Coach You, Coach Me

19 March 2013

What is a coach? Or, more specifically, what does a coach do? I’m fascinated by rugby league – a brutal game if there ever was one. Coaches really matter because discipline keeps the whole collision thing from running out of control. But what does a league coach do? Instruct, inform, guide and cajole? Well, not really. Or at least not entirely. The league coach creates a framework in which his team can excel. Sometimes it does that against the coach’s instructions. That must be frustrating with set moves rehearsed day in and day out, but you can’t argue with results. Learning by rote only works so far, and brilliant moments are often spontaneous and individual, which is why the game is a joy to watch. No spectators, no coach.    

This interplay of discipline and spontaneity is sport’s gift to the world. It’s so obvious there, played out on the grand stage. We take it elsewhere, shape it, change it. Bringing up kids is much the same. Parents say ‘here’s your structure, but you’re not a robot. Let’s see what you can do.’ Yes, even here in Hong Kong (though to actually see that you’ll need to look a little harder). We coach: even when saying ‘no!’ or ‘never!’ there’s always the unspoken alternative – ‘surprise me’ (but in a good way).

In business too.

A supervisor who coaches doesn’t say ‘you’re wrong’ with each error. Sometimes that’s important, but everyone needs to learn. The coach picks the time to say ‘this isn’t optimal, let’s look at an alternative. What’s the process you see? Let’s think it through and see what the outcome will be for us and the customer.’ Hard? No, not really. You just need patience. Not everyone can learn, but those who can and do will push you on too. To ask the right questions you need to know the right answers, or at least versions of them. Returning to sport, that’s why the very best coaches win multiple championships. They shape their teams, and the teams shape them.

So, Stephanie, thanks (to end a little cryptically – it’s the team that counts, after all).