A Coaching Mindset February 5, 2013
By Ray Makela, Vice President of Strategic Accounts
As a Northwest soccer dad, I have had the opportunity to coach and watch hundreds of youth soccer games over the past decade. One of the biggest challenges I’ve observed from the sidelines has to do with finding the balance between trying to dictate what should be happening on the field (e.g. do this, go there, etc.) and the need to let the players make their own decisions and learn. On top of this is the overall objective of trying to win games.
In observing some really great coaches (and some that were not in that category), I have come to the conclusion that coaching youth soccer is a lot like coaching a sales team (no correlation to maturity level intended). The best coaches/managers I’ve seen in both disciplines are the ones who were able to focus on a few key priorities and communicate expectations clearly to their team. They are able to observe and develop their “players” without micromanaging. These skills are critical ones we reinforce in our Comprehensive Sales Management training program and apply in either “game.” I think the following six concepts are especially important:
1. Communicate expectations clearly and identify the key behaviors needed to succeed
Communicating expectations is one of those things that people take for granted. “Isn’t it obvious what you’re supposed to do?” The response is often “no.” When asked, coaches/managers feel like they set clear expectations, but when you ask the employees/players, they will tell you they’re not really sure what’s expected. The focus is often too much on the end result, not on the behaviors that are needed to produce the result. Results show what has already happened, and it’s impossible to change them after the game. The key is to identify and focus on the behaviors needed during the game and then communicate and manage them accordingly.
2. Catch them doing something right
We’ve all heard we’re supposed to provide more positive feedback than negative. Unfortunately, that often sounds more like cheer leading than providing tangible, positive feedback that reinforces the behaviors we’re seeking. Once you’ve identified those behaviors you want to see, then point them out and reinforce that behavior when you see it. Start with the positive and build on the behaviors you see that contribute to the results you’re looking for. Do this often.
3. Provide one-on-one feedback as close to real time as possible
The best coaches I’ve seen are the ones who don’t wait for Monday morning (or the formal performance review) to give feedback. They do it every time someone comes off the field and every chance they get. This looks like a friendly hand on the shoulder and the non-threatening discussion that says “Great job. You’re working hard. Now try to do this and change the way you do that next time and see if it doesn’t improve the result.”
4. Let them tell you where they need to improve
An age old tactic that works extremely well is to let the individual and team tell you where they need to improve – at least let them go first in the conversation. We often find that people are very aware and often extremely critical of their own performance, and likely the one or two points they make are right on target. Spend the time refining (and sometimes tempering) these comments and exploring “what can we do to improve from here?” Not only will they be more likely to “own” the solution, but they will often surprise you with the suggestions and insights they bring.
5. Prioritize one or two things to work on at a time
It’s easy to create a long list of behaviors that need improvement. It’s difficult to keep track of so many things and it’s painful to look at all the faults at once. If you look back to the expectations you’ve set and the behaviors you’ve identified that will produce the desired results, the performance gap likely boils down to one or two things that if improved would really change the game. This could be subtle selling skills or personal behaviors, or defending techniques that will shut down the offense. The same concepts apply.
6. Make getting feedback accepted and appreciated
Finally, the best coaches I’ve observed and the most successful teams are the ones who make it okay, even desirable to give and receive feedback. High-performing teams relish in the fact that everyone is practicing and improving his or her game every day. The star players and newest recruits all get attention and they all receive feedback – with clear priorities for improvement. It’s not punitive, it’s not criticism. It’s a supportive dialogue about how to improve performance. Talk about it. Celebrate it. Make it infectious to improve, and see if it doesn’t improve the “game.”