Coaching for Non-Athletes
I've spent a good chunk of my life in the athletic arena. As a competitor in various sports from the age of 5 all the way through college as a division I wrestler. And after college as a coach at every level of competition from youth programs to college athletes, primarily in the sport of wrestling, but also in soccer and baseball.
There is something I have noticed about the relationship between a coach and a competitor that has a great parallel to leadership in general.
A coach has the ability to offer tremendously pointed critical feedback to their athlete. In point of fact it is essential to their job as a coach to offer this criticism without softening the blow. But most athletes don't feel this criticism as an attack, but rather as a help.
What is going on here?
What lessons can we learn for mentorship in other venues?
1) A coach is trusted to be completely invested in the success of the athlete. In point of fact, the coach loses when the athlete loses, and wins when the athlete wins. This trust is inherent in the relationship. What does it look like to build this kind of trust in coaching relationships outside of the athletic arena?
2) A coach is trusted as an expert on the sport they are coaching. This is usually because of two important facts: the coach has had a successful career in that sport far surpassing the level of those in the program, and the coach is able to defeat those he is coaching in direct competition. What does it look like to demonstrate this level of mastery in an area of expertise other than athletics?
3) A coach doesn't simply offer criticism, they offer a practical vision of success. The coach is a walking example of victory. The coach can demonstrate successful techniques and strategies for the athlete to watch and learn. The coach offers stories about what victory feels like. How can a compelling vision be offered outside of the athletic arena?
4) A coach doesn't simply point at the objective and say, "get to work." The coach also provides the strategy for success. The coach offers a clear pathway to accomplish victory. The coach leads the athlete through a process that is designed to end at the success of the athlete. What does is look like to advocate for productive strategies in areas other than sports?
5) Criticism is offered within this larger framework of vision and strategy, coming from a trusted expert. This criticism is focused on specific details, and designed to motivate the athlete, not to demoralize them. This criticism is usually balanced by equal amounts of praise. A good coach is always happy when the athlete is hard at work, but a good coach is never satisfied. What does it look like to offer this kind of constructive criticism in other endeavors.