During season I can’t tell you how many 3:37 am worry sessions I have. Just me and my pillow trying to figure things out. For me, it’s one of the least enjoyable parts of coaching.
I’m not the only coach this happens to. I once heard football coach Lou Holtz say during season he slept like a baby — waking up every two hours, crying.
Rattling around the Internet yesterday I found a technique that might help with this Coach-Sleep. It’s called a pre-mortem.
In the medical world, a post-mortem is used to examine a negative medical outcome (someone died, spread of disease, botched treatments and the such). If you watch any doctor-type shows you’ve probably seen one done. The business and academic world does something similar — calling them things like exit interviews, satisfaction surveys, or wrap-ups. Regardless of the name, they are trying to discover what went wrong, and how to avoid the issue in the future.
Pre-mortem’s are different
A pre-mortem is doing a post-mortem BEFORE an event. A term coined by Gary Klein in Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions, pre-mortems are about envisioning what COULD happen (instead of what DID happen); and then visualizing what action could be/should be taken.
Have you ever said, “Hey, what happened?” “Whoa … I never expected that!” “Jeez, they can’t do that. It’s not fair.” If so, a pre-mortem should be in your tool box.
Rarely Used By Coaches
Coaches rarely use pre-mortem because we:
- have visualized a specific outcome, and can’t see things differently
- don’t want to be distracted, and vary from THE PLAN
- are superstitious, and know thinking about bad stuff will make it happen
- have so little time, we can barely get our teeth brushed
Here’s the truth — your plan and the outcome rarely resemble each other. When you consider all the moving parts in sports — the promises that get broken, the rules that change, the differences in human nature — why the heck should the plan and outcome look the same?
They shouldn’t. And they don’t.
To reduce the number and size of the surprises you get, you need to be prepared — and a pre-mortem can help.
Yes, pre-mortems are mostly focused on worst-case scenarios, but we should add a variation to that. My pre-mortem, and your pre-mortem, should focus on the worst- case AND the best-case scenarios. For example,
- What if we win the championship?
- What if our next recruiting class if the biggest one ever?
- What if they decide to double my salary?
- What if we are asked to go to the White House?
To be clear, this is different than daydreaming. Building fantastical things up in your imagination is daydreaming. Pre-mortem is about things that really could happen.
Action You Can (And Should) Take
I can understand being resistant to trying this because of time or superstition. Fine. Go about your business then. But I think you’ll be missing out on an important tool to have.
For you that want to try a pre-mortem, here are some suggested action steps.
- Set aside non-emotional time.
- Have as many opinion people there as needed. Get your team together and pretend a blessing/disaster has struck.
- Have everyone write down 5-10 blessings/disasters. Go around to everyone (and yes, you might be the only one there). Pick the top several ones.
- Looking at that list, what action could you take to improve the chance of the blessing occurring, or reduce the instance of the disaster. Create solutions, with detailed actions, for future efforts.
- Record the discussion (whiteboard with photos taken, notes on paper disseminated later)
- Pass the information along to those who need it.
Granted, this isn’t rocket-live-brain-TV-science-surgery. It’s more like common sense, that’s not so common. Worth a try, I think. Here’s a really simple pre-mortem example:
- We had a big recruiting event this Fall.
- I wrote out a list of possible blessings (having more than our max numbers visit) and our disasters (a recruit getting sick during the visit).
- I then asked “What if …we have 15 recruits show up?” And “What if … a recruit got sick?”
- After “What if ….” I added “then I will …” So I had statements like these: “What if we have 15 recruits show up? Then I will have to ask the Men’s Lax team to borrow some of their air mattresses for the overnight visits.” And, “What if a recruit gets sick? Then I will make sure they have my cell phone number and know how to contact me immediately.”
The power of the list, and these actions, is that I was more prepared. You will be too, and have the presence to act with more control. You will be able to find more joy in the blessing and less trauma in the disaster.
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This is going to be your year of coaching! I’m here to help. That’s one reason I’m writing books like this. Let me know what struggles or blessings you’re dealing with. We got this!
Coach well friend, we need you more than ever.
- Performing a Project Premortem – Gary Klein
- Startups: How to Do a Pre-Mortem (and Prevent a Post-Mortem) – Guy Kawasaki
- The Obstacle Is The Way – Ryan Holiday
- The Pre-Mortem: A Simple Technique to Save Any Project From Failure – Tyler Tervooren