In a presentation I was watching recently by Danny Newcome he defined coaching as “The Ongoing Search for Solutions”. If you think about sports coaches they are continually engaged in the ongoing search for solutions, and the great coaches are engaged in this search with their athletes. They are searching together to discover functional solutions to problems that are continually emerging in the environment in which the athletes must perform. By functional solutions I mean solutions that are practical, purposeful, useful, and relevant related to how it matches a specific context dependent problem.
On the topic of great coaches Newcome explained, “It’s not necessarily what they do, it’s their depth of knowledge and understanding about why they do what they do and their ability to be able to articulate it.” It is those abilities, which Newcome identifies in this quote, that separate coaches who are skilled carpenters, from those are simply able to build IKEA furniture. The IKEA builders never deviate from the lesson plan, struggle to adapt to different learners, and are unable to answer difficult questions or explore different possible solutions. The skilled carpenters have spent the time to engage in their craft through learning, exploring, striving, failing, correcting, learning from other more skilled carpenters, and continually improving in their craft. They have the competence, confidence, humility, and patience to work with different types of wood and a variety of tools. They work with the wood they are given, rather than fight against it and try to force it to be something it is not. When working with new carpenters they help guide their journey of learning and discovery, rather than just tell them what to do.
Andrew Gillott encourages coaches to, “Be a light. Be a bridge. Be a ladder.” Be a light to guide people on their learning journey, which at times can seem dark and scary. Help to shine a light on certain areas to help educate the learner’s attention and reveal opportunities for them to act and explore different possibilities. Be a bridge to help them cross the divide from the unknown to the known, from where they are to where they want to go. Be a ladder to help them continue upward in their learning journey. As their competence and confidence grows, they can continue to scale the ladder of growth and development and at some point, you may hand them off to a new guide, on a new ridgeline.
I have had the good fortune over the years to work with, train with, and learn from great coaches who were smarter, more skilled, and more experienced that I was, but who treated me as a peer at a different stage of my learning journey and not lesser than. I have also encountered a few people who were arrogant and saw themselves as “The Expert”, and better than myself and others. Very little positive learning took place during interactions with those individuals who come across not only as arrogant, but also as insecure.
“The role of the coach isn’t so much to collect a bunch of answers that they then teach to the student. The role of the coach is really to figure out how do they formulate questions that get the athlete to recognize an answer that allows them to solve that problem. This gives the athlete the opportunity to come up with an answer that was not what you were looking for, but also solves the problem.”
Rafe Kelley, Evolve-Move-Play
All this takes us back to the question posed by the title of this post, “Do you think of yourself as a coach?” Do you consider yourself as the expert, or a resource? Do you see your role as that of a teller of information, or a guide to help your people on a path to discovery? Do you feel the need to have all the answers, or do you see your role is to ask better questions? Do you see yourself as a step above those you train and coach, or as a peer with different knowledge and experiences walking alongside the learners and willing to learn from them?
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