“The job of an older man is to notice what a younger man has done well and point it out.” – Carl Jung
All the best coaches have a desire for knowledge and discovery, but it’s not just learning that sets them apart, it’s applying what they learn. It’s fair to say that not everything presented in a training or coach development course is going to hit home straight away, but in the right learning environment, “penny drop” moments take place. What you learn on a course might not be applicable instantly, but if it’s understood, then it becomes knowledge that can be applied in the future.
The human brain works well when it knows it’s making progress. As an example, imagine yourself standing in a long queue waiting to board an aeroplane. How good does it feel when you take one step forwards? You see, even though you stop again, it feels great to have taken that step. Your brain recognises this one step as making progress.
In coaching, if you measure your progress purely on results, what happens when you’re not working with a team. How do you know you’re getting better?
As a coach, you need to come up with your own metrics. This might be based on how hard you work, what you’re learning, who you have as a mentor, or what work you’re doing to improve your language, communication, and listening skills – things that can be measured subjectively. Improvements across these areas will ultimately lead to success with a team, but you need to have the patience to make these improvements first before you can get there.
With this in mind, the biggest challenge for many coaches is returning to being the learner.
Coaches tend to be older (not always though), and it’s fair to say that the older we get, the more likely it is we’ve forgotten what it’s like to learn new things. This can lead to feeling unsure of whether progress is being made and perhaps choosing to just stick with what we already know, rather than putting ourselves out there to try new things.
To improve and to progress as a coach, you need to step out of your comfort zone, and this means experiencing “oh, sh*t!” moments.
Oh, Sh*t Moments
The moments that push you out of your comfort zone are the learning moments. “Oh, sh*t!” moments are going to be different from person to person depending on their past experience, but it’s that moment in which you’re questioning and doubting yourself – you’re having a wobble.
Recognising that you’re having a wobble and recognising that these wobbles are crucial to your development is the key to pushing through them. It’s stepping out of your comfort zone and pushing through the wobbles that will lead to the greatest improvements.
As a coach, stepping out of your comfort zone and experiencing those “oh, sh*t!” moments for yourself is a great way to develop empathy with your players. Players are only human, and the human experience affects the ability to learn, coach, and play.
As Carl Jung said, “The job of an older man is to notice what a younger man has done well and point it out.” This is one of the aspects ot the role of a coach and a mentor. However, although the human brain works well when it notices it’s making progress, it also has a negative bias.
The ancient part of the brain remains focused on keeping you safe from threats, so it’s always looking for them. In coaching, this might translate to your team playing fantastically for 88 minutes, but you notice the one mistake in the 89th minute that perhaps cost them a goal.
Negatives are noticed because they’re perceived as threats.
The feedback given to players and to yourself at the end of a training session or a match is hugely important in terms of learning and progressing, but it’s important to begin the process by focusing on positives. For example: what has your team done well, or what did you do well as a coach?
The next question is the one your brain would like to focus on: what was tricky, or what was difficult? Both of these questions need to be answered descriptively, not just “that was good” or “that was rubbish” – what was good, exactly, and what was rubbish, exactly.
The more descriptive the answers, the more the brain is able to create a hook that can be used to recall information in the future.
The third question then becomes the one that turns everything into a learning opportunity: if you knew then what you know now after playing that game, what would you have done differently?
With this approach, every outcome is an opportunity to learn and progress at every level.
Motivation to Progress
Coaches are passionate about the game. If you’ve loved football as a player, your passion carries through into coaching, but what really motivates you? You want to coach, but take your thoughts a step further. What could you be world class at – attacking coach; a coach that coaches transitions; a goal keeping coach? To keep progressing, work out of your strengths, and develop your skills to differentiate yourself from other coaches.
We all learn through using our imagination, so use the lockdown as an opportunity to visualise your career and where you want to go. It’s not a guarantee, but take the time to visualise what would you love to achieve.
- Take an A4 sheet of paper.
- At the bottom, write down where you are.
- At the top, write down where you want to be.
- Now write down the answers to two questions: what could stop you from getting there and what is your plan.
It’s a simple exercise using just one sheet of A4 and four steps, but it’s an exercise that will help to keep you motivated to progress. Look at it this way: when the lockdown is lifted, be ready to hit the ground running.
For the last 17 years Don MacNaughton has worked with thousands of players and coaches on the mental side of their game .If you are interested in working with Don on an individual level please email firstname.lastname@example.org