My third rule of coaching

I have three rules of coaching (as well as in business and in life) and I’ve written a bit about the first (“People don’t remember what you did for them, they remember how you made them feel.”) and the second (You can’t control anything [or anyone] but yourself. But by controlling yourself, you can influence others”).

Which brings me to the third “rule”, whcih comes from psychologist Albert Mehrabian’s reseach:

There are 3 elements to face-to-face communication: words (7%); tone of voice (38%); and Nonverbal Behaviour (55%).

Implicitly, rule 2, “controlling yourself” means a controlling your body language and tone of voice. Coaching the U15 nationals in Albury Wodonga last week was another friendly reminder of this. When you coach U15 kids, it become abundantly clear that there’s not a lot you can change in a game, and all that’s left is to have good body language and tone of voice. Most of the technical work needs to be done in practices. By the time you get to the matches, your players can’t digest a lot of information, but they will be affected by how you appear when you deliver your concise message (or even when you aren’t talking).

The tone of voice and body language can’t contradict the words you say. During the tournament last week i saw a coach call a time out at 1-9. The team was underperforming and naturally, the team became conscious of the scoreboard. The message of the coach’s timeout was to not worry about the scoreboard. Unfortunately, the body language, tone (and volume) of voice said something very different. I should point out that my colleague and I were watching this in the crowd and could not agree on whether the coach was saying “Look at the scoreboard” or “don’t look at the scoreboard”, however we could agree on how the team was responding to the body language and tone of voice.

I’m sure a lot of coaches will disagree with me on this (and i will admit it applies more to the “lower level” i coach at), but i’m of the opinion that as a coach i can’t win a game. Only the players can do that. I can prepare a team in trainings to have the tools to win and have the right system, but once it gets to the game it’s really up to the players. But I can certainly do things that lose a game, like cracking a hissy fit, getting into an argument with the referee, looking mentally or emotionally disengaged, sulking etc. If i can get through a match without doing any of these things, then i’ve coached well (i’m sure i never do everything right).

The best extremes of body language i’ve seen was in the 2004 Olympic Womens indoor final between China and Russia. Russia had won previously in their pool match, but lost the gold medal game after being 2-0 up. Karpol was Karpol. But the Chinese coach Chen Zhonghe was the complete opposite. Karpol was tense, Chen was relaxed; Karpol was angry, Chen seemed pretty positive. He was smiling, and completely unnerved that his team was 2-0 down after 2 close sets.

I’d like to think he had high emotional intelligence which did not make the situation worse and allowed his team to perform well. (My cynical anti-communist relatives would probably find that a naive premise and that the logical conclusion was that Chen was not worried because he knew something that no one else did – like the Chinese had bribed someone to throw the match).

* * *

Anyway, Albury was a lot of fun. We lost to Victoria Blue and Qld Maroon and missed out on the semi’s on set percentage. We won the 5th place play-off on the last day. The highlight was seeing Phil Borgeaud and Wanda Sipa coach their daughter’s ACT team to Gold Medal game. Their daughter had been competing since she was 11 and it’s good to see patience and persistence pay off. Possibly the friendliest team, they finished each match with a photo with their opponents! In the end Ezra’s QLD Maroon team were too good for them in the gold. Good times.


3 Responses to “My third rule of coaching”

  1. Alexis Says:

    Its an interesting thought about a coach ‘winning the game’. The problem here is that most people think that the only time you can, as a coach, ‘win the game’ is actually during the game. Its not. The vast majority of winning is done before the game, sometimes for decades before the game. And a coach can certainly have an influence here.

    I’ve heard that many AFL players think that coaches fall into 3 categories: 10% will actually make it more likely you will lose, 80% really don’t help you win or lose, and only 10% will help you win.

  2. markleb Says:

    I had a conversation with someone last season who made a comment about me coaching better in one game versus another game. I made the point that the game is actually the smallest part of my work. They initially scoffed openly, until I went through the time spent on the different parts of preparation. I won a convert.
    However, you’d be surprised by how many coaches actually think the same way.
    Trapattoni the famous football coach, has been quoted as saying “a good manager can, at best, make a team 10 per cent better, but a bad manager can make a team up to 50 per cent worse”

  3. Sketch Says:

    I hope that coach wasn’t me.

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