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Applying “Athlete-Centered” Coaching to Business Management

photo credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Coaching a team of any kind requires that the coach learn how to best provide skills and motivation to his/her team, and to strategically provide them based on how the team learns. Replacing “coach” with “manager, executive, boss, etc.,” it is easy to see how a transformation in method can apply to business management. Small businesses and startups are perfect for practicing new methods of management with a small group of employees and a few managers in charge. There are several methods of coaching and business management and it truly takes time to find the best method for your team.

Coaches: put the players in control, not yourself

The widely-used coaching method places the coach at the heart of the team structure. A coach is the primary decision maker, coming up with all tactics and solutions to any problem. It is a one-way street, with very little input from the players (at best once a year if there is an annual review system in place), and nothing guarantees such input will be acknowledged.

Pros & Cons

It is quite easy and quick to implement, manage, and control (“just do as I say”) – and if done properly – it can provide excellent short-term results. Moreover, such results will provide instant gratification and increased empowerment to the coach.
Disadvantages:

However, this approach does entail significant disadvantages in the mid- to long-term, capable of nullifying all short-term gains.

  1. No diversity in problem-solving “brains”: players always turn to their coach for solutions, which not only slows down the entire process, but also implies that the coach has to come up with the solution no matter what.
  2. In the long run, players get tired of being told what to do all the time. Productivity then starts decreasing, as players won’t listen to the coach as much as they used to, and even worse, will lose all sense of “belonging” to the team.

Giving Your Employees Power: The Athlete-Centered Approach

A radically different “Athlete-Centered” approach places the athletes at the center of the structure. The purpose then is to empower the athletes by giving them knowledge instead of directions. The coach becomes a “facilitator”, and through constant communication (ask AND listen), the athletes are the ones to come up with solutions to every single problem. Coaches such as John Wooden and Phil Jackson have mastered this method, with results we all know.

Benefits: As all players truly get involved in the team’s decision-making process, the team now runs efficiently all by itself, resulting in the sense of “belonging” being fulfilled, which only improves further goals. It fuels the motivational level across the board and impacts productivity positively for the long term, not by short bursts through various gimmicks. Therefore, the coach only needs to “nurture” motivated players, not “build” them.

The underlying mindset is this: “How do you know that the person you are dealing with doesn’t have the next revolutionary idea about your industry?”

Disadvantages: If any, they are only at the coach’s level. The first one is all about ego, as the coach needs to let go of control and ownership. The coach no longer is in the limelight; the team is.

“It is amazing what can be accomplished when nobody cares about who gets the credit.” -Robert Yates

This method is more complex to implement and handle, but is worth it in the end. As coaches need to think on their feet the whole time (strategy plan constantly evolves with the team), adapt and adjust. They need to master the art of questioning to get the best out of their players. Once again, ask AND listen… which also means that they need empathy: players will notice if a coach isn’t sincere when asking for input.

Stay tuned for my next blog in the coaching/management series where we will address the key points to implement this approach in depth.

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