  Transitioning from college strength and conditioning to the business of youth athlete development took some getting used to.  Quite frankly, it didn’t start too well for me.  But then my boss at the time made a very specific comment to the coaching staff that changed everything.  He said, “Remember guys, we aren’t here to be their friends, we’re here to coach them”.  I think the point he was trying to get across was for us to always be sensitive to difference between being “friends” and being “friendly”.  But at face value, he was wrong.  Without fail, the young athletes and their parents (who footed the bill for training at our facility) that kept coming back to us were also the ones that had the strongest relationships (read also: friendships) with the coaches.  That coach – athlete connection proved to be the strongest predictor of repeat business.  And like I mentioned, it is also the biggest personal reward for me.  What does all this have to do with birthday parties?  Well, my goal was to develop such strong relationships with young athletes and their families, that I would get invited to their birthday parties.   It might seem a little silly, but you show me a coach that consistently gets invites to birthday parties of his/her young athletes, and I’ll show you a great coach.

Pictures

I stole this one from Martin Rooney.  During his presentation at this year’s Perform Better Summit, Coach Rooney put up a picture of himself in high school at a track meet with a medal that he’d just won for javelin.  He’s standing next to a man with his arm around his shoulders and Coach Rooney starts talking about that meet being a huge meet for him, and that day being one of the best of his life at that point.  And, he didn’t want a picture with his Dad that day, or his Mom, or his teammates – he wanted a picture with his coach.  And this was back in the day when a picture meant a little more, because you only had 24 on the roll and you had to take your film to a store to be developed.  Coach Rooney then asked everyone in the audience how many of their athletes or clients ever want to take a picture with them.  He said that he knows a coach is building relationships when he sees an athlete asking their mom to take a picture together with them.

Weddings

Over the summer, a friend sent me an ESPN article about Paul Longo, the new strength and conditioning coach at Notre Dame.  The article’s main focus is the increased importance and compensation of Division 1 head strength and conditioning coaches, particularly at prominent football schools (read the entire article here).  But the author also slipped in a subtle reference to Coach Longo’s thoughts on building relationships;

‘That’s why I’ve been in it this long,’ Longo said. ‘The relationships are what keeps you going. Sometimes you’re the heavy, sometimes you’re the go-between. But it’s a great thing to be a mentor.’

This point is hammered home when you find out that Coach Longo was the best man in the wedding of one of his players.  Clearly the two of them had a special relationship, and while it might be difficult to replicate that on a big scale, this is just another indicator of how great coaches can make a significant impact in the lives of their athletes.

Whether it birthdays, pictures, or weddings, you’ll know that you’re creating connections when your athletes want you to be involved in their special moments.  If you can think of other ways to put coach – athlete relationships skills to the test, add them in the comments below.

– Coach Hall

What Does a Coach Make?

Occasionally, someone will ask me if I make a good living as a coach. It’s usually pretty clear that they’re talking about money, so I catch them a little off guard with my answer. First off, I believe that money is only one form of currency that we receive from our chosen career. In his book, “The High Achiever’s Guide to Happiness”, Vance Caesar provides a list of career currencies that won’t show up on a W-2 or 1099 Form, but are arguably more valuable and deserve ample attention;

  • Knowledge and Growth – This one is critical for me. A systematic personal and/or professional development plan will pay dividends long after you retire.
  • Relationships – Leadership and influence are contingent on strong relationships. As a coach, I thrive on them, particularly the ones that give me positive energy. You know that feeling of being more alive after working with a group of exceptional athletes?, that’s the value of relationships.
  • Fun – Don’t forget this one.  Do you have fun at work? If so, then you can hardly call it work.
  • Life Choices – When assessing a potential career opportunity, or even your current situation, how well does it fit into the type of life you want? Can you live close to family? Are your nights and weekends free to spend time with your kids? Are you able to travel the globe and experience other cultures?
  • Legacy – If you enjoy building something from the ground up, then legacy is important to you. Particularly if what you build outlasts your own career. Knowing that you’re contributing to a cause that will in turn benefit others for a long time can be way more rewarding than a paycheck.
  • Reputation and Brand – Most coaches would take a pay cut if it meant they were able to become part of an industry-leading organization that they respect.

Of all these currencies, the coaching profession is rich in Relationships, Fun, and Legacy. Certainly, there are opportunities to maximize Money, Knowledge and Growth, Life Choices, and Reputation and Brand, but most of us are in the game to connect with athletes, play every day, and make lasting impressions.

One of my favorite video clips looks at this concept from a teacher’s perspective, but the coaching applications are obvious.

So, what does a coach make?

  • A coach makes athletes work harder than they thought possible.
  • A coach makes athletes develop discipline, focus, and work ethic.
  • A coach makes athletes realize how special they are.
  • A coach makes athletes think critically.
  • A coach makes athletes more self-confident.
  • A coach makes athletes aware of the path where the heart leads.
  • A coach makes it possible to fail without fear.
  • A coach makes personal connections that last a lifetime.
  • A coach makes a difference.

– Coach Hall

Too Much of a Good Thing

I’m a big believer in augmented feedback, as evident in my previous posts on Specific, Individual, and Prioritized feedback. If a coach isn’t communicating information to instruct, educate, correct, and praise the actions of their athletes, then they aren’t really coaching. However, just like Kobe and his Jordanesque jump shot, we as coaches need to learn when to hold back and let those around us (our athletes) learn to help themselves. Kobe has the talent to pour in 81 points in a single game, and is probably tempted to take the game into his own hands more often than he actually does. After 10+ years in the NBA though, he has learned that although his individual offense is critical to the Laker’s win column, overemphasizing his own scoring is ultimately a detriment to the team’s long term success. Likewise, in an effort to affect positive change, we are always eager to impart our observations, knowledge, and experience onto our athletes. I think we can agree that our feedback and instruction is crucial to the improvement of their athletic performance, but is there such a thing as too much?

The simple answer is yes. Excessive feedback and “front-loaded” instruction are large parts of over-coaching. Front-loaded instruction is when a coach takes 3 minutes to explain a 15 second drill. Coaches guilty of front-loading (I have been there before) are probably just trying to thoroughly describe the drill along with its rationale, possible faults and corrections, and sport application. All of which are great to educate athletes about, just not at all once. Not only are small chunks of information easier for athletes to digest, but when presented with continuous instruction, listeners are likely only remember the first and last things said anyway (Primacy and Recency Effect). So be concise, get them moving and coach on the fly.

When looking at excessive feedback, the biggest offender is typically related to the frequency at which a coach delivers feedback. In many cases, athletes would be better served if the coach said LESS. Additionally, what is excessive for one athlete might not be for another. Three main variables to consider when determining the appropriate frequency of feedback are;

  1. Complexity of the task – Generally, low complexity requires less frequent feedback and high complexity requires more frequent feedback.
  2. Age/Skill of the athlete – Generally, young/low skilled athletes require more frequent feedback and as athletes become older and/or more skilled, they require less frequent feedback.
  3. Content preference of the athlete – If an athlete doesn’t want a particular type of feedback and feels like it is detrimental to their performance, then avoid it or find another way to deliver the same information. For example, an athlete tells you that they don’t like it when you point out a technical error because they are unable to get the picture of the error out of their mind, even when you couple it with praise or something else they did well. In this case, continuing to give feedback on technical errors would be considered excessive for this particular type of content.

Regardless of the situation, excessive feedback has a few damaging consequences. The worst of which is when athletes develop strong dependencies on their coach in order to identify the actions of their own performance. In essence, the coach’s feedback (extrinsic feedback mechanism) becomes a crutch for the athlete and is relied on to provide nearly 100% of the information needed to facilitate improved performance. As a result, when the coach’s feedback is removed, performance suffers because the athlete has failed to develop mechanisms that utilize intrinsic information to detect and correct movement errors. In actuality, no learning or retention has occurred.

From a sport sociology perspective, consider that an athlete receiving high frequencies of correction AND encouragement often perceive themselves as having low competence. Additionally, athletes that receive more feedback than others in a group setting are perceived by those in the group as having lower competence than the rest of the athletes. These situations are damaging to athletic development, as well as the emotional well being of athletes.

So how do you know if you’re over-coaching? If you can answer “yes” to either of these questions, then you are over-coaching:

  1. Do the majority of your athletes instantly look for your feedback after each rep of 5 rep set for Olympic lifts?
  2. Do you find that the athletes with the worst technique in a group try to avoid you watching them?

One really good way to avoid over-coaching is to adopt a Guided Discovery approach to coaching. Guided Discovery is characterized by allowing and encouraging athletes to explore movement in order to provide a permanent and independent environment for learning. This will develop athletes that are more in tune with their own bodies, able to use intrinsic information to produce movement solutions, and are less dependent on their coach’s feedback. As a coach, the “guided’ part means that we initially educate and establish a technical model that athletes can visualize and work towards. Then we gradually fade out the frequency of instruction and feedback while using questions more often. The simplest means of reducing feedback frequency is to provide summaries at the end of sets instead of each repetition. Also, try using “bandwidth” feedback, where you don’t provide any input unless the performance falls out of predetermined criteria. As you begin to use questions, focus them on areas that foster intrinsic feedback and reflection (What can you do to improve that?, How did that feel?, etc.).

Ultimately, athletes will learn more from their experiences than they will from their coach but we need to be there to make sure they have the right experiences.

– Coach Hall

Super Coach Challenge Update – Back on Track

As it turns out, increasing one’s volume of Push Ups from about 50/week to 1400/wk may also increase the risk for injury.  Shocking.

Not too long after my last video update, I started experiencing some pain on the left side of my upper back/scapula area.  It seemed to be most painful at full extension of each Push Up and/or scapular abduction.  I actually had the same pain on the right side when I first began this Get Fit, Get Good Challenge, and it eventually went away, so I basically ignored the annoyance and kept knocking out the push-ups.  I know, not very Super Coach-ish of me.  Eventually, the pain got so bad that I had to completely stop doing Push Ups.  In fact, I couldn’t do much of anything.  It was even painful to sneeze at the worst of it.  So, after a trip to a local sports med Doc, the diagnosis was a Rhomboid Strain.  I was actually happy to hear that, since I thought there was a small chance of a dislocated rib at the vertebral joint (the pain with deep breaths and sneezing had me worried).

That was about 3 weeks ago, and though I was temporarily derailed, I’m now back on track.  This time around, I’ll be smarter about the accumulation of volume and amount of speed/momentum used for high rep sets.  My initial plan is to begin at about 50 Push Ups/day while also implementing more scap stability/posture work (Handwalk, YTW, backward jump rope, etc.).  Ice therapy has also been helpful in speeding recovery and minimizing post-workout inflammation/pain.

This 3 week hiatus shouldn’t disrupt my 50k /year goal too badly, since I had initially built a pretty good cushion and was on track to finish in 9 months.  Onward and upward.

– Coach Hall