Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Coaching on the field and in the workplace

A friend writes, "It occurred to me that not everyone in the audience for your speeches may associate the term 'coach' with a positive experience."  I was taken aback, knowing the relationships I had with the children I have coached in soccer and with the staff in organizations I have run.  Not that I am a perfect coach by any means, but I know that I go into the job with the intent of creating a meaningful and fun-filled experience that promotes personal growth.

And then, another friend sent me a link to this video.  Much of it is about the relative advantages of spontaneous play versus organized sports for children, but if you start the clip at minute 17, you see the negative effects of bad coaching, leading to the frame presented above:  "70% of kids who play organized sport drop out by 13 citing burnout, exhaustion and the high pressure environment."

Then, I heard a presentation by Rebecca Manley to the board of our local girls soccer league.  She surveyed the girls and found the following themes for positive coaching experiences:

Gave positive feedback, high fives, told me individually that I did a good job;
Did not care about winning or losing, but cared about the quality of play;
Cheered for us;
Great communicator, felt comfortable asking questions;
Made practices and games fun;
Did not yell at us.

A typical verbatim comment:

My favorite coach was my favorite because he was passionate about the game and his players. I felt like I was playing as much for him as for myself because he truly cared about each of us.  He also had the most creative drills, and practice was always fun. He was sure to point out what each player was doing right, and not only when accompanied by constructive criticism, like some coaches do.

The key themes for negative coaching experiences were the following:

Yelled at us a lot;
Did not give encouragement, he couldn't tell when our feelings were hurt;
Did not connect with the players, didn't know my name;
Showed favoritism, playing time was not equal.

A revealing verbatim comment:

My least favorite coach never had a positive attitude, and only told us what we did wrong.  he was only satisfied if we won the game, and during the game would constantly be screaming at the team on the field, which sometimes distracted us.  It was hard because we were constantly being told what to do on the field, so we could never think for ourselves.

If you think, as I do, that the experience children have playing sports has an effect on self-image, growth, the ability to engage in teamwork, and the children's own leadership abilities, you can tie these reactions about interactions with coaches to the potential for success in schools and in the workplace.  I'm not saying that a child who has had bad experiences with coaches in youth sports will end up as a failure, a criminal, or a misanthrope.  I'm just saying that bad coaching represents a missed opportunity to help a child gain skills and perspectives that can carry over into their education and jobs.  In short, why not coach well rather than poorly?

Tovah at 14
This story about Tovah exemplifies that.  She now says, "That season was very meaningful to me."  She elaborated by telling me that my approach to an error she made on the field had taught her a great lesson, one that she was conscious of trying to apply in her personal and professional interactions today. She is now trying to “pay it forward,” offering others the same environment within which to improve.

Let's turn to adult life and specifically to health care, which is especially notable as  a "low praise zone."  Little wonder when you review Linda Pololi's research about the environment among faculty in medical schools. Note the similarity of Linda's conclusions to the comments of the young girl quoted by Rebecca above.

Two fundamental worrisome experiences . . . were a sense of disconnection and having few trusting relationships with colleagues and supervisors.

The system is designed to create barriers at all levels to collaboration and collegiality.


No attention was paid to what people were feeling. . . . [T]his refusal to engage them as individuals had a depersonalizing effect. The culture seemed to ignore the qualities that made them able to address human needs and show compassion and sensitivity to others.

We found little indication that medical schools cultivated appreciation of people's efforts. Rather, the focus was on finding fault.

If the training ground of American physicians works against a common sense view of the world, is there any doubt as to why we have such problems in patient care? Clinical and administrative leaders in hospitals must strive to undo the culture that is embedded in these centers of learning and help those who have devoted their lives to alleviating human suffering to start, first, to alleviate their own suffering and sense of loneliness and isolation.

It is an elemental statement about the human condition that we are born to work and play together in teams, but we have to give enough of ourselves to let the filaments connect.  The coach, more than anyone else on the field, has to be most giving.  


Anonymous said...

Your comments are right on point with regard to both youth sports and health care. Regarding the latter, I am trying to recall if I really ever heard a positive comment from a superior during my training. I cannot remember any, but I sure remember the many negative ones, even 35 years later! Perhaps that alone is the lesson.

As far as youth sports goes, it is my pet peeve that these organized sports have often become more of a forum for the adults to work out their own power and athletic adequacy issues, rather than a child-centered activity. In addition, I fear that college costs have made many parents seek athletic excellence as the means to an end of an athletic scholarship. Even if the kids obtain one, many quit the sport during college due to the excessive demands of college varsity sports. What are we accomplishing here?


Nancy said...

Amen! Bad coaching can leave a lasting impact.

Anecdote - I moved my daughter off a soccer team to a different one, after I saw what was happening and discussing it with her. Her self-confidence on the field took a dive and it's not back to what it was before.