“As a coach, you are judged by the quality of your communication.” – Lee Johnson
Lee Johnson has many years of coaching experience under his belt, but he knows that developing the skills you need to be a great coach is an on-going learning process, and as he describes it:
“Coaching is an art form.”
The Art of Coaching
Communication skills are clearly important if you are to be effective as a coach, but coaching is not just what you say, it’s how you say it and when you say it.
In today’s world of external pressures, not least through social media, a storm can brew very quickly, making emotional intelligence a key coaching skill. Lee says, “It’s important to understand when it’s time to push and when it’s time to back off. The ability to reframe to meet the needs of an individual player in any given situation is a skill that coaches need to develop. In football, you need to drive performance, but you also need to show empathy, and as a coach, it’s a fine line. A coach wears at least two hats: one is showing love and compassion for the individual, building trust, and the other is being the driver of the individual’s performance. It’s a delicate balance, and the shift from one hat to the other is an art form.”
Becoming the Decision Maker
Making the switch from player to coach can be a tough transition. It may involve making a switch from being a player with status, perhaps familiar with the role of team captain, to stepping into a role that places you back at the very bottom rung on a new career ladder. It takes confidence to become the decision maker for a team of friends as well as players.
Lee has not forgotten the experience of being new to the role and starting out as a coach. He says:
“I had all these dreams and philosophes about how I wanted to play. On the day before my first game as a coach, I set up a team of mannequins to play against as I wanted to go through a few patterns of play and rotations. After five minutes, we hadn’t scored – against a team of mannequins! Another pattern, still no score, then on the final pattern, the ball deflected off a mannequin and an own goal was scored. We were beaten 1-0 by the mannequins, and I remember thinking that my career could surely only go uphill from this point.”
Being a World-Class Communicator
A skilled coach can get the best out of players by recognising the mood of each individual in any given situation and communicating accordingly. For example, the mood of a player before a match may indicate that a confidence boost is needed, but an understanding of the player is also needed to ensure the best means of conveying a confidence boost is used. The language used and the communication approach may then change at half-time depending on the team’s performance. Lee says:
“Some players may respond to a ‘hairdryer’ treatment, others may need a different approach to ensure the message is being received. Rapport and understanding are needed to get the best out of an individual. Today’s player doesn’t want to be dug out in front of the troops so it’s important to criticise the action, not the player. Come Monday, you will find them as you leave them on Saturday, so the words you use after the match are as important as those used before and during.”
Coaching is an art form, and building the skills you need to become a great coach is an on-going process. But, as a coach, you will be judged on the quality of your communication, so are you doing all you can to keep learning and improving?
Don MacNaughton is a High Performance Coach who for the last 17 years has worked in Sports and Business helping develop individuals and team to get the most of their potential
To listen to Lee’s full interview click here