by Dr. Mike Davenport, CoachingSportsToday.com
Take all the coaches in your sport.
Put them in a line.
They would probably settle out like this:
Our eyes are drawn to the right of the spectrum. Those freakishly-successful coaches — they pull us in. We want THAT. To be THAT Coach.
We covet their contracts. Would like their money. Their fame. Their success.
Interesting — we disregard the grouping of coaches in the middle. Those ordinary, hard working, pretty-successful coaches. That is where most coaches live and breath. Boring.
And those on the left? We vehemently ignore them — the freakishly-unsuccessful coaches. They repell us. We want to run from their shame. Their troubles. Their failures.
Those reactions are all typical and understandable.
But they are the opposite of what we should do
It was 2am, outside of Prague, and I was crawling through the dirt.
My mission was to take the measurements of an Italian lightweight men’s rowing shell. That team, and their boat, was a freakishly-successful team and our US coaching staff was convinced they had to know the secrets of the Italian’s equipment.
And so, I was in the dirt, crawling toward their boat, trying, really trying, not to be spotted by the armed security guards.
Years later I’m having lunch with a coach-friend and the topic of the sexual abuse scandal and Jerry Sandusky comes up.
My friend wants to hear nothing of that freakishly-unsuccessful coach and the travesty. Not how it happened, how it could have been prevented, what steps we should take to make sure it doesn’t happen around us. He excuses himself, deposits his dishes and tray, and leaves. The topic is never discussed between us again.
Where should I look?
In the world of coaching, the ends of my made up coach-success scale get the most exposure. Triumph and despicable failure are made more visible than the coaches in the middle. That is the way of the World.
Unfortunately, for an observer like a coach looking to improve, it is easy to get distracted by the illusion of the probability of great success (or terrible failure).
Rolf Dobelli, in his book The Art of Thinking Clearly, calls this survivorship bias. He suggests that people systematically overestimate their chances of success. Coaches, like people from all walks-of-life, do this. We get distracted by a desire to be That Coach, and that can be a bad thing. (And ignore the signs of the other end of the spectrum.)
In 33 years of coaching, this was one of my more successful years. If, when I started coaching, I was fixated that I must be That Coach, NOW, the experience of coaching would have quickly crushed me, and I would have missed so many wonderful things during those years.
Those coaches in the middle, the ordinary, hard working, pretty-successful coaches, are often doing everything right. Working hard, paying their dues, having much success. They just haven’t written the NY Times bestseller, won the Pulitzer, or the Noble Peace Prize. What they do, and how they do it is often great stuff, just so often overlooked.
Take action now: If YOU want to improve, focus on the middle group. Talk to them, watch them, learn from them.
Kevin Johnson, who has coached 10-11 year-old boys basketball for the past 9 years (he is in the middle group of coaches) can probably teach us all more about coaching than either Erik Spoelstra —Miami Heat head coach, or Gregg Popovich — Spurs coach (both being on the far right). Not that Spoelstra or Popovich aren’t great, but are any of us going to be coaching professional basketball?
Being That Coach, in terms of being freakishly-successful, is something to strive for, but not to get distracted by.