Are there secret ingredients to effective coaching? John O’Sullivan, Founder of Changing the Game Project discusses some of the key elements that can make you a great coach.

“I just can’t figure it out,” an exasperated coach said to me recently. “One day we are flying around the field, and the next it looks like we’ve never played together before. Why does this happen?”

“Do you think your players lost all their skill?” I asked? “Do you think they forgot how to play?”

“Of course not,” said the coach.

“Too many coaches think that performance is all about X’s and O’s,” I responded. “It’s much more than that.”

Many coaches think that coaching is an X’s and O’s business, but in reality it is a relationship business. The secret to great coaching and a successful performance by one’s team isn’t simply technique, or tactics, or fitness.

In fact, it comes down to a simple formula:

Performance = (Potential + Behavior) – Interference

(I came up with this equation after combining the definition of performance from two highly recommended books, Timothy Gallway’s The Inner Game of Tennis and James Kerr’s Legacy, which details the 2x defending world champion New Zealand All Blacks’ incredible success in rugby.)

Most coaches only look at potential and behavior (genetics, hours and quality of practice, attitude, coaching, fitness, etc.). These are incredibly important components, but they are not the whole equation.

Far too many coaches ignore the second half of the equation, interference.

Think of interference as the static on the radio during your favorite song. You know the song is great because you have heard it before. The lyrics are the same and the rhythm has not changed, but the song is not being heard in its best form. It is not the song’s fault- it is the radio station connection. In that moment you lose faith in the station’s ability to deliver the song in it’s best form. In other words, you no longer trust the radio station.

How does this relate to coaching to parenting, and to developing high-performing athletes?

Trust is the secret ingredient of great coaching.

It is foundation of all great teams and all great relationships. Players cannot consistently perform their best if they do not trust their coaches, their parents and their teammates, and in-turn feel they are trusted.

Parents cannot give their kids ownership and release their children to the sport unless they trust their kids, and their coaches.

Coaches cannot get the most out of their athletes and teams unless they trust them to perform and earn their athlete’s trust in the process.

Trust is the secret ingredient of athletic success.

As Warren Buffett so eloquently states, “Trust is like the air we breathe. When it’s present no one notices and when it’s absent everyone can see it.”

Doesn’t this perfectly describe the athletes and teams you see on a weekly basis?

High trust teams and athletes are fun to watch, and even more fun to coach. In his excellent book The Speed of Trust, Steven R Covey discusses the characteristics of high trust teams, such as:

Common purpose and values

  • Respect
  • Commitment
  • Resiliency
  • Love which decreases fear
  • Fewer discipline problems
  • Intrinsically motivated athletes
  • Celebrate each others success

In contrast, low trust relationships in sport are easy to spot, because you consistently see:

  • Lack of a shared vision
  • Lack of respect
  • Varying levels of commitment
  • Lots of finger pointing
  • Pursuit of individual goals over team goals
  • A lack of love, which creates fear

Trust amongst athletes, parents and coaches is something that has to be first earned, then cultivated, and then built upon. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. High trust teams consistently do the things that build more trust (and usually more success) while low trust teams repeat the same mistakes over and over as the season falls apart.

Coaches, you must be intentional about building trust among your teams if you want to build programs that enjoy sustained success. Every one of your players needs something different from you and it is your job to seek out how to serve them in order for them to be able to perform at their best ability (see John Wooden’s definition of success) . Some need technique, some need tactics, some need discipline, and some need encouragement. To build trust with each of them you must first spend the time to get to know each athlete. Once you have gained their trust by giving them why they need, only then will those players play their hearts out for you, for their teammates, and for themselves— not because they have to, but because they want to!

How to Build Trust

The critical first step for coaches is to be worthy of trust from their athletes. They must coach the person, not the sport. And they must realize that trust is not solely built upon their ability to teach X’s ad O’s.

In their amazing book Trust Works, authors Ken Blanchard, Cynthia Olmstead and Martha Lawrence outline the four components of trust, the ABCD’s as they call them:

  • Ability: your knowledge and competency to get the job done
  • Believability: do you act with integrity and treat people fairly
  • Connectedness: do you show empathy, love your athletes, and care about them as people first, and athletes second?
  • Dependability: do you follow through on what you say, and hold yourself and everyone else accountable?

In my experience (and certainly this applied to me as a young coach), most coaches believe that reputation, playing ability and previous performance should garner trust. They played the game, they know a lot about the game, therefore everyone should have complete trust in their coaching, their judgment, and everything they do. Those things may get a coach a job, but it won’t be what makes the athlete trust them.

If your accountant was great at math and knew all the accounting laws, but filed your tax return late (lack of dependability), would you trust him?

If your doctor stared at the computer screen the whole time during your visit, ignored your complaints, didn’t care about your ailments (lack of connection), and then prescribed you medication would you trust her?

Of course not.

If you want to see the four components of trust in action, watch this short video of Georgia Football Coach Mark Richt, as he talks with his kicker before an attempt at a game winning field goal.

Can you see how he instills trust? Can you see how he connects, how he follows through on his core values, and more? Can you see how this type of behavior will allow your athletes the best chance at success?

Coaches, we must understand and accept that we will not be trusted, no matter how much we know, until parents and athletes know how much we care,

We must treat athletes fairly, act with integrity, and follow through on the things we say we will do. Those are the ABCD’s of trust that we must earn; there is no way around it.

To conclude, take a few minutes and watch this amazing TEDx talk by Coach Reed Maltbie, on “The Lasting Power of a Coach’s Words.” Reed is one of the brand new members of our speaking team here at the Changing the Game Project, and we are so honored that he will be helping us to bring about important changes in youth sports. His talk is amazing!

Please share this article and Coach Reed’s talk with coaches you know, and with the organizations that your kids play for.

Please help us to restore trust in our coaches, our parents, our athletes, and our organizations.

Only with trust can we build an environment that serves the needs, values and priorities of our kids, and truly change the game.

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