by Mike Davenport, CoachingSportsToday.com
Coaches do it all the time. We see something successful and we steal it. Well … more like copy it.
That coach won — so I’ll do what she did.
He got the big recruit — so I’ll use his system.
That team got to go to Disney — so we’ll be doing what they did.
It is understandable. Especially in coaching, where we work so hard for success that can be so elusive.
Yet, do you believe what works for coach Steve will work for you?
Copy-Coach … Copy-Coach
Copying is the act of mimicking another, and it has reached epidemic levels in our society.
Cars look identical
Cereals taste the same
I can hardly tell my shoes from yours
Everyone is copying everyone.
The same is true in coaching. Are you using Wooden’s pyramid? Copying Summit’s playbook? Wearing a Belichek hoodie? (Yes, I’ve got one around here somewhere.)
Why do we copy? A couple reasons, actually.
In nature, mimicry helps animals survive. It’s a tactic that works. A tasty viceroy butterfly copies the distasteful orange and black colors of the monarch butterfly. Birds who have learned to avoid eating monarchs will avoid eating viceroys as well. (I certainly won’t be trying any soon.)
In coaching, where so many coaches don’t have a formal education in coaching sports (ahem, my education is in physical oceanography), we copy to survive. Reality is, it’s not easy to survive in coaching. If you’ve been doing it for more than a week, you know that already.
We also copy as we search for an advantage. This Fall, a fellow coach explained to me how he mentally and physically prepared his crew before they launched the boat for practice. It was a refreshing idea that made sense, so I copied it for our team.
When we see someone rocking their coaching it is so tempting to copy. That’s not always the wisest choice.
The Dark Side
Do you remember carbon paper? An entire industry built around a piece of paper you put behind another piece of paper so you could copy your typing and writing. That industry is long gone. Xerox, the company that built copy machines to replace carbon paper itself has fallen on hard times these past years.
The lesson here is copying might work in the short run, but it’s not a good long-term strategy. And, more specific to coaching:
- copying what everyone else does reduces your authenticity
- authenticity is critical to highly functional (HF) relationships
- HF relationships are at the core of coaching
Also, mimicry can keep a training room busy. That workout program used for the U.S. Olympic team WONT work for your team. That is, unless you have the talent, skills, and facilities of the U.S. Olympic team, and even then, odds are it won’t work for you.
And, AND, copying creates unrealistic expectations for athletes, coaches, supporters, parents. “Coach Tom Tehar has won 8 World Championships and two straight Olympic Golds. We are doing what he does, so we should have that same success too, right coach?”
See what a dark path copying can lead too?
The Bright Side
But there ARE reasons to steal & copy, otherwise the whole tone here would be Hey, don’t do that!
In nature, copying is an art form:
- a harmless snake copies a poisonous one (Batesian Mimicry)
- a tasty bug mimics a disgusting one (Mullein Mimicry)
- a slow animal looks like a fast one (Speed Mimicry)
- a beetle impersonates ants so she can live in the ant colonies where the ants provide her with food, shelter and protection because they can not distinguish her from other colony members (Wasmannian Mimicry)
Could those apply to your coaching? Well, some version might, if you do it smartly and apply …
The Secret Sauce
Between me, you, and these pixels, I steal & copy all the time. Here’s exactly what I do:
I see an idea/process/solution I like.
I morph it to our situation.
I test it in small doses. If it works,
I’ll use it in bigger doses.
It’s a system that works for me, but the secret sauce is in steps 2 & 3, adapting and testing. They’re the critical parts of the equation.
For example, back to the U.S. Olympic team workout plan. As I mentioned, it would never work for us. Yet, parts, such as periodic testing and the expectations of continual improvement, are ones I liked. So I stole, I morphed, I tested (in small doses), and then rolled out a bigger version. (Feel absolutely free to steal that system.)
And the thing that will make that secret sauce, super-duper special, is to acknowledge where your idea came from. That’s one thing that Austin Kleon talks about in Steal Like An Artist (a book I highly recommend!).
Additionally, you might find this article on innovating in sports insightful & helpful.
Oh, and worth mentioning, if you see something that flat-out doesn’t work for another team, like a coach yelling and cursing at his team after a subpar performance, anti-copy him. Learn from his mistakes … (you know that’s a mistake, right?)
And here’s a worksheet to help navigate all this: Stealing From A Coach Worksheet
Join me for a lively talk about coaching
If coaching rowing is your thing then join me for the 5th Annual RowingTalks. Yes, the focus is rowing, and attendees are limited to only high school rowing coaches, but there something for everyone (and it will be live streamed, but being there live offers so much more.) Seats go fast for this bad boy. Last year we sold out quickly. READ MORE HERE and then sign up, if that helps you.