The Number One Role of a Coach

Coaching, regardless of the domain in which it’s taking place or the client/athlete that is being worked with, is an incredibly challenging, albeit rewarding, vocation. It is, above all other things, what I feel the most “made for” as an individual. It has given me a great sense of purpose in life, and if I can pull a quote from The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari for just a moment: “the purpose of life is a life of purpose.”

From my own personal experience, I wouldn’t be the person that I am today without all of the amazing mentors that I’ve been coached by throughout various phases of my life. Regardless of whether it was in an athletic, academic, musical or some other context, these coaches have all impacted me both inside and outside of their coaching domains. For me, the power of a coach’s teachings to go beyond their most direct applications (for example, when a football coach’s advice goes beyond the game of football and builds on a “real world” skill) is what makes coaches so valuable in our society.

Why do coaches exist? Of course, at the grassroots or entry level of any pursuit, there is always a need for teachers of a given craft. But what about for the super advanced, very experienced players in the game? Does a twenty year veteran of an industry need coaching? Based on what I believe the top job of a coach is, I’d say the answer is yes.

While listening recently to an episode of the Radical Personal Finance Podcast, which featured an interview with Carl Richards, I caught an amazing piece of insight that sums up why we all need coaches in our lives.

Carl is a long-time financial guru who at one point was looking into hiring his own financial advisor. Although he himself is extremely qualified to give financial advice to others, he chose to hire an advisor because everyone has their blind spots. I love this particular use of that term. Personal blind spots, which prevent someone from realizing the full effects of their current or potential future actions, are likely the single most important aspect of an individual that a coach can positively affect!

These blind spots are (logically) in places that require the eyes of others to see. We need others to give us their observations and feedback. Consider this metaphorically: a mirror only shows us one side of who we are. While it may give us a perfect image of one part of us, there is an entirely separate half (our backsides) which goes completely unseen.

While self-evaluation and introspection are incredibly valuable processes that certainly encourage personal growth, they do have their limits.

John Maxwell, one of my favourite leadership experts and authors, had this to say when asked about what the word “coach” meant to him:

Of all the different catch phrases that John mentioned in the video, “coming alongside” and “paving the way” really stood out to me the most. “Coming alongside” is a fantastic way of looking at coaching as the constructive and cooperative process that it is. “Paving the way” caught my fancy as well, because it illustrates the constant forward thinking perspective that a coach has on his team, athlete or client. By smoothing out the bumps in the road, while helping to check the blind spots along the way, a coach allows an individual to develop more rapidly and more efficiently than they would have be able to on their own.

“Un-coachable” is a term that is sometimes used by frustrated coaches when they are dealing with pupils who are resistant to the coaching process. They are the ones who seem to always contest what the coach is trying to teach, or struggle to apply corrections or new techniques in an efficient manner. There are two main questions I try and ask myself when dealing with these kinds of people:

  1. Does the person really want to change?
  2. Is there another (better) way of teaching this individual?

If the person is viewed as someone who is refusing to change, then there is a very real possibility that all of the coaching points in the world will not make a difference in their lives. Sometimes they just aren’t ready for the coaching process to take hold. Hopefully, they will come around, whether that is by necessity or by choice. The coaches who can impact someone who is as stubborn as this, however, are worth their weight in gold, as they are few and far between! Logically, they must be exceptionally persevering (perhaps it may be fair to call them stubborn as well!) who will not quit their role as a coach when they meet such a challenge.

Ironically, I was that kind of un-coachable person back in the time when I was a unilingual Anglophone struggling to learn French. My negative attitude toward the language held me back from wanting to truly pursue improvement. Necessity and choice both played a key role in my change of attitude, and once I became committed to changing my ways, all of the coaches and supporters in the world came to my aid. Fast-forward three years, et je suis de plus ou moins bilingue. Thanks to everyone who helped me, the road to a bilingual life became very obvious, and all I had to do was follow it (something I’m still doing to this day) to the place on the linguistic map where I am now.

When an individual’s problems are rooted in the second of the two questions above, a coach is faced with a scenario that requires further critical thinking and often some creative solutions.

Everyone learns in their own way. That shouldn’t come as a surprise to hear, but what is surprising is how most people often struggle to find their own optimal learning styles. This was my particular case in university – I was often brutal in large group lectures and could not absorb much information from my professors in that setting.

Since the end of last football season, I have been reflecting on the struggles of one of my athletes who experienced a disappointing first season of elite competition. It is my privilege to have the chance to work regularly with this young man, who is a talented and capable individual. However, he suffered from some very inconsistent play which led to a significant decline in his confidence level – that’s not what’s ideally supposed to happen in coaching!

As a coach, it is my job to resolve this issue. Building the fire within, empowering the individual, paving the way…was it possible that I was failing to do this? Were my teachings really be learned?

This particular athlete has worked hard and in a disciplined manner to improve; he has fulfilled his role in our coach-player relationship. My approach to teaching him has changed pretty drastically in recent months. Drills are now broken down and taught at a slightly slower pace. Feedback is given more precisely, and even more constantly than before. Vague explanations are avoided at all cost. Ensuring that he understands “the what, the how, and the why” behind various techniques. Staying in touch with how he is progressing mentally is a top priority and is carried out every time I go to work with him.

He’s a fantastic young man and he deserves a coach who can tailor the suit of instruction to the shape of his mind!

Whether you are looking for a coach, or are one yourself, these are the things to be on the lookout for on a regular basis. Coaches are students themselves – they never stop learning and perfecting their craft! Go out and be optimistic about the future because any difficult situation can be made better when the right help is in place.

As one of my first and favourite mentors always says on his voicemail recording, “now go out and do something nice for someone today!”



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