I rolled into a Lego store years ago. The fellow behind the counter, who oozed “I’m a Lego freak” was instructing a new dad, who himself was oozing “I don’t get Lego.”
Dad was getting schooled on the simple steps of how to build a Lego.
Overhearing the salesclerk’s plan, I thought it seemed reasonable that it might work for about anything, including coaching.
Y’see, coaching is one of those “special” jobs. One in which many think they can do it but seldom few truly can, and even fewer can do it well. That doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of coaches trying. I’ve seen estimates of over 5 million coaches in the US. However, there are a lot of us who struggle.
Struggling comes with the territory, since very few coaches have any official training when they first venture into coaching. I’ll stick my neck out and guess there are many more coaches with degrees in English, French literature, or anthropology than those that have degrees in coaching.
If you are just getting into coaching, no worries, a simple plan can help. Let me adapt the Lego plan from above and pitch you a very basic method for how to coach.
The plan includes 7 simple steps. Many details are left out, so consider this more of a road map than inch-by-inch directions from Google Maps.
Step 1: Find Love
A kid in the back of the Lego store is jumping up and down. He is freaking over the latest and greatest StarWars Lego. His excitement is explosive. Just a little dose of that excitement is what you need to coach.
See, coaching is tough. Coaching is boring. Coaching is tedious. Coaching is thankless. Coaching is crazy.
Coaching is, well … whatever you make of it, and if you want to coach you need to find love, aka passion aka excitement in some part of it. Just like the little guy in the store.
Me? I’m in love with practices and how the lessons taught and learned there can apply to other aspects of an athlete’s life. You? If you can’t find something to love about coaching, well … it might not be the right thing for you.
Step 2: Why Buy That Box?
My own kids are constantly buying Lego, and I always ask them, “Why that set?”
I’m really interested to know why they bought a particular Lego. They always come back with things like, “Well, this garbage truck works well with this building.” Or, “I need this one because my Lego guys need this type of transport.” They always know WHY they buy what they buy.
Carrying that over to coaching, do you know WHY YOU ARE COACHING? It’s dang important to know.
Fine and dandy if you’re coaching to help the local rec team, who needs a coach otherwise kids won’t play. You’re giving, and that’s admirable.
However, I’m not so sure coaching to win the elusive “big one” is a good idea. Probably just a recipe for disaster.
Knowing why you coach is powerful, critical, healthy. So, do you know?
Step 3: Commit
Buy a Lego. Drive home. Open the box. You’ve made a commitment.
And that’s the next step to coaching … commit. So many coaches are half-committed — one foot in the boat and one on the dock. To be successful at coaching you need to commit. Commit to foundational skills such as:
- Being honest
- Having a vision
- Being empathic
- Caring more about your athletes than about you or the record
- Communicating clearly
Step 4: Follow the directions
When a Lego box gets open, the building starts. Yet, without the directions supplied there’s no telling what you’ll end up creating. Same with coaching.
What directions should a coach use? Fair question.
We live in one of the few modern countries that does not have a national coaching program, and very few sports publish operationing manuals for coaches. So, ask me again, “What directions?”
You often have to find or create your own directions. If you’re cooking, trying to whip up Eggs Benedict, and you don’t have a clue how to proceed, what do you do? Well, you might:
- call someone who knows (“Hey, Mom …”)
- scour the internet
- grab a cookbook
- watch a cooking show
You get the drift. Find someone who has the instructions and get them to share. There are some wicked smart coaches out there, who are nice, helpful people, and who are gracious with their knowledge. Maybe one of them will help. Or, there might be a great book.
Look around. There are directions somewhere.
Step 5: Stuck? Get help
You’re going to hit a roadblock sooner than later. What to do, what to do?
Step 6: Enjoy it
Once a Lego is built, it gets enjoyed. Either on the shelf or on the playmat, there is joy. I’ve found this is often one of the hardest things for coaches to do … find the joy.
The pressure can be intense. The expectations crushing. The support invisible. Regardless, there is joy to be found, but you are the one who is responsible to find it. Dig — it is there. Or should be there. If you cannot find it, someone is sending you a signal. Listen to it.
Step 7: Become a better builder
No sooner is one Lego built, then it’s time to buy and build another. That’s how coaching works too … one season over and another right around the corner. What have you learned as you coached? How will you be a better coach tomorrow? What will you do differently today? All super important questions, and the answers are critical to doing a better job.
Did I answer the original question, “How do I coach?” Probably not. But if I caused you to think, to consider a few actions to take, then I’m okay with that. There is a lot of art, and a lot of science to coaching. The answer to the question is one we can, and should, continue to discuss. You on board? I am if you are.