The Wrong Way to Coach

My job involves me telling people some harsh truths.

The nice part about it is that it’s done totally confidentially, either over the phone or in person… My clients aren’t told in front of anyone else how to improve upon their existing habits or behaviors.

It’s one of the aspects of my job that I really enjoy – being able to have an open, frank conversation about life, without any fear of judgment or embarrassment.

As a mental health professional, I’ve heard it all… Nothing shocks me anymore.

I take that back; I still get shocked by some people’s behavior in public.

When I’m not sitting behind a laptop writing, speaking to an organization, or meeting with a client, I love to be out on a baseball field.

I am the assistant coach for my son’s Little League team, volunteer as a Little League umpire, and also umpire high school baseball.

Some of what I hear from behind home plate makes me shake my head.

Don’t get me wrong. We’re all humans, we have emotions, and sometimes we get close to or cross the line with how we behave – I get it. Ask my coaches and they’ll tell you that I play (and umpire) with passion.

What I don’t understand is the approach that employers and some athletic coaches take with those people they lead.

In order to obtain the best from your team, you have to lead with positivity.

I’m not telling you to withhold the truth, or to sugarcoat things. I’m suggesting that you incorporate good when you’re giving constructive criticism.

This weekend I witnessed a coach yell from the dugout to the outfield (to an eight year old boy) “You dropped the ball twice, and then you throw to the wrong base! What are you even doing out there?!”

As a consultant, coach, and a Dad – this just wrecks me.

Let’s ignore the part that as youth baseball coaches we’re supposed to help kids to fall in love with the game of baseball, a sport that Major League Baseball has acknowledged is dying among younger kids. As youth coaches we’re also supposed to teach boys and girls how to become leaders and better citizens through athletics.

We teach kids how to deal with adversity:
• How do you handle it when the umpire makes a terrible call? Do you think quietly, “man, that was brutal,” but chalk it up to the umpire being a human, or do you kick, scream, throw your bat, yell swear words, and disparage the umpire?
• How do you handle it when you make an error in the field? Do you learn from the mistake and recover, or do you pout and dwell on the mistake the rest of the game?

The lessons we teach kids on an athletic field will help our future citizens deal with situations with their teachers, other parents, and law enforcement.

Please don’t interpret this to mean that people in positions of authority are infallible. Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone has emotions and overreacts at times.

What I want to do is ask coaches and leaders to pause and think about how you react when things go badly.

What type of message are you sending to those you lead?

Are you teaching them that mistakes will get them fired? If so, they’ll be afraid to attempt anything new, and you’ll crush creativity.

Are you teaching your athletes that mistakes will get them benched? If so, you’ll kill their confidence, and they won’t improve as much.

I’m barely scratching the surface with this topic, but I want you to begin a conversation with yourself to evaluate how it is that you approach adversity.

What type of a message are you sending?

If you find yourself prone to flipping out and jumping down someone’s throat when they make a mistake, don’t beat yourself up. Here’s where you can improve…

This technique for giving feedback is as old as dirt, but it works. Some call it the “sandwich approach,” and I’ve been using it with employees, clients and athletes for many years.

Formula:
• Positive Comment
• Constructive Advice
• Positive Comment

This is what it looks like in action:
• Marco, I see you’re trying your best out here.
• Next time, before the pitch, I want you to ask yourself, “Who is my cutoff man? Where am I throwing to?” If you do this, we’ll have a better shot at getting someone out.
• Keep working hard, buddy – the team needs you!

This approach is better than dressing someone down in front of others, advising them to remove their cranium from their rectal cavity.

We’re all human. I mess up on a daily basis (just ask my wife). I write this from the perspective of a student-teacher, so I don’t have this all figured out.

What I do know is that the world is filled with negativity, and we look to sports for a positive experience. No, we’re not going to win every time, but we can play hard and have fun.

Employees spend 8-12 hours at work. A supervisor’s attitude during adversity can be the difference between holding on to good talent, or having constant turnover.

I hope this helps us all improve so that we can all be willing to tell each other the things that we don’t necessarily want to hear, but need to hear!

Please leave me a comment below and let me know your thoughts. Do you agree with my advice? Do you disagree? I’d love to hear from you.

3 Comments

  1. Great article Galel. Would have loved to have a few of Jake’s coaches see this article thru the many years he played baseball.

  2. Love it Galel! This is exactly how I try to lead my employees at work, coach my athletes in sports, and even parent my kids at home. Although I fail miserably at times, I consistently strive to be a better leader in all aspects of life. Reading stuff like this always helps stay on track. Great job!

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