Mentoring

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

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

Leading and Coaching Young Athletes

OK, I admit it.  I’m a bit of a hoarder.  But not in the A&E TV show way.  Actually, Tom Rath and the Gallup folks explain my need for an extra Terabyte of computer storage as a strength in “Input”.  According to StrengthsFinder 2.0, “People who are especially talented in the Input theme have a craving to know more. Often they like to collect and archive all kinds of information.”  Two forms of information I’ve compiled and saved over the years are podcasts and audio interviews.

One audio interview in particular has served as a continuous source of inspiration for me.  It provokes a new thought process on coaching and leadership each time I listen to it.  I downloaded it from the International Youth Conditioning Association (IYCA) website a few years back when it was part of their Free Resource Center.  Brian Grasso and the IYCA are the leading advocates for the development of the ART of coaching, especially as it relates to working with young athletes.  Their organizational approach is epitomized in this 30 minute interview with David Jack, an Athletic Development coach and General Manager at the CATZ training center in Acton, MA.  Although it’s not available as part of their Free Resource Center anymore, Brian Grasso has allowed me to post the interview here.  So clear 30 minutes from your schedule and listen to two great coaches talk about leadership and the art of coaching.

Listen Here

I know you’ll get a handful useful nuggets from this audio interview.  Here are a few highlights for me;

Give me two athletes…give one of the athletes the worst coach in the world with the best program, and give the other athlete the best coach in the world with the worst program.  100% of the time, the second athlete, the one with the best coach with the worst program is going to evolve into the better human being and better athlete in general… – Brian Grasso

…that is a lifelong impact that every single coach has an opportunity to make on a kid…you can change their life, and you will. – David Jack

…put them (athletes) in opportunities to lead…it lets them own what we’re trying to teach them. – David Jack

Leadership is identifying the latent traits that are great in people and helping draw them out. – David Jack

Thanks again to Brian Grasso, David Jack, and the IYCA for providing great content.

– Coach Hall

Sierra College Regional Fire Academy

I had the pleasure of stepping in as a Guest Coach for a physical training session with a group of fire academy recruits this week.  Their full-time instructor, Coach John Hofman, does a fantastic job with this program but was gracious enough to allow his recruits to get another perspective on training to be a firefighter.  He gave me 2 hours and free reign, which provided plenty of opportunity to sweat, laugh, and learn.  I took an Athletic Development approach with them and expressed the occupational demands for sprinting, lifting, throwing, and reacting.

I couldn’t have asked for a better group of athletes.  They were extremely respectful, well-organized, fast-learners, and hard workers.  I haven’t seen many groups that can hold a high level of focus and intensity like they did.  Coach Hofman should be proud of the way they represented themselves.

Being able to get out my everyday environment and work with 34 new athletes was a blast, and I definitely recommend doing so if you ever get the chance.  Likewise, I hope Coach Hofman was able to pick up a few things by observing my coaching style and will have me back next year.

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– Coach Hall

Wooden on Coaching Success

Coach Wooden reminds us to look beyond training methodology, sets, and reps.  Coaches have such an amazing opportunity to be mentors and make positive impressions. What struck me most about Coach Wooden is how firm he was in his beliefs.  If someone asked what you believed about coaching, could you communicate your beliefs?  Better yet, would your answer be compelling? If so, how often do you communicate your beliefs to your athletes?

  • Take some time to write down your core beliefs about coaching and WHY you coach.  Then share those beliefs with your athletes, family, friends, colleagues, etc.  You’ll establish authentic leadership by letting others have insight into your beliefs.  Not to mention that this level of self-awareness will take your coaching to the next level.

Here is some insight into Coach Hall.  I coach because I believe…

…that a coach can make a positive and life-changing impact in a single moment.

…a personal relationship is more valuable than a physical adaptation.

…that competence precedes confidence.

…young athletes need mentors.

– Coach Hall