My first rule of coaching

A few years ago, my business partner shared a quote with me that changed the way i looked at the world, and became my first rule of coaching.

“People don’t remember what you did for them, they remember how you made them feel”

It came from a book called Love is the Killer App. Variations of this quote have been around for ages, and the concept itself isn’t particularly new. But as someone who was very task oriented (rather than people oriented ), it came as bit of a fresh idea.

No matter how good you are at what you do, if you’re an arsehole about it, that’s what people will remember. I’ve seen a lot of  knowledgeable struggle to get through to their players because of their inability to relate well to them. It was certainly a big weakness of mine.

Why would the substance of what I did matter less than something airy fairy? It’s still not something I fully understand, but you just have to take on face value that the emotive experience forms a big part of human cognition.

That’s not to say it’s okay to be incompetent and just nice about everything (although you can get away with it). It just means that if you want to be effective, you must deliver what you know in an emotionally intelligent way. Which for task focused people is difficult, as we can often be blinded by being right and in control over being pragmatic and effective.

* * *

Anyway, as I’m an avid fan of popular sociologist Malcolm Gladwell, I’ve been reading his second book, Blink, where I found a passage that reminded me of this:

Analyses of malpractice lawsuits show that there are highly skilled doctors who get sued a lot and doctors who make lots of mistakes and never get sued. At the same time, the overwhelming number of people who suffer an injury due to the negligence of a doctor never file a malpractice suit at all. In other words, patients don’t file lawsuits because they’ve been harmed by shoddy medical care. Patients file lawsuits because they’ve been harmed by shoddy medical care and something else happens to them.

What is that something else? It’s how they were treated, on a personal level, by their doctor. What comes up again and again in malpractice cases is that patients say they were rushed or ignored or treated poorly. “People just don’t sue doctors they like,” is how Alice Burkin, a leading medical malpractice lawyer, puts it. “In all the years I’ve been in the business, I’ve never had a potential client walk in and say, ‘I really like this doctor, and I feel terrible about doing it, but I want to sue him.’ We’ve had people come in saying they want to sue some specialist, and we’ll say, ‘We don’t think that doctor was negligent. We think it’s your primary care doctor who was at fault.’ And the client will say, ‘I don’t care what she did. I love her, and I’m not suing her.'”

Burkin once had a client who had a breast tumor that wasn’t spotted until it had metastasized, and she wanted to sue her internist for the delayed diagnosis. In fact, it was her radiologist who was potentially at fault. But the client was adamant. She wanted to sue the internist. “In our first meeting, she told me she hated this doctor because she never took the time to talk to her and she never asked about her other symptoms,” Burkin said. “‘She never looked at me as a whole person,’ the patient told us… When a patient has a bad medical result, the doctor has to take the time to explain what happened, and to answer the patient’s questions – to treat him like a human being. The doctors who don’t are the ones who get sued.” It isn’t necessary, then, to know much about how a surgeon operates in order to know his likelihood of being sued. What you need to understand is the relationship between the doctor and his patients.

I can relate. My 91-year-old grandmother was rushed to hospital a couple of weeks ago when her pacemaker battery died. It was quite an unpleasant experience for the family to watch her as a couple of physicians callously discussed what was wrong and if it was worth putting in a new battery or letting her die (thankfully she’s alright now, but we have relatives stranded here now who thought they were flying over for a funeral). I don’t know if i would have wanted to sue them, but i certainly wasn’t fond of them.

* * *

When relating this idea to volleyball folk, I often tell people about how I coached Chris McHugh when he was a junior volleyballer from between the ages of about 12 to 15. That’s a fairly long time. He doesn’t really remember all the times I coached him or anything I taught him (which is good, because I wasn’t very good at teaching volleyball). He doesn’t remember the drills I ran that i thought were genius, anything i said in timeouts or anything technical at all. But he does remember that I urged him to try out for the state team for the first time and gave him the confidence to have a crack. It was probably the easiest thing I did that required no ability to coach that he remembered over everything else.

So be kind to your players, because it doesn’t matter how much you can help them if you don’t know how to deliver the message!


2 Responses to “My first rule of coaching”

  1. My second rule of coaching « Huy's Volleyball Blog Says:

    […] I have three rules of coaching (as well as in business and in life) and I’ve written a bit about the first: […]

  2. Hugh Nguyen Says:

    A while ago, Murph pointed out that the quote originated from American poet Maya Angelou. The original quote is:

    People will forget what you said
    People will forget what you did
    But people will never forget how you made them feel.

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