What can an out of shape, overweight, late middle aged man do to help the young, fit, athlete at the top of their game? Does the fastest man in the world, Usain Bolt, really need a coach? What about Maria Sharapova, one of the world’s top women’s tennis players? I’m a big fan of ice hockey and my favorite team is coached by an older man who never played the game professionally, appears very out of shape, yet is deemed one of the best in his class. And what about professional football (soccer)? How canPep Guardiola gets paid $24,000,000 a year to coach and the top 10 soccer coaches in the world make on average $11,000,000 per year? What makes them so valuable?
For the purpose of this post I’m not going to differentiate between coaching, mentoring, teaching or advising. It all comes down to seeking advice, help and insight from someone else.
The coach to player relationship is one that receives a lot of attention in professional athletics. One day they are best friends, another day they are fighting, one day the player sings the coach praises, and another day they are blaming them. In individual sports where the athlete picks the coach we see this play out even more vividly with players regularly switching coaches, or sometimes suddenly, because they are looking for the right match, for the edge, for someone who can help them get to the next level.“He has always made the right decisions for me. He is a guiding light in my career and he has shown me the way to improve myself both as a person and as an athlete,” Bolt said in response to the importance of his coach, Glen Mills.
I like looking at the athletics world for inspiration in the business world because there are so many parallels. For instance, the difference between being the top ranked player and a top 10 or 20 players is often a matter of millimeters or milliseconds. It’s a razor sharp edge between being the best and the rest. In many ways our career experiences are no different. When you’re applying for a new job along with hundreds of other applicants, what gives you that small edge that will make a huge difference in the results?
While there are many answers to this question, professional athletes often praise their coach for being a catalyst in helping them achieve their edge. If athletes understand the importance of seeking help from others, shouldn’t we do the same in our career?
We can learn a number of lessons on the importance on seeking trusted advice from the Player/Coach relationship, here are a few;
Coaches can help us see possibilities where we can’t, and they can stay focused on the goal while we stay focused on preparing and executing to meet the goal. They act as the lighthouse, which is stationary and secure and provides a beacon to direct us when we lose focus.
It’s important to seek different viewpoints from people you trust. Coaches can play a pivotal role in thinking differently than we do, challenging our thoughts, and perhaps provide insight or ideas which we hadn’t thought about. Maybe I’m setting my goal too short? Perhaps their experiences have led them to a different conclusion and I can draw on that insight? Over the years I have valued the different perspectives that trusted advisors have shared with me. In fact often those perspectives have been a catalyst for a change or focus which turned out to be just what I needed.
We all need to push sometimes when we think we’ve had enough or we’ve given it our best. A great coach will push us to the next level and squeeze out that last bit of effort which may take us to another level. If left to our own devices we may be too satisfied with our performance or not believe we can do any better. I know this is usually what happens with me in the gym! Listen to what Mills says about Bolt, the fastest man in the world (who kind of has the right to think he’s at his best) “I wouldn’t say that we have seen the best of him,” Mills told Reuters after putting Bolt through a sprint workout. “I think that he’s capable of more (speed), if he has (injury) uninterrupted preparation.”
When our perception of a situation is influenced by emotion, which it often and rightfully is, a coach can provide a neutral, objective, and constructive view point. They haven’t invested the same emotional energy into whatever situation or experience, you’re facing and it’s very helpful to hear a trusted advisor gives a realistic viewpoint. Sometimes it’s enough to help us get out of a funk.
Encouragement and Motivation
Ultimately, some of the biggest value we can receive from a good coach is positive reinforcement, encouragement, and a motivational kick up the backside. It’s easy to get discouraged along the way when we fail at something, hit a setback, or get rejected for a job or promotion we were after. We need others to come along and encourage us, remind us of the value we have and get us in a positive frame of mind. During a critical point in a match against Serena Williams at the 2014 Brisbane International semi-final, Sharapova was mounting a strong rally and thought it important to seek some insight from her coach. “You’re letting her know you’re in her face,” coach Groeneveld said, adding that she “must commit” to her serve. Sometimes just a few words can make a big difference.