Inspire Me – Please!

I spend a lot of time on basketball courts and pool decks, watching athletes try their hardest to translate their coaches’ words of advice into winning performance. The best leaders I have worked with have the same traits as a good sports coach in improving their team’s performance.

The best coaches I know all had good coaches themselves. They learned from people who were supportive and kind, who set a high performance bar and who tapped the intrinsic motivation in their athletes with the right words of guidance and encouragement. In business, these people are the leaders everyone wants to work for because they know they will learn something, be stretched in their roles and be a better person and player by the season’s end.

  • Good coaches and leaders don’t just tell you what to do. They provide you solid direction on how to do it well. I avoid swimming with my neighborhood masters’ swim team because the coach doesn’t inspire me. His coaching method is to stand on the pool deck and read out the workout, with no explanation or instruction on what to work on in each drill. So instead, I get my coaching via email from a woman who provides me specific instruction so I can become a better swimmer. For example, she told me to roll my body to get better extension in my stroke, and to keep my tricep engaged until my arm leaves the water. Her tips are pretty basic, and give me just enough direction so I know what to work on each time I get in the water. Next time you are handing out assignments to your team, be ready with quick pointers that will help them focus their performance.
  • Good coaches and leaders help their players visualize what great performance looks like. “Block out” is a common defensive position in basketball to prevent your opponent from getting a rebound after a failed shot. When teaching new players how to correctly “block out,” my kids’ coaches use a more descriptive and middle-school-worthy explanation they call “butt in the gut” – as in go stick your butt in your defender’s gut. What images are you using to show your team what their success looks like?
  •  Good coaches and leaders know what their players are capable of, even when they players don’t. My daughter has spent much of 7th grade working on her layup. In a recent game, she was dribbling down court, ahead of the opposing team and moving into position for a layup. But then she balked, and at the last minute decided on a jump shot and shooting a safe insider. As she ran back up court to get into defensive position, her coach called to her from the sidelines: “Next time, take your layup.” That comment spoke volumes to my daughter that her coach had confidence in her layup even when she didn’t. You can instill the same confidence in your team by explaining how their skills contribute to a successful project and by recognizing their improvement in a development area.

I choose sports teams for my kids (and myself) because of the skill of the coaches, how they help us develop into better athletes and sportsmen/women. As leaders, you can develop your team’s performance by emulating some of the techniques of great coaches.

Heather Nelson is a Partner at PeopleResults. You can reach her on Twitter @HeatherGNelson1.