What makes a great coach?

The Change Chef has often said that the skills that got you your first leadership position won’t keep you there. While talent may have given you the recognition (and promotion), it takes a different set of skills to stay there. And there lies the secret of great coaching.  

When American professional basketballer Gilbert Arenas was recently asked to comment on whispers that Shaq O’Neill would take the coaching position at the LA Lakers (demanding $25 million per year for four years for his efforts), his response raised eyebrows.

Would Shaq – one of the greatest basketball players of all time – make a great coach?

“No,” Arenas flatly responded followed by a nervous laugh.

Of course, Arenas was careful to point out that his out of hand dismissal of Shaq was not a ‘knock.’ Rather, it was more of a comment on what makes a great coach.

“He was great. But he was gifted great. He was born big, athletic and was skilled… so the mentality of what it takes day in, day out to be a great player [by-passed Shaq]…. That was Kobe’s complaint. I get here at 6am working on my craft and you’re [Shaq] just God’s gift,” Arenas said.

What makes a great coach?

“Will [Shaq] have the brain and capacity to break it down for the lames?” Arenas wondered.

“That’s not him. And that’s where usually greats have a problem; making it normal. That’s why Kobe was a great coach because Kobe didn’t have the 48 inch vertical and all this. He had to work on his craft. He had to understand the game, he had to understand angles.

“That’s why mediocre players make better coaches,” Arenas said with an embarrassed laugh.

The Arenas interview provides a fundamental window into the nature of effective coaching; that is, the ability to break down the game into small parts, go back to fundamental skill building and think strategically about how to win.

Just as the musician practises scales and runs; the basketballer passing drills; the writer tone; the chef flavour or the stockbroker charts, it’s that ability to go back to basics and build up to peak performance that makes the coach so valuable.

Great coaching is the ability to tweak when necessary, build on strengths and compensate for weaknesses. They are teachers. They are strategists and tacticians who see the small things or a few steps ahead. They understand how a one per cent shift can alter the direction of a performance.

That’s not to say that great players cannot cross over into great coaches. It’s just a recognition that they are two different skill sets. Not better, just different.

And this is a difference that can be merely overlooked. Why?

According to Sian Beilock PhD, what makes a great coach is communication.  It is about being able to describe step-by-step the skills required to perform. And as Beilock has found in her research.

“… it’s not just that trying to describe your performance can disrupt it. Skilled performers often have trouble putting their actions into words in the first place. That’s why those who perform at the highest levels should think twice about teaching their skills to others.”

To find out more about how Unitive can break down your business or organisational performance, contact us to find out more about coaching.

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