How to Coach People Well

I’ve had a myriad of soccer coaches growing up; some excellent, some clearly there just for the paycheck. One of the worst soccer coaches I had was in high school, where John was a former school athletic star. John lettered in three sports (football, soccer and baseball), and started on all those varsity teams as a freshman. As an athlete, he was incredible. As a coach, he was anything but. Contrast him to my last coach, Eryck, who I found when I was well out of college. He too had a decorated athletic career. Actually that’s an understatement as my last coach played in World Cup qualifiers for the Puerto Rican national team. Eryck was also a stellar athlete, but equally an impressive coach.

So what was the difference? Was it because one played at the highest levels of soccer and the other didn’t?

For me, the difference was about their attitude and what they cared about – or more importantly, who they cared about. After a few games, it became evident that John, my high school coach, was really just to make things about him and how the team made him look. He shortcut our training; taking time away from developing our individual skills and taught us “tricks” to win the game. And to be honest, that method worked out – for John. We made it out of games with more positive results than we should have, because we learned to do things like “tap” the opposition in the ankles when the ref isn’t looking and the opposing player will foul us hard in retaliation and our team would earn a free kick.

Eryck had a different approach for us. Each training session was entirely about ball mastery. He wanted us to dance with the ball and the only time we didn’t have the ball at our feet was during our 4v4 scrimmages. But even then, each of us would see the ball every 5-10 seconds. After each session, Coach Eryck would pull me aside and tell me where I had improved and what he would like to see me work on for the next time. It was about us, it was about me.

I talked about this in a previous post, about “How to Supervise Someone in Their Position Focus”, that the goal of coaching is really all about them.

  • How can I help this person grow?
  • How can I help them reach their goals?
  • How can I help them?

The focus of coaching should never be about you, your personal agenda or your team’s strategic plan. There will be times when you’ll be faced with the challenge of wearing ‘multiple hats’, where you also hold a team or organizational value that you’re responsible to move forward and also the role as a coach to develop the person individually. Those two ‘hats’ do not need to be mutually exclusive, but it may require you to acknowledge that you’re switching your ‘hat’ for a moment to move both things along.

Here are some helpful tips to get that going:

Start with the end

Where does this person want to go? What do they want to accomplish? Whatever that is, you must keep that as your north star.

Remember and plan for surprises
I forgot where I read this, but someone described common coaching methods like putting someone on a bike, mapping out how they’ll get to their destination and then blindfolding them! When you read that, that sounds ludicrous and absolutely insane. But that’s how often many of us are “coached”. We did not account for any obstacles on the way, pedestrians, dogs, cars, rocks or anything that might come along the bike path. And when someone fails to reach their destination, we look back and say either we’re terrible coaches or that the person we’re coaching “wasn’t coachable”.

Plan and expect for surprises and detours. In fact, embrace them as part of the process. Growth is not linear. Our coaching shouldn’t be either. Our role is to make sure we help our people towards their north star.

Think about how the people you coach and you too, will feel after enduring and navigating the obstacle together. The people you coach will grow in their confidence to handle obstacles, and you’ll grow just as much as you’ll grow in your assurance that you’re capable of being helpful.

Check in frequently
One coaching time per six months isn’t coaching. That’s a waste of time. Once a week? Maybe. It depends on your availability and theirs too. Once a month? Sure! That’s definitely the bare minimum.

It’s OK if you can only do the bare minimum. For some seasons, that’s all you can do and that’s all that is necessary. There will be seasons where you can give more and where you can give less. Just be sure to adjust accordingly. Go every other week when the season is slow for you because you can. Then it’s totally fine to taper down when it’s your busy season.

Speaking of that…

Keep your commitments

If you say you can do your coaching every week, then be sure you can deliver. Nothing erodes your credibility as a leader and a coach than your inability to follow through on your own word.
It’s OK to aim big and say you can coach every week, but then realize you made a mistake and need to make an adjustment. If that’s the case, be sure you communicate that. Be honest. Tell them you made a mistake without excuses. “I made a mistake. I’m sorry. I can’t coach you every week… but I can do every other week!”

Aim for a 70/30 listen-talk ratio

Actually, I have no idea what the right ratio is but the truth of the matter is that you should be spending less time talking and more time listening during your coaching calls. It doesn’t have to be 70/30 or 60/40. It’s just some arbitrary number to illustrate the point. As a coach, you should be asking questions and listening. Yes, there will come a time where you do need to interject your voice and thoughts, but in most cases, asking good questions will help the person you’re coaching arrive at the answer they were looking for on their own. They just needed a little help.

Now that my oldest daughter, Eden, is interested in soccer, it was a pretty obvious choice where I’d take her to get her first soccer exposure. Coach Eryck has retired from coaching, but runs a soccer training facility now with a group of his former players that are now trainers. One coach – Rose – in particular has taken to Eden and I see the essence of Coach Eryck in her. Rose is very patient and makes it very much about Eden and how she can grow as a player. As a parent, it’s comforting to see my daughter getting trained by someone who cares about her and makes the commute worthwhile for me.

As you coach your people, are you making it about them? Will it be worth their time to connect with you? Are you helping them reach their goals or yours and your strategic plan?