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Friday, 14 June 2019

The problem with coaching and why you're bad at giving advice.

I have been coaching and training people for nearly 20 years. If you include assisting my dad coaching badminton, it's more like 25 years. Whenever you hear the word 'coach' people think it is merely someone telling another person what to do. This perception is often the put down used when I advise someone to hire a coach. They often say, "why would I pay someone to tell me something I already know?" This is the misunderstanding about the process of coaching and inevitably makes people think they can coach someone because they have information which they think they other person doesn't have. Before I carry on, I will firstly define what coaching is and if this gets too long, I'll split the blog up into smaller blogs so you don't feel you have to read this in one chunk. It is over 20 years of work so it will be hard to condense it into a few words.

Here's a good definition of coaching.

Put simply, coaching is a process that aims to improve performance and focuses on the ‘here and now’ rather than on the distant past or future.
While there are many different models of coaching, here we are not considering the ‘coach as expert’ but, instead, the coach as a facilitator of learning.
There is a huge difference between teaching someone and helping them to learn. In coaching, fundamentally, the coach is helping the individual to improve their own performance: in other words, helping them to learn. www.skillsyouneed.com  


Note the difference between coaching and teaching. Did you ever have the one or two teachers who you thought for some reason were great teachers? They were probably good at coaching and teaching. 

I'll be honest, whenever I hear someone trying to give advice (attempted coaching) I cringe inside. The problem is it comes from a good place. People are genuinely trying to help. The problem with their help is they aren't skilled enough to understand what the problem is, and they don't understand how the person will interpret the information. When we learn a skill, we learn in layers. Take for example learning to walk. From the outside, it is literally putting one leg in front of the other. However, the levels to the skill are: 

Balancing through your feet (which can require the tendons ligaments and muscles to get conditioned to cope with the loads. 
Then it requires your brain and your eyes to get used to a higher view point.
Once you are upright, your trunk needs to control your centre of gravity so it stays balanced over your hips. 
To move from one leg to the next, you need to be able to perform what is called plantar flexion, where you push the ground away from you. However, most kids stay heavy footed for a while and can still walk. This is why you shouldn't put young kids in footwear which prevents the natural mechanics of their foot. 
Once you move forward, you require counter balance from your upper body and the opposite arm. Then muscles of the hip pull the leg up as it swings in front of the other leg. The muscles again need to be conditioned enough to resist the additional forces created by movement from one leg to the next......

So it is isn't as simple as putting one leg in front of the other and there are way more processes involved in the above example. 

Some people learn the different phases quickly, whereas some will learn them a little slower so they need to spend more time on each phase. A good coach will see at which phase the person is stuck (or child in this case) and they break down the task even further. This requires knowledge, skill and most importantly patience. A good coach will have an arsenal of ways to move the person on through the sticking point of their task. A bad coach will simply call out instructions such as, "stand up straight..." or "it's easy....." 

A problem with the well-meaning coach is they have forgotten the time and effort it took to learn skills. The brain condenses our learning experience into small chunks and we forget about the pain staking hours spent learning something. This makes us unsympathetic to people who are learning something we can do with ease. A good coach on the other hand, knows exactly how complex the task is and has the patience to guide someone through it. What I have learnt through training and coaching people, is people learn at different rates. Talented people learn very quickly. This doesn't mean they will be more successful. What it does mean is they will appear much more skilled earlier on in their life, than someone who isn't and they will pick things up quicker. 

The inspiration behind this blog came from the the numerous times I have been around people on a golf course and one person decides they want to offer advice. Again, this mainly comes from a good place. In one example, a guy in my group was having a bad day. He's shanking it and hitting it fat. On one hole, he's 250 yards from the green and he tries to hit the hell out of the shot. A member of our group who is known for shouting out advice to people said, "he's so stubborn. I tried to tell him to chip out and play up but he doesn't listen. " I never like to create a flash point when I play. I like to keep myself to myself and try to be a good playing partner. However, I thought it was time to make him think a little about what he was trying to do. I presented him with some alternative ways of thinking about offering advice. 


  1. Never give someone advice when playing a round of golf. A good coach is comfortable at watching someone struggle because they know they probably need a hug rather someone trying to fix something they think is the problem.
  2. He might have so many other things in his head that you will simply confuse him. He may only be concerned about having a day off work.
  3. You had better be damn sure that your 'fix' works as his experience will go from bad to worse and he might end up hating you a little bit. 
  4. Broadcasting his problem to the whole group doesn't really instill confidence in a player. He might have been thinking, " I hope I don't embarrass myself."  Now you've just done it for him. 
Another spark for this blog was when I was asked to talk to a boy who kept having arguments with his mum when she was watching tennis. She said he had issues and asked if I could talk to him. I watched him play a few games and then had a chat about what he was going through and how he felt he played. I asked how it made him feel when his mum watched him. He said he hated how judgemental she was. Her comments always wound him up and he used to get a knot in his stomach as he waited for the next barbed comment. The disconnect between mother and son was she didn't know or ask him how he wanted to be supported. He on the other hand hadn't told her how it made him feel. He felt nagged and she felt rejected and that her son was ungrateful. With all this bubbling underneath, you can see why they always argued. This is my issue with some parents who try to coach from the sideline. Ask you child how they would like you to support them and you might but surprised by the response. The solution in the end was simple. She gave him a hug by the car, wished him luck and she never watched from the side of the court. He reminded her how appreciative he was of her support and was able to play free from this distraction. This is how you coach. You don't have the answers. You merely hold a mirror up to people to help them figure it out for themselves. 
I told you it was going to big! In part 2, we will look at how you give someone advice without them hating you. 

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