Want to Be a Better Coach?
Many of us are committed to the concept of being a better coach. I see the tweets that you are “sharpening the saw today” with a picture of a book written by an expert from our industry, you post on Facebook how much you learn from your fellow colleagues with a picture of you standing at a buddy’s session, you even share entire dropbox folders of new drills and games. (I am guilty of all three of these and more.)
We do improve as coaches through these activities, and should continue to be committed to them. We would share with our friends. Sharing is caring, after all, and we become better coaches when we copy those we know. I understand that aspect of learning, and I understand wanting to learn from those we like. The beauty of the digital age is we have access to everything.
Every day I see an email, a tweet, a Facebook article about the 3,496 “new and improved” ways to teach passing. I get it, the game grows and so should our training, but some days it is overkill. I have seen three emails this week alone from the same damned guy telling me he can help my players score more with his drills. That may be too much access.
How do I feel about getting three different emails from the same person in one week about the same topic?
First off, I sure hope what I do is about more than scoring goals or teaching foot skills. Secondly, it’s just the same meat from last week, prettied up in a casserole dish, with a few extra ingredients, and called new and improved. Thirdly, this guy sees the world the way I do, so nothing he shows me is new or improved. I want to see something I’ve never seen before that makes my head go “poooof”. The other thing about the digital age is, even though we can see everything, we can choose to fine tune our field of view so we only follow what we care to hear. We end up reading nothing new.
I can run a google search and find hundreds of thousands of skills and exercises, and games, and techniques. I don’t need more of that. I also don’t need to go watch my colleagues recycle the same training session I did last week, but with an added twist or constraint. When I do come across something of interest, it is familiar, it is from someone I like, or it agrees with my own philosophy. Same old, same old. I narrowed to nothing new.
Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing bad about reading those familiar books, collaborating with your familiar colleagues, and sharing new drills with all your familiar fans. Please keep doing it. I still do it.
We do need to “learn”, but we also need to “evolve”. This needs to go beyond learning more from those we know. In addition, we need to change. What we are doing is only serving the status quo, and I think we’ve beat the drum enough for all of us to know the status quo isn’t quite working.
Take recent comments in soccer about Christian Pulisic. Everyone touts him as the next homegrown superstar in soccer for the US. Guess what is so glaringly different about him? He eschewed the status quo and developed differently. He turned down the traditional route because it hadn’t worked for a couple generations, and went his own route. He evolved…changed…got much better.
If you want to be a better coach, stop being a coach. Coaches share and care, read about other coaches, tend to congregate with those they know and like, and confirm what they already knew to be true (this is called confirmation bias…we find as much as we can to prove what we are doing is right). Chatting with your friends and sharing with like-minded people only confirms what you already knew, but it doesn’t help you evolve. If you really want to be a better coach, stop being a coach.
When I was getting my first masters degree, I made a comment to my mentor about staying around and finishing my doctorate too. She told me to leave.
She said having all your degrees from the same institution is not advisable because you only learn from a select group, with a certain viewpoint, set of opinions, cadre of colleagues, and limited library of research. In other words, she said, a true scholar wants to leave the comfort of what is known, learn the subject matter from an entirely new group of thinkers, so he or she is a more well-rounded, and well-informed scholar. It is a heavily debated topic.
She wanted me to leave for another program so I could learn from people who did not already think like me…and of course, I thought like all my Masters professors. (I once heard this crudely called “intellectual inbreeding”). This potentially stunts true scholarly evolution.
Think about what my advisor suggested. Just for a moment. It sounds inane at first, but the longer you sit with it the more you realize it has great merit.
If your entire career as a coach has been based only on the known world – your colleagues around you, people who share your philosophy, and only your sport – you have a very narrow “world view” of the sport and the profession of coaching!
Where I come from, we call people who have never left their comfort zone and refuse to see the world from other viewpoints “backwards” or “narrow-minded” (Intellectual inbreeding). They know what they know, but they also do not know what they do not know. It can be dangerous.
Yet, as I type, here comes another email from another person telling me the same way, but using different words, how I can teach my team to defend better. I don’t want to teach my team to defend better! I want to be a better coach.
To be a better coach, you need to stop being a coach.
It’s time to be a scholar (when the teacher becomes the student). Ask yourself if you’ve stretched your own “hometown” beyond its borders. Have you listened to, read, or chatted with someone who shares a different coaching philosophy and style? Have you read any books about OTHER sports? Have you studied materials that are applicable, but have absolutely nothing to do with sports (psychology, education, nutrition, communication, child development)? Have you gone to a conference that has to do with leadership of people and not with teaching of X’s and O’s?
That is how we evolve. We are forced out of our comfort zone, we are exposed to new environments. We are presented with something unknown that actually helps us change!
Get my drift? I want you to continue to grow as a coach, but I wish for you to also evolve as scholar. The only way to really change youth sports is to stop doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results, and the only way to accomplish this is to stop recycle what we know and trying to learn more about what we don’t know.
Wake up every morning with that eager “learner’s mind” you had when you were a freshman on college. Ready for a new day of learning things you never knew from people you never met. Get excited about diving into a topic that is so far from the sport you coach, but so interesting and fascinating. Try to see the perspective of people with whom you do not agree. You would be amazed at what you might learn that can help you evolve.
I keep a screenshot of a text I once got. Over a year after my TEDx Talk a coach I knew texted me. He was a brilliant tactician. He knew the game backwards and forwards and could teach the technical game better than most coaches I knew. But he lacked communication skills, and for as amazing as he was as a coach and getting great results, he was also losing players to the lack of “soft skills”. He needed to evolve, but he needed to figure that out on his own…I was hoping things like my TEDx might provide the gentle nudge.
The text I got was something along the lines of “I’ve been working on my communication skills”. Boom!
Do you think this would help him evolve? To listen to a guy like me who did not share the same coaching philosophy? To get out of his comfort zone and try to learn something that he thinks has nothing to do with sport (communication)? Which, by the way, has EVEYRTHING to do with sport.
Yes. I have since heard how much his coaching has evolved. Once he was eager to become a scholar again, he became a better coach. Not from recycling the same old same and only learning from the familiar. No, he became a better coach because he became a scholar. He was willing to dive into waters of knowledge where he had never swam before. He was willing to have a beginner’s mind and listen to someone he was certain could offer nothing of value. He was willing to broaden his world view and, in turn, he evolved.
Here’s the thing. I guess I should tell that coach how much I learned from him. I actually realized the genius in his methods and applied them to my training sessions. If he was willing to learn from me, I needed to be willing to learn from him. Thank goodness he reached out to me. I evolved because of his willingness to be a scholar.
I challenge you to stop being a coach, and be a scholar. I double dog dare you to find new sources for your knowledge, get out of your comfort zone, and listen to people you don’t particularly like.
Here are some things to try:
1. Take an online course about something you enjoy but has nothing to do with your sport or coaching. During the course, try to connect the dots and make it applicable. I bet you can find at least 2 ways to apply what you learn.
2. Seek out someone with whom you have disagreed in the past and ask that person to coffee. Extend the olive branch, ask their opionion and then listen. Actively listen and try to see from their eyes. Try to find one thing that person says that you can see as beneficial and apply it to your coaching. You will have learned from someone completely foreign to your realm and you will hve built a bridge. It is all about connection.
3. Go to the library. Pick a topic area in what you consider the “soft” and “unnecessary” fields and check out a book from that section. Again, as you read the book, try to link it to what you do. Coaching is working with human beings, which means all the “soft” skills are actually the most important. The better you can relate to people, know what makes them tick, communicate more effectively, and so on, the better you can actually coach them!
4. Find a conference. Any conference. Make sure it has nothing to do with sports or coaching. Attend it. My wife was a children’s ministry director for years and every time she went to a KidMin conference, I would dig into her notes and the books she got there looking for somehting I could connect to my world. In fact, I actually altered the style of my soccer camps based on some curriculums I saw in her realm. I liked the format and thought it would work for soccer too, so I switched things up a bit in how I ran my camps. Again, meet people, pick their brains, make new friends. Try to apply what you learn.
5. Finally, when you do attend your sport conferences, I dare you to go to talks by people you don’t particularly like or with whom you disagree. When I was at NSCAA last year, I made a bet with a friend that I could name 10 people who were at the conference but who would not attend his talk. My friend said “at a conference of 10,000 people, I doubt it.” He lost the bet. I named 10 coaches I knew did who were diametrically opposed to his philosophy and his approach to the game. He had two talks. Not a single one of the 10 showed up for the talks. I always look for those that don’t agree with me. You are easy to spot. It doesn’t hurt my feelings if you don’t agree with me. I actually structure pieces of my talks to reach those coaches who disagree. I always add things to my talks to get to the people who dislike me the most, because I want to help them too. Just as we should be willing to hear from people with whom we don’t agree, I must be willing to teach to those people too. It is not as much fun “preaching to the choir”. I want the naysayers in my room so I can find common ground for all of us! So I dare you to attend a talk by someone with whom you do not agreee and see if you can learn at least one thing. See if you can find common ground.
Listen. I want you to continue to be a better coach. To learn. To improve. To keep up with the game.
I also want you to be a better scholar. To evolve. To adapt. To help change the game. When we are all willing to evolve, we will begin to see real change in the world.
Here is the one thing I am trying to do: I am actually trying to understand those with whom I disagree. I want to understand the parents that yell or coach from the sideline, I want to have dialogue with the coaches who call guys like me “soft”, and I want to know why those that cling to the status quo continue to cling to the status quo.
If I am wanting to evolve, I have to know what makes them tick, why they do what they do, and how I can learn from them. So I will continue to try to have an open heart and a beginner’s mind if you will.
Let’s stop trying to be better coaches, let’s be better scholars and sit down at the table together.