1 on 1 Soccer Coaching:
How to Inspire Top Performance When it Matters Most
It’s no secret that inspiring your athletes is one of the most important skills when it comes to soccer coaching.
In fact, it’s a culmination of several different skills: you need to master communication, listening, empathy, your purpose, your vision, and good old-fashioned human psychology if you want to inspire your athletes.
Bottom line? If you want to inspire your athletes, the right communication is a must.
And in this guide, I’m going to show you everything you need to know about inspiring your athletes when it matters most.
Let’s dive right in.
There’s plenty of different theories out there about soccer coaching techniques. And if you’re looking for leadership help you’ll find there’s even more of advice on that.
So, what makes this article different?
The answer is that this article details an easy-to-follow simple three-step plan that you can actually use to inspire your players to perform better, whether it’s for a 1 on 1 soccer coaching session or to inspire the whole team to do their best.
This is a hefty claim to make of course, but I don’t do it lightly.
I’ve made it through plenty of different high-pressure situations – whether as a soccer player working with lots of coaches, as a soccer coach working with lots of players, or serving as the leader of the fast-paced business Coachable.
During my time I’ve observed many Coachable coaches over hundreds of 1 on 1 soccer coaching sessions. During this time I’ve seen plenty of inspirational and superb private soccer coaching, and there are times my teammates and I have agonized about the awful coaching we’ve been subjected to.
I’ve had the pleasure of working with great leaders, managers, and mentors, and the misfortune of dealing with bad ones. I’ve learned a valuable lesson from each and every coach – whether good or bad – and I’ve always been grateful to them.
Despite all of this experience, I was never once taught the fundamentals for inspiring excellence that I’m going to share with you today; the Coachable Model.
The method was distilled by combining the knowledge of the best coaches, teachers, and business leaders encountered in my career. I found that, amazingly enough, these people tended to use similar approaches to things even though they came from different backgrounds.
There’s a chance that you’re already making use of some parts of the Coachable Model. I’d been using it for years myself, somewhat unconsciously at first, before using it more deliberately as I understood the power of the model.
The model – and indeed your soccer coaching/leadership skills – are at their best when used deliberately and consciously. At the very core of it, after understanding the Coachable Model and feeling the power of it, it can extend through the entirety of a relationship.
When you find yourself in crunch time (such as a meeting you need to encourage athletes to willingly and wholeheartedly perform at their best) you’ll be able to focus the model into a quick Coachable Conversation that only takes a few minutes, if that. The main thing you have to understand about the model is that it really does work virtually every time.
I suggest that you keep on reading the article, become more familiar with the model, and give it a try.
Keep the model in mind during your next crunch time meeting with athletes you really care for. I promise you this; when you’re entering a crunch time meeting with the Coachable Model techniques consciously in mind, you’ll see some amazing results.
The Coachable Model allows you to coach other people up. The results can be seen in the posture of the player, heard in their voice, and felt in their energy levels. It feels great to be coached like that.
Also, take note of the great feeling of being the coach during these conversations. Inspiration works both ways. Both the one doing the inspiring and the one inspired are engaged, energized, and heartened. Cast your mind back to a time someone connected to you and offered their support and advice. Didn’t it feel great? I’m sure it also felt great for the person who shared that inspiration with you.
These days, if you’re a soccer coach of any type, you can’t simply order athletes around and expect them to do what you want. They may follow your directions if you are watching, but once they’re left on their own they’ll go back to doing what they think is important.
When athletes aren’t just engaged, but inspired, that’s when players, teams, and clubs see real breakthroughs. Inspired athletes are themselves far more effective and, in turn, inspire those around them to strive for greater heights.
Inspiring coaches are those who use their unique combination of strengths to motivate athletes and teams to take on bold missions – and hold them accountable for results. And they unlock higher performance through empowerment, not command and control.
Who Can Use The Coachable Model?
Even though the Coachable Model is extremely effective, it only works if you care about the player or person you’re using it on. While you don’t need to outright love your player to be an effective coach and have a Coachable Conversation, you do need to care about their well-being and respect them.
Empathy is one of the most important aspects of the Coachable Model. You have to be open to feeling what both you and the person being coached are feeling, fully and clearly.
Keep these three guidelines in mind as you practice the Coachable Model:
1. The player has to trust you to respect them and care about their success and well-being. As Susan Weinschenk points out in How to Get People to Do Stuff, “To get people to trust you, first show them that you trust them. When they trust you, they will be more likely to do what you are asking them to do.”
2. Remember that there’s more to it that caring about your player and respecting them deep down; you need to be able to communicate that to them. You’ll have plenty of chances to do this each day if the player is someone that you coach privately, on a team, or see often.
Now it’s time to look at the Coachable Model itself!
How the Coachable Model Works
An Actual Coachable Conversation:
Sometimes the Coachable Model encompasses the entire relationship you have with a player, while at others it’s a short and sharp conversation. The following is an example of one such conversation:
Let’s imagine that you are the private soccer coach for a young, up and coming soccer player.
The gold medal game for nationals is only three days away and the team’s star striker had an injury and now your soccer player is in charge of taking the teams set pieces (free kicks).
You only had time to complete two soccer coaching sessions focusing on free kicks before the gold medal game.
The match begins. You have come to watch your player at the National Championships.
At the end of the first half, his team emerges from a brutal battle in which neither team has gained the upper hand. You can tell your player is not confident, he skyrocketed two free kicks way over the cross bar, his legs are tired, the crowd is hostile, and he isn’t sure whether he will survive the next half.
The team coach finished his talk and the players were getting ready to go back on the field. You have 1 minute to communicate with him before the next half starts—what do you do?
The player is looking to you and needs answers.
You can tell what he’s thinking; he wants you to tell him what he needs to do – and quickly! He wants you to tell him how he can win it, or at least help him escape.
You know you have to say something, so what do you say?
Well, the player in this scenario was actually me. I had been playing top level university soccer and we had made it to the National Championship game. My private soccer coach that came to watch the game was Grant F.
Coach Grant really went to work in the one minute break we had before the next half. I knew I had done a million things wrong, and Coach could tell how gassed I was. He started hovering above me and studying me. 45 seconds became 40.
Finally, rather than critiquing my first-half performance, Grant asked me a question: “Is that your dad in the first row over there, right? I love that he’s wearing a suit to this thing. You got to introduce us afterward, yeah? Look how proud he is of you! Has he ever been to a soccer match before?”
With 35 seconds left I told Grant that it was my dad and I’d be happy to introduce them later and that my dad knew nothing about soccer, never mind attending a game. “What does this have to do with anything anyway?” I asked. “I can’t hit the net”.
There were 25 seconds left when Grant leaned forward and said “Don’t worry about that, you did a great job connecting with the ball and generating power. Plus they’re scared of your shot. Even though you have missed the net, I know they are thinking about it. You totally crushed that half, you should have seen them flinching in that wall.”
Yeah?” I said, encouraged. “You got any advice for this half?”
Ten seconds remaining. “No, man, you know what you’re doing. Oh, when you go out there, make sure to approach the ball from slightly less than 90 degrees, control your run up, strike the outer side of the ball to generate spin, lean your body over the strike to ensure you don’t sky the shot, Oh, and shorten your follow-through to get more dip. Just like we worked on… Let’s go. You got this, bro!”
Two seconds. I stood up and stepped back onto the pitch. 15 minutes later we were awarded a free kick from 22 yards out. I took the shot, dipped the ball over the wall and sent it flying into the top left corner of the net, resulting in a stunning goal that ended up winning us the game.
So what did Coach Grant do to make such a difference? He made a connection with me personally and not as a function, while temporarily distracted me from my situation. He offered me support while pointing out my self-esteem, which was damaged by the first half performance, then he gave me one simple and concise direction that I could follow.
This is what makes up the Coachable Model:
- Build an authentic connection
- Provide genuine support
- Offer concise direction
It really is this simple. Coach Grant took the time to connect with me, and not just as a function – the pitiable distressed soccer player I was – but as the whole and real person I am. The person who had his own dad and an entire life left to live after this match.
While it sounds strange, athletes – and everyone else for that matter – can become so overcome by stress they lose their touch on solid facts.
When Grant made me look at my father – a moment that lasted only seconds – it gave me a bit of a break from thinking about what was coming next. This helped me to relax. It’s helpful to lift people out of their introspective focus and show them the wider and heartening reality around them.
The second thing Grant did was give my first half performance a positive spin I would never have seen. He gave me support by drawing attention to the positive things in my performance – and how the opposition responded to them – that I wouldn’t be able to see with my short-term focus. He made some observations that made me cautiously optimistic and bolstered my self-confidence.
Because Grant was able to authentically connect with me and support me, I became able to take that important deep breath and relax. I was more confident and ready to listen to the direction he had for me.
Because he gave me this direction so concisely in the last seconds, it was fresh in my mind, occupying my short-term memory. There wasn’t time to second-guess what I heard or overthink things. I simply acted, allowing my training and muscle memory to take over, allowing me to perform effectively.
Here’s a breakdown of how long each piece of the one-minute long Coachable Conversation took:
- 35 seconds to build the authentic connection
- 15 seconds to offer genuine support
- 10 seconds to offer concise direction
This shows you something important; as a soccer coach, you have to make the largest investment building and establishing authentic connections. If you don’t have a connection, then the support won’t seem genuine and the player might question your directions.
As you continue to invest in building connections and offering support, you’ll earn the right to give players direction – much of which will actually be requested by the player, now they trust you – but it also puts you in a position to effectively communicate in a time-sensitive situation and conversation.
It’s actually quite simple why Grant didn’t need to explain each detail in depth to me; how he was able to keep direction concise and why I grasped everything so quickly and was able to follow his direction.
The first thing is that I had trust in Grant. I trusted him because of our authentic connection and how he genuinely offered support; he supported me as a real person with a real family (he even mentioned my dad) and not simply as a soccer player. He was interested in my life off the pitch, and that’s why I know I’m going to do what he says.
The second thing is that this was the last thing Grant told me before I went out on the pitch, so I had it fresh in my mind.
The third thing is that Grant’s direction was so concise there was no way for me to forget it.
Fourth; I understood his five steps for me to follow because it was something he had taught me before and had been practiced in advance.
The fifth and final reason was that I knew his advice would work in the situation. I knew this because Grant knew me. He knew all my strengths and weaknesses, and my mental state. He was right there on the pitch with me. He has a vast knowledge of soccer that allows him to be a brilliant player. It’s his ability to use the Coachable Model to communicate with players that ensures he’s a brilliant coach as well.
In Contrast The Showboat Approach
At this point it’s worth looking at the opposite approach to the Coachable Model; what we call the Showboat Approach or Coaching Down. The three core beliefs of a Showboat coach are;
1. Pack verbal communication into each and every possible second
2. Give as many orders and pieces of criticism humanly possible before the players are called back into the game, the bell rings for the next round, or the whistle blows
3. Try pumping players up by shouting at them, pumping your fist, waving your arms, and other flagrant things.
How do Showboat coaches criticise their players? By doing it as loudly, frequently, and passionately as they can. They pull their players to one side, yell straight into their face, and wave their arms around, broadcasting their extreme dissatisfaction with how the player performed. Showboat coaches ensure that they entire team – if not the friends and family of the player (and other fans) hear to share in the humiliation.
This coach appears to be “really coaching”. These are the coaches that most people think of – the red-faced, sweating, aggressively clapping, dominating coach that doesn’t do much more than scream.
If you wanted to draw a comic or cartoon coach it would probably be based on the Showboat coach. This is my point. It’s unfortunate that this is the concept of coaching that most people think of. That this is the image of a coach most people have demonstrates how much of a problem it is.
Most coaches fail to heed the simple but profound advice Sam Walton has from his time as the founder, owner, and operator of Wal-Mart; “outstanding leaders go out of their way to boost the self-esteem of their personnel. If people believe in themselves, it’s amazing what they can accomplish.”
Before tearing into Showboat coaches too much, we should admit that many coaches – including myself – have been a Showboat some point in our careers.
It’s all too easy to get lost in the heat of the moment given the challenges and pressures coaches, business leaders, and parents alike have to deal with. Throw in the limited resources, overwhelming demands, and the time constraints, and it’s almost impossible to focus on anything but getting the fastest possible result.
It’s natural that someone would go back to their old methods of coaching. Even a master practitioner of the Coachable Model would likely tell you that it took them several years to reach their current position.
Getting rid of bad habits and learning how to be a great coach takes time. The core principles of being a good coach are focusing on the relationship and that less is more when it comes to communication.
A Showboat coach feels that any coach that isn’t making their thoughts known to those around them as frequently, vigorously, and passionately possible just isn’t being a proper coach. After all, an attentive coach notices all the flaws and mistakes made in a play so it’s up to them to point these mistakes out to their players and have them correct it, right?
Wrong! Showboat coaches do nothing but undermine their effectiveness.
If you were to stop a Showboat coach and ask them just what they were hoping to achieve through criticising their players so much, they would tell you that they consider what they do to be tough love, or that they feel it’s is the only way to reach their players and make them learn from mistakes.
They might even tell you that they’ve told their players a thousand times that they are doing something wrong but they won’t listen, so they have to resort to other tactics.
The truth at the heart of it all though – the thing the Showboat coach isn’t saying – is that how their players perform reflects on their coach, so bad performance makes them – the coach – look bad.
The Showboat coach isn’t trying to improve player performance; rather they are trying to ensure that anyone who even considers blaming the coach – whether it’s the players, the fans, the team, or anyone else – that it isn’t their fault.
They’re trying to say that the athlete in question isn’t doing what they’re told and isn’t listening.
Ask yourself what it would be like to be the athlete in that situation.
I’ve been that athlete, and it’s terrible. Athletes already feel bad enough about their mistakes when they make them.
Having someone take them aside, dress them down, and utterly humiliate them in front of everyone – their team, their opposition, and even talent scouts and the press – makes it even worse. Not only are you angry with yourself for making a mistake, but you’re angry with your coach for how they’re behaving.
The good news is that more people are becoming aware of how negatively this coaching style affects young athletes.
There are entire organisations dedicated to preaching alternative and more positive coaching styles to coaches, athletes, and parents around the country. The Positive Coaching Alliance is one such organisation. Joe Ehrmann put it best in Inside Out Coaching: “I have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly faces of the coaching vocation. I am certain of one thing: coaches can either break young people’s psyches or build their souls.”
So what happens to someone being chewed out by a Showboat coach?
They aren’t put in a better position to avoid their mistakes for a start, and it’s difficult for them to get their head back in the game. Rather, the Showboat coach does them a disservice with their pursuit of self-satisfaction and desire to heap blame on the athlete. Players are left dejected and demorailised.
They’ve been coached down, not up.
A showboat coach isn’t necessarily a bad person. Rather, they are simply misguided. They aren’t aware of the reason behind the way they act and speak; that people aren’t nourished by force-feeding; that shouting isn’t communication; and that people aren’t inspired by humiliation.
It has become common to extol the value of human relationships between athletes and coaches. We all agree that coaches need to connect deeply with athletes to ensure outstanding performance, and we celebrate coaches who have the emotional intelligence to engage and inspire their players by creating bonds that are authentic and reliable.
I’ve learned from my own experience that building authentic connections takes courage and risk: the risk of being hurt, rejected or misunderstood. But I do know now that investing in authentic relationships is one of the most rewarding adventures we can ever undertake.
Of course, building authentic connections takes time and continual practice. If you’re seeking to improve not only your personal relationships with athletes, incorporating simple, common sense practices not only achieves your goals but also improves the lives of those around you.
So what are authentic connections between two people? From my perspective, it’s a conversation where both people are left feeling seen, known, and respected. These connections can be grown organically over a period of time together, or you can establish it quickly if you have the skill, grace, desire, and energy to do so.
You can probably recognise those who have that ability. It’s enough to make you think they are simply born with the gift. The truth is that one can gain this skill through studying and learning. So, how do people achieve this power?
The first thing they do is focus on the person they are speaking to rather than themselves. It can take a while to get used to this. Most people naturally focus on themselves during the conversation because they are the speaker.
It’s all too easy to enter Speaking Mode and become absorbed in your own thoughts about what you should say, how you say it, and how you come across.
The only place people aren’t during a conversation is where they really need to be; which is in the moment with the person they’re having a conversation with.
We may be working hard at communicating effectively, but we aren’t working smart.
We’re working in the dark and making completely random guesses about what the other person is really thinking. We aren’t actually focusing on anything like we should. Being so lost in ourselves also makes us more likely to miss any cues and clues the other person is sending.
This all changes when you start working in Listening Mode.
Switching to Listening Mode focuses your communication efforts on understanding where the person is, what would help them the most in the current moment, and how you can best reach them.
Now, when the time comes for us to speak, we do so more effectively because what we do say is direct, concise, and straight to the point. Rather than stumbling blindly in the dark and saying random things the listener isn’t interested in, we work as efficiently and effectively as possible. We carefully consider our comments to leave the biggest impact on our athlete.
Being an effective coach is all about being an effective communicator, and at the core of being an effective communicator is being a great listener rather than a great speaker.
It’s lucky that it’s much easier to be a great listener than a great speaker. Mastering Listening Mode is nothing more than developing the skills and habits of a good listener.
Most people feel that it is impossible for them to be a good communicator because they lack the ability to speak articulately or that they are more introverted and shy.
However, when communicating through Listening Mode, these are the qualities that are your strengths, even though they work against people in Speaking Mode.
It’s possible for anyone to be a great listener by being determined to be one and practicing some elementary active-listening skills.
Start out by asking open-ended questions that can’t be answered with a simple and abrupt yes-or-no.
Do this by relying on what we call the 5 ws + h; who, what, where, when, why, and how.
If you follow up with someone with a simple question that starts with one of these words, you’ll avoid making an elaborate and wordy statement or question – which is a reversion back to Speaking Mode.
It also keeps your focus on the person you’re speaking to and connects you to their point of view until you’ve thought of something worth saying.
When you use Listening Mode, it’s simple enough to understand – and use – the key aspects of creating authentic connections during Coachable Conversations:
- Choose the most comfortable setting when possible
- Greet the athlete warmly and personally
- Start Conversations With Human Connections Over Functional Ones
- Keep a relaxed posture and speak to the person slowly, clearly, and thoughtfully
- Stay focused on the athlete
- Practice both humor and humility
Choose the Most Comfortable Setting When Possible
It’s not always possible to choose where the Coachable Conversation will be held.
Sometimes you’ll find the opportunity for a conversation comes out of nowhere, and that you have to have the conversation right there and then. It doesn’t matter.
An authentic connection can be built wherever you need it. If you do have the choice, however, then you need to consider having the conversation out of the day-to-day settings you normally train with the player.
By changing your energy or attention just a little, you can create a special communication moment with just about anyone.
Greet the Athlete Warmly and Personally
When two people have a one-on-one situation, the most important thing is to be authentic.
The responsibility of connecting to the other person, inviting them to the conversation, welcoming them, and making them feel comfortable falls on the shoulders of the person with the most authority or power in the relationship.
Susan Weinshenk got straight to this point in How to Get People to do Stuff; “you’ll be more persuasive when you look directly at a person and use a slight smile.”
The Verbal Greeting:
As you greet the player, make sure you look them directly in their eyes and say something along the lines of “Great to see you” or “Glad I got the chance to catch up with you”.
Use the chance to reassure the player, from the very beginning, that you value them and are glad you are in their presence. There’s nothing wrong with using comfortable and casual incomplete sentences; these feel more authentic and natural than the straight greeting of “Good morning X. Thank you for taking the time to meet with me. I’m so glad to see you today.” No one talks like that! It’s a level of stiff formality that would put off just about anyone in contemporary Australian culture.
Another suggestion that might sound counterintuitive at first is to avoid calling your players by their given name.
It sounds warm and personal, but using their given name like this creates distance and formality.
Nicknames are fine as long as they are friendly names that the player likes being called as they are signs of inclusion.
Team members come up with nicknames for each other because they establish the special relationship between teammates.
Feel free to use the nickname of a player if you know it and feel comfortable and natural doing so.
Showing the other person in the conversation that you respect them and recognize them as equals – if not friends – begins with getting rid of overt formality.
The Physical Greeting – Or Not:
When greeting players you might want to establish physical contact with them if it’s appropriate.
Whether you should or shouldn’t is tricky.
Physical contact has become somewhat hazardous. The modern culture calls for adult men and women to avoid making physical contact with others adults – and especially youths – that might be misconstrued as being too familiar, intimate, and sexual.
Even so, people are naturally driven to reach out and touch others during greetings, and doing so is an ideal way to establish a person-to-person connection. Just be wary of cultural norms and rules.
Still, in cultures that are less formal – such as a sporting event – a handshake can be quite off-putting, if not damaging. It tells the other person that you aren’t close. You are just relating on a formal level rather than a personal one.
There are several choices for connecting physically with others in these situations. These include hugging, high fiving, kissing cheeks, bumping fists, pounding shoulders, and so on.
Which option is best depends on the gender, age, and the relationship between yourself and the other person.
Informal offices – such as the offices at Coachable – see plenty of high fiving and fist bumping. They are informal and casual ways for people to connect on a peer-to-peer level.
Most importantly though, they are reminiscent of the behavior seen from sports teams. The average sports team has a much stronger level of teamwork and chemistry than the average corporate office.
Keep in mind that any physical greeting needs to be confident, much like your posture.
You need to give off an air of warmth and vulnerability along with the confidence.
Susan Wenchenk adds that “People are more likely to do what you want them to do when they consider you to be a leader. To be seen as a leader, you must show confidence via your body posture and stance.”
Start Conversations With Human Connections Over Functional Ones
It’s important to avoid jumping straight to the issue when starting a conversation.
Start out by checking on your player as a person rather than as a coach. Ask an open ended questions and then invite them to return the connection. Ask them “so, how’s it going?” “How are things with you?” “How’re you doing?” “What’s new?” “How was your weekend?”
You want to ask these questions because you want to start a conversation that isn’t a strict functional conversation between a player and a coach.
The conversation is between two human beings and it’s as simple as that.
They allow for the player to move the conversation into an intimate direction that strengthens the relationship you have and provides the chance for authentic input.
Assess whether there is the chance for you to establish a deeper connection, or just get straight to providing support based on the response of the player.
You might already be doing this on a subconscious level. Everyone does it. They just do it without really thinking about it.
What’s so great about bringing it to light is that you are then able to deliberately act in order to create a human connection rather than just having a functional and formal conversation.
A key aspect of maintaining authentic connections during Coachable Conversations is actively noticing how you and the player are both feeling.
Another mental component of this sort of relationship is being a mentor.
As Vincent D. O’Connel and Stephen E. Kohn said in their book 9 Powerful Practices of Really Great Mentors; How to Inspire and Motivate Anyone:
“Effective mentors gauge emotional reactions from protégés to certain stimuli, such as a prodding question or discussion of a prior troublesome event. Mentors need to be comfortable reflecting the feelings of their protégés and owning up to their own while mentoring is underway.”
If this article does nothing else for you, then I hope it helps you to recognize when you act in a way that forms authentic connections with players.
I hope that you become more consciously aware of the process – which includes noticing the way players feel when you put this into practice; not to mention how great it makes you feel.
Keep a Relaxed Posture and Speak to the Player Slowly, Clearly, and Thoughtfully
As the player responds to the greeting and the conversation continues, take note of their body language. Are they tense, anxious, or nervous?
Most people are anxious during one-on-one conversations when talking to people of authority, even if they already have an established relationship with that person.
Help players relax by keeping your own body relaxed.
One of the most underappreciated aspects of human connection is being able to unconsciously recognize cues from the body language of others.
It’s estimated that as much as 80% of all communication is nonverbal; it’s how you say something rather than what you say.
Stay aware of what your body is communicating to the other person. Keep a relaxed posture during the conversation (but don’t be too relaxed; you need to be respectful).
Being around someone who is completely relaxed, attentive, comfortable, and happy to be conversing with you makes it difficult for you to be tense.
Being around someone who is completely relaxed, attentive, comfortable, and happy to be conversing with you makes it difficult for you to be tense.
Make sure that you lean in and get close to a player when they bring up something sensitive or important.
If you wear glasses then consider taking them off. Let the other person know that you are sincerely interested in what they have to say through your posture.
Remember to speak clearly, slowly, and thoughtfully as the conversation continues. A relaxed leader allows room for reflection, instead of just spouting an endless stream of words.
Have you ever listened to an expert discuss their field? They often pause before they answer questions to give it their full consideration. Then they will keep their response as concise as they possibly can.
They also know when they’ve said enough and should stop and avoid carrying on needlessly just to fill the silence.
There’s nothing wrong with silence.
Authors John Zenger and Kathleen Stinnett articulate this point in their book The Extraordinary Coach by encouraging coaches and leaders alike to practice the “W.A.I.T” method; short for “Why Am I Talking?”
They point out those looking to understand the state of mind of coaches need to keep the acronym in mind. They also believe the one being coached should be the one talking close to 75% of the conversation.
Stay Focused on the Athlete
Staying focused on players is the very core of any authentic connection.
You should be focused entirely on the player both on a physical and mental level.
Remember that the meeting has nothing to do with you. It’s all about the athlete.
Staying focused on the player begins with maintaining eye contact with them.
You need to be looking your player straight in the eyes as much as you can. Of course, don’t take things too far. Feel free to blink when you have to!
There’s also nothing wrong with the occasional glance to the side when you have to think over something the player has told you and want to give it your undivided attention before formulating a response.
Generally though, you will want to establish and maintain eye contact as much as possible.
Feel free to use your hands to illustrate the point you’re making when you speak to the player.
Susan Wenschenk notes that “using no hand gestures at all conveys a lack of interest. Make sure the people you are talking to can see your hands. If they can’t see your hands, it will be hard for them to trust you.”
Another key aspect of staying focused is, of course, to avoid doing absolutely everything else.
You must never multitask. Don’t take a look at your cell phone or fidget with your pencil. Don’t make doodles and definitely avoid reading – never mind answering – emails and other messages.
Multitasking while conversing breaks the connection to the other person. Consider the cost in those terms. It’s one thing to miss out on something that the player is telling you, it’s an entirely different thing to completely damage the connection.
It would be better to not have a meeting at all if you’re going to break connections like that.
This was something that admittedly I had a lot of trouble with when Coachable was starting out.
I found myself so busy with taking care of business that I felt I had no time at all to sit down with someone and listen to them for just half an hour.
If you don’t give your undivided and focused attention to the person that you’re communicating with though, then you are telling them that their thoughts are not valuable to you. You are telling them that something is more important than your connection to them.
You are also showing yourself to be disorganized – that you aren’t aware of your own priorities – because it’s likely that you were the one that arranged the meeting.
Have you ever held a presentation or raised a point in a meeting while everyone was using their phones or computers?
Do you remember how that made you feel?
Do you also remember how great it feels to be dealing with someone who gives you their complete and undivided attention?
Giving players your complete focus like that makes them feel like you really respect them, which is essential.
The third rule – which may be the most challenging for some to follow – is to avoid using the first-person singular.
Think about any sentence that begins with I. Will that sentence really better the conversation? Is it going to help the person on the other end of the conversation? Or will it be just about you?
This rule isn’t as hard-and-fast as it sounds. There’s nothing wrong with occasionally talking about yourself if it would be relevant for the conversation anyway. In general though, Coachable Conversations are all about the other person and not about you.
Practice Humor and Humility
Two of the most important qualities coaches can bring to the Coachable Conversation is humor and humility.
While humor and humility are two separate things entirely, they do come from the same core: vulnerability.
If a leader shows themselves to be vulnerable, it makes them real. A real leader is someone that their followers are able to relate to. They create fertile ground for connecting authentically.
When someone tells a joke or tries to be funny they run the risk of failing or being ridiculed.
Being able to tell jokes to the group tells them that you are a leader. You are willing to take the risk of failing at being funny because you are strong.
The root of your strength is being comfortable with your flaws and vulnerability. You are telling them that you will still be a leader even if the joke fails.
Telling jokes to others also displays confidence. Confident people are willing to take risks and they believe in their abilities.
You need to be willing to take risks and have faith in yourself to tell jokes to a crowd. Succeeding with a joke doesn’t make you authentic; what makes you authentic is having something funny that you wanted to share and being brave enough to take the risk of saying it.
The important thing about humility is that it only works when it’s genuine.
I’ve seen both real and faked humility in my time. What’s most surprising about being humble is that genuinely humble leaders can get caught up in the moment and be boastful about how they made something work and how awesome they are, but their followers will laugh because they understand that the person is really as humble as they seem and are being humorous.
On the other hand, a leader that is pretending to be humble would never be self-indulgent. They might dedicate themselves to looking humble; they’ll use all the right words and avoid all the wrong ones; they’ll talk about “we” rather than “me”; yet every one of their followers would tell you that they know their leader just pretends to be humble and gain the benefits of it, rather than actually being humble.
It’s true there are things you can do to make yourself appear humble, but you won’t be able to fake your way to humility if you’re an egoist who is unable to let themselves be vulnerable and open up to their team.
What does it really mean to offer genuine support to someone?
How do good coaches support their players?
There’s plenty of different ways; whether verbal or nonverbal, small or large.
The basic aspect of offering genuine support is making the person feel good; whether it’s about themselves, their progress, their performance, their future prospects, or some combination thereof.
Giving someone the gift of genuine support truly inspires them and breathes new spirit and life into them.
It’s also heartening in that it boosts their enthusiasm, gives them heart, and encourages them to be the best they can. Here’s how you can offer genuine support during Coachable Conversations.
Offer Positive Feedback
“The best business coaches also act as a valuable mirror for their direct reports and help them to better assess what they are doing and how they are doing it.”
—John H. Zenger and Kathleen Stinnett, The Extraordinary Coach: How the Best Leaders Help Others Grow
Everyone enjoys hearing what they do well, particularly when it comes from someone that we trust will tell us the truth. That’s why you must let your players know what they are doing well.
Be specific and also be general. If the player has worked hard at a particular skill and is improving, then mention to them that you’ve seen their improvement and you’re impressed.
If the player is working hard but hasn’t been making much improvement, then let them know how much you respect their efforts. Praise their character qualities including their guts, determination, and dedication; as well as praising the progress they’re making in their projects and skills.
After creating and nurturing an environment where players are able to believe in themselves and each other and look for chances to support and assist one another, there’s going to be nothing that can stop them.
Ensure that you keep your support and praise genuine.
Many people are able to detect if someone is being insincere. Flattery will only work on narcissists and it makes regular people uncomfortable.
Let your players know how things really are. You should always be able to find something worth praising about someone else.
You may find it helpful to quote others. Let players know how you heard one of their teammates praising them.
Around a third of all Coachable coaches will relate praise to their athletes that they received from other people – whether the praise came from a teammate, a family member, a competitor, or even another coach.
Positive feedback can be given to players in private during one-on-one conversations or in public in front of teammates, parents, and others.
There is value in both methods. Almost every coach that responded to our survey said they found offering both public and private support to athletes effective and beneficial.
Most of them remember how they felt being praised by their own coaches in their early days and how big a difference it made to their attitude and their performance. Here are a few examples:
“My soccer coach in secondary school praised me for one of my skills, and it made me feel great. It inspired me to master even more techniques.”
“My head coach told me during a film session that my block was so effective it allowed our team to score. This had a major impact on me and inspired me to play with more vigor.”
“My coaches never offered much private praise. Instead, I was heartened when I overheard my coaches talking to each other and sharing their thoughts on me. After my first scrimmage as a new center forward, I overheard one coach say to another, ‘Well, it looks like we have the center forward position taken care of.’”
Share a Broader View
Remember that you’re likely to have more experience at offering broader views than your player does.
You may be able to see some progress they can’t when they get frustrated and stuck on something.
You can also see potential in your player that they haven’t been able to imagine possible, much less hope for.
Here are some of the firsthand experiences our Coachable Coaches have shared about how their lives were changed by their own coaches;
“I was never very sure of myself in college and didn’t have a lot of confidence in my ability. My soccer coach would always be telling me about my potential though. He inspired me to expect more from myself, and I took that passion and improved as a player. I want to ensure my players have faith in themselves.”
“We got a newer, firmer soccer coach in college. He would expect a lot out of his players and would never settle for anything less than the best. I remember that I was struggling a lot during one practice and was worried about how he would react. He just looked at me and told me that he wasn’t worried about me because I was a great athlete. Those simple words gave me a lot of confidence and pushed me forward. I went on to become a nationally MVP that season.
“I was attending a high school soccer awards banquet when my position coach told the audience in attendance they would soon see me playing on TV on Saturdays. Before I heard them say that, I had never even thought past our current season or thought about playing in college. Their statement completely changed how I saw my own athletic future.”
“When I first meet a Coachable client I tell them how much of an impact my private coaching had on me, back in the days I was receiving private coaching in high school. I began taking private lessons between my sophomore and junior years. My coach told me in our very first session that I could excel at the college level, never mind just playing at it. His comment really hit me, as I’d never even thought about playing past high school. It was then that I started looking at the bigger picture and thinking in the long-term about improving myself on the soccer field. I knew that it wasn’t an overnight process and that I would have to work long and hard by myself to take my game to the next level. I kept improving over time, thanks to how that first coaching session changed my outlook completely. I focused on the next level, rather than focusing on what was directly in front of me, and it took my confidence to new heights.”
Remove Obstacles From your Player’s Path
Remember that the main job of any coach and leader is helping players/colleagues identify their own goals and progress on their journey towards achieving them.
This is why you and your player must be clear about their goals in both the short and long term.
One way that you will support players is by recognising the progress they make towards these goals and celebrating it.
Another is to get rid of the obstacles in their path.
Perhaps one of their teammates or colleagues if giving them a hard time and you need to set them straight.
Perhaps they have health problems, scheduling issues, or family problems they are dealing with and they need you to offer assistance or counsel if you can.
Sometimes all the support a person needs to feel better about something is having someone that will listen closely to them.
Sometimes all a coach has to do is sit by their player and listen to them talk. The player can feel your presence, support, and openness.
One of the most important parts of an authentic connection is being present and there in the moment.
When you get the chance you should sit down with your player and ask them if it’s okay for you to sit there.
Give the player power over the conversation or just be there with them for the meal or conversation.
Just being there says it all. Listen to them and consider what they say before responding.
Remember that you need to be supportive first. When the right time to offer direction comes – if it comes at all – you’ll know it.
Here are some more recollections from Coachable coaches who got the support they needed from their coaches:
“I was my team’s starting left midfield, but we had a good backup and it left me insecure about my spot when I heard some other kids talking about wanting to give the backup an opportunity. My coach took the time to reassure me that I was his guy, and told me not to listen to naysayers.”
“One of my coaches in high school was an Olympic trials runner. He would always challenge me perform at my peak, but he had a real surprise for me on our sectional track meet. He gave me his running spikes – the ones that he had worn for his Olympic trials – and told me that he wanted me to have them for the race. He’d never before let someone wear them. He joked that his shoes had never run a mile in under four minutes – he was an under-4-minute miler – and told me that he wanted me to keep things that way. I went on to run a 4:11 PR (personal record) and it felt like it was under 4. Coach was real proud of me, and I still believe he’s the best coach I’ve ever had even over 35 years later.”
“My coach approached me when we finished an away game in high school. He told me that I carried the team on our back and thanked me, saying that the team couldn’t have won without me. That made me realise how I could take over games and how important it was for me to just relax and have some fun while playing.”
“A coach told me that I had made a lot of progress over the summer, and it felt good to me because I’d spent that summer working on improving my individual game.”
“I wasn’t starting during my first season at the university level. Given that I had been injured in the previous season, my confidence was hardly doing well. My coach mentioned how he had seen the improvement I was making in defence during a practice session and said that he was going to give me the opportunity to play soon. This encouraged me to keep on working hard. Then a defender got injured in a game against our rival school. I was given the chance to play, and I did great if I do say so myself. My coach recognised me in front of the whole team, praising me for stepping up and filling in for the injured player. It gave me the confidence I needed to keep up the performance as a starter for the rest of the season.”
Is There Room for Negative Feedback?
“Behavioral studies continue to show that positive reinforcement works more than seven times better than negative criticism to change behavior.”
—Steve Chandler and Scott Richardson, 100 Ways to Motivate Others: How Great Leaders Can Produce Insane Results Without Driving People Crazy
There will certainly be situations where coaches have to tell players something that they might not want to hear.
Negative feedback on performance is still part of being a supportive coach, as long as both the coach and the player understand negative feedback as offering opportunities for players to improve.
Negative feedback will work best if it is offered in the form of concise direction, coming after building an authentic connection and providing genuine support to players.
Here are some quotes from Coachable coaches about how they practice negative feedback with the athletes they coach now, and their own experiences with it as players that were being coached:
“There’s only one time I criticize athletes and that’s when they are being unsafe and are running the risk of injuring either themselves or other people. A coach must be honest with their athletes, but I would never criticise an athlete without praising them afterwards. I also make sure I let their parents know why I criticised them.”
“I found that the coaching style I respond best to is when coaches acknowledge the effort I put in before they point out how I could fix something to bring my game up a level.”
Offering direction is central to effective soccer coaching and inspiring athletes. When the exchange is done well, both player and coach benefit.
Coaches who offer direction effectively wield soft influence – they shape important decisions while empowering athletes to act.
As engaged listeners, coaches can also learn a lot from the problems that players bring them.
And the rule of reciprocity is a powerful binding force: Offering expert direction often creates an implicit debt that athletes will want to repay.
The more you connect and support, connect and support, over and over and over again, the easier it becomes to offer players direction.
Think of it like priming a pump. After putting down the foundations and building a relationship, you leave the other person open and trusting enough to welcome direction.
So, how can you tell if someone is ready? They might actually ask you outright to tell them what you want them to work on and to not hold back.
You don’t need to connect authentically, support genuinely, and offer concise direction in each conversation with athletes.
Sometimes you can move straight to offering support and direction if you need to. The only time this is appropriate, however, is after establishing a relationship with the player.
This is the precise point; when you are a transparent leader – one that shows their humor and humility, one that assigns clear roles, looks to encourage transparency in the entire organisation, and offer some genuine support – you’ve earned the right and freedom to lead people.
This is one of the most important things to take away: the very best coaches and leaders can get a lot done in a small amount of time by effectively communicating what they expect from players during crunch time conversations because they are able to skip the first and second steps and get right to the point.
They have players that want their direction and are ready to positively receive the direction and enthusiastically carry it out.
They are in this position because of their interactions in the past. They know that there is an authentic connection between them and their coach and that they have the genuine support of a coach that is really looking out for them.
Only a transformational leader will have the skills necessary to take a competitive, talented group of socially and culturally different people and unite them.
The skills needed to do this include being a good listener, building authentic connections, offering genuine support, and providing concise direction so that players can see the bigger picture.
If you’re a member of a social group, with a target in mind, and a leader practicing the Coachable Model, you become invested in the team and achieving the desired outcome together as a singular entity.
You’ll find that everything else generally takes care of itself if you have the right team of players on your side.
If you’ve got those star players, and they respect you, work hard, lead by example, and play unselfishly, other players in the upper echelon will choose to play for you and the star players keep everyone accountable in the higher purpose of focusing on winning together as a team. Everyone else – including the rookies – will fall into step behind them.
The authors of The Extraordinary Coach John H. Zenger and Kathleen Stinnet describe how important it is to establish a caring, trusting relationship between leaders and followers before trying to accomplish anything:
“Very few individuals shared that they valued the coaching they received from leaders with whom they had a rocky relationship…. Most of the time, the number one attribute provided is ‘My coach genuinely cared about me.’ A trust-based relationship must be in place if coaching is to work.”
How to Offer Concise Direction
There are a number of ways to provide concise direction. The four best ways to do so are directly, indirectly, socratically, and circuitously.
“When you get out there, make sure to approach the ball from slightly less than 90 degrees, control your run up, strike the outer side of the ball to generate spin, lean your body over the ball to ensure you don’t sky rocket the shot. Oh and shorten your follow-through to get more dip.” Another favorite of mine is telling players, quite simply, “Finish your damn shots!”
There are times you can provide a general comment that inspires a suggestion in others.
This is the best solution because the person making the suggestion owns their direction.
You can endorse it as much as you want and repeat it back to them, maybe even invite them to explore the next steps, create targets, identify potential obstacles, formulate strategies and tactics, and so on.
“It would be awesome if there was some way to put more pressure on their defense when they bring the ball up the pitch. It looks like their backup center back isn’t playing today, so their starter will have to stay in the whole game. If we pressure him now, he’ll be exhausted for the second half…”
“I’ve got an idea coach. I’ll play deep and pressure him every chance I get and put him to work.”
Now the player is the one offering the right direction, which is the best possible outcome. If the direction comes from the player, it makes them invest more in succeeded with the outcome. It was all their idea after all!
Another method for offering direction is to ask a carefully constructed question;
“What do you think would happen if I played you on the left with Sarah? I’d like to get you out there for another 30 minutes. How do you think that could be done without damaging our transition defense?”
“Well, I’d need to be in better shape to show you that I could handle those extra minutes. I’ll make that my goal for this month.”
Now the player has taken responsibility for a good plan that will provide them with a potential new lineup option in the future.
If things don’t go that way, then try again after some time has passed.
“Hey Jen, would you mind hanging with me a minute? I’ve got something I want to run by you…do you remember when we talked about playing you on the left with Sara? I think now would be a good time to revisit that option. Are you ready to left center back sometime over the next few weeks? Do you have the conditioning to go full speed for an extra 30 minutes, or do I need to pace out your minutes so you can stay fresh in the final stretch when we really need you to close the game?”
While you should almost always approach players directly, there are some circumstances where it might be better to go through a teammate to reach them. the
My own college coach noticed my co-captain – who was also a good friend of mine – was looking depressed.
Coach didn’t know for sure what was happening, but he knew that he wasn’t being himself. He expressed his concern about my friend as a person first and as one of his players second, and he asked me if I had noticed any changes myself.
I told him that his grandmother had just passed away and that he was close to her. I told the coach how badly the news had hurt, but reassured him he would be better again soon.
My coach was able to take the information and use it to create the best path for my friend and talented teammate to work his way through the emotional distress.
You might be wondering why I was willing to share that information with Coach. That was because of our authentic connection.
I knew that coach had supported me genuinely, and I knew that he treated all of his other players the same.
I know Coach came to me because he was being respectful about my teammate.
It’s likely that he thought it would be wrong to approach the player directly because it would have likely been awkward and maybe misunderstood.
If my coach hadn’t been a practitioner of the Coachable Model, he might have never come to me about my teammate. Even if he had there’s a good chance I wouldn’t have talked anyway.
I wrote this article because of how convinced I am that there is a deeper, much more transformational lesson to be extracted from how great coaches reach and inspire players.
The key thing to take away is this; great performance is all about great relationships; whether it’s in competitive sports or the business world. The greatest coaches are the ones who, at the end of the day, are the best and most inspirational relationship builders.
Good coaches focus all their time and energy into building authentic connections with players, offering genuine support during the good times and the bad, and waiting until the end of the conversation to offer concise direction.
“I am the decisive element. It is my personal approach that creates the climate…. I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous…. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal.”
—attributed to both Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Haim Ginott
The most important trait every good coach has is consistency. They keep an even keel.
A good coach sticks to their values and treats players with the respect and compassion they deserve, no matter what the score is at the moment or what their win/loss record is for the season.
When a good coach does offer their opinion, they understand how they can keep their directions concise.
Moreover, individual players understand their coach has the best interests of the team – and therefore each individual player – at heart.
At the core of it, a good coach is one that strives to coach players up no matter what they are doing.
The intent of this article is to provide a basic guide for a straightforward, simple, and easy-to-learn method for coaching effectively. There are three core elements at the heart of the Coachable Model:
- Building an authentic connection
- Providing genuine support
- Offering concise direction
When entering a new relationship or starting a critical conversation, you must make building the connection the first priority. Then comes providing support, and finally comes concise direction.
If you were to have a 30-minute one-on-one conversation with a direct report for example, then you might want to spend the first 15 minutes connecting, the next 10 on supporting, and the final 5 on providing direction.
If you spend 20 minutes offering nothing but the direction, you’re squandering the time that you should have spent connecting with the player and supporting them. Remember that you need to spend as much time listening to the player as you do talking to them during the conversation.
Of course, if there is already a solid, long-term relationship in place with the player, then you might find yourself starting and ending conversations with direction.
One key benefit of the Coachable Model is that you save a lot of time in the long run as it allows you to dive headfirst into tackling pressing issues.
Even so, you want to tread lightly. If you focus solely on giving direction during conversations, even if you’ve already established an authentic connection with the player, then you are risking eroding the foundations of the relationship over time.
Make sure that you move a few steps back every so often to solidify the foundation of the relationship. It’s good to continually reinforce the connection, offer some genuine support, and show your player that you appreciate them by offering both private and public support.
Make an authentic connection, offer genuine support, and provide concise direction – all in this order.
Do it all the time, and not just when is convenient for you or when you’ve got the time to do it. Do it each and every time. Even if it’s not easy or you don’t feel you have the time.
Remember the Coachable Model when the seconds are ticking away, during the middle of the fight, and when the team is on their way to winning a championship season. Take a deep breath and live and breathe the model.
This means living by it in the heart of every critical conversation with athletes, in the locker room when making a decision, and even when you’re at home with your loved ones. It should be your mantra. Make it so.
Trust in the Coachable Model and live by it. See how it changes the world around you. Relationships with others will flourish. The players and people that you coach will thrive and you become more effective, productive, and fulfilled as a coach.
The people on your team will play for you because you make it feel like they aren’t playing for you.
When you lead with the Coachable Model you’re going to feel that you are serving the people you coach, and they will feel it too.