Bridging the gap from coaching soccer to coaching business

by Jamie Flinchbaugh on 01-18-17

In the first week of January, I attended an intense residency program for soccer coaching, earning a National Diploma by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA). I was one of only 2 people there who weren’t paid or full-time paid coaches. As with anything I do, I want to continue to learn and improve in anything I spend that much time on. I learned a lot, and certainly challenged myself physically having to defend former pro players (they won).

But, when learning about excellence in any field of endeavor, there are lessons learned that apply to other endeavors. So what can I take away from this program that applies to coaching in business? Here are a few takeaways.

The game is the best teacher. From a soccer standpoint, much of training is overly structured, with too many cones, restrictions, and only one right way. When soccer is trained this way, players don’t learn decision-making or how to react in live situations. Coaching is more effective when players get to work in game-like situations, having to deal with pressure and decisions and speed.

The same is true in coaching and developing people in business. It is easy to do the right thing or demonstrate a skill in a sterile, fixed situation such as a classroom. But in the full-speed, chaotic world of everyday life, that is where the learning is generated. Coaching should be as connected to the real work as possible.

Focus on the why. Head over the ball. Step ahead of the centerback. Drop off quickly. Press quickly. We can coach someone on what to do all day long. But if they don’t understand the why, they can’t make game-speed adjustments based on unscripted situations.

We can make the same mistakes in business. We provide processes, rules, and policies, but vastly under-invest in explaining the why. Why do I fill out this form? Why do I need to ask these questions? Why do I need to wait? Business happens at game-speed, not practice-speed or training-speed. If your players don’t understand the why, they can’t make the right adjustments within their game. Understanding why is how you allow the people you coach to perform in your absence.

The power of learning through observation. Learning by doing is certainly effective, but learning through observation can be very effective but only if done properly. Observation is not watching. I think there are two key factors that turn watching into observation, which then must be fed with skill. The first factor is a framework. Each of the coaches took turns delivering coaching sessions, and another coach would provide feedback. But there was a structured form that forced you to look for certain things, ranging from your control of the environment to your technical proficiency with the coaching points. Without that framework, you’re just watching and making random comments. High proficiency in observation means that the framework becomes second nature, and all the data you take in comes through that filter.

The second component is intent. Are you planning on doing something with the observation? In our case, we had to provide feedback to the individual. If you’re in your process, will you be making improvements, providing feedback, drawing conclusions. If there is no intent, then I believe observation quickly deteriorates into watching.

There are likely many more carry-over lessons. But besides sharing these lessons, I want to share this conclusion: always look for opportunities to carry excellence from one line of work to another. What makes coaching great, and then bring that into coaching within business? What makes people volunteer, and then use that to provide motivation to go above and beyond job descriptions? Lessons come from everywhere. You just need to pay attention. And then execute.