03 August 2011

Teamwork: The Coach

See my earlier Teamwork posts here.

The Coach
Obviously an important part of the team, right?  The coach is the goal-setter, the big-picture person, and the one who provides direction.  The coach comes up with strategies for getting from point A to point B and tailors those strategies to the strengths of the players.  In some ways, the coach also needs to be a matchmaker, taking notice of the people who can work together in complementary ways and making sure they get a chance to cooperate.  Sometimes the coach implements a game plan that isn't quite right, or players don't execute the plan correctly, or something unexpected happens and the result is a poor outcome; so the coach is also an expert at bouncing back, at evaluating and correcting mistakes, and at envisioning and promoting a new plan of action.  That might seem like a tall order, but I think we all do the work of coaching every day when we set goals and make informed decisions after taking environmental and human factors into consideration.  For example, this cat is being a coach by telling his human that she needs to move forward.

image source

Lots of my friends and mentors act as excellent coaches in my life.  In the last year, one experience really stands out:
My friend and colleague J. joined me for coffee one afternoon, and we started talking about our language exams - When will we take them?  Who will we ask to administer them?  How should we go about studying for these things?  I expressed a bit (well, ok, a lot) of anxiety over preparing for my Latin exam and explained the whole complex of unreasonable expectations I've managed to pile on myself related to this exam.
I took Latin in high school and college, but I don't use it often anymore; am I going to stink at it? What would that say about my memory and my ability to teach/study/use unpracticed languages in the future? A few months before, I had started studying for the exam with another person who continually got frustrated at my ability to translate without being able to explain clearly why I was making the lexical and grammatical choices I was; does this mean I suck at languages and will never be able to pass a rigorous exam? And am I an inherently frustrating or annoying person because of my academic habits or weaknesses?
J's response was absolutely brilliant and revolutionary: walk away from the Latin and start studying Hebrew instead.  Genius! I did, and I passed that exam, and in the meantime I've reconstructed a bit of my academic confidence.  The thought of the Latin is still somewhat daunting, but not nearly as much as it was.  J's ability to take in the big picture and propose a new direction displayed some excellent coaching skills.

I'm not sure that I take on the role of coach for my friends very often, though I might contribute to their own self-coaching by listening and putting things in a wider perspective.  The coaching aspect of my life is definitely at play, though, in any work I do as a teacher.  Planning a course/quarter outline, gathering the materials and resources that might be helpful for each student, setting goals for the group and for individuals before each class session, and being flexible enough to abandon a tack that just isn't working halfway through a class meeting to try a new strategy are all coaching skills that I try to bring to teaching.

My self-coaching has gotten better in the past six months or so, due to a near-magical combination of excellent friendships, academic accomplishments, therapy, yoga practice, and relative economic security.  The less recent past included (in the midst of many, many good and wonderful things; this is just one aspect of what was going on) a close relationship that rather consistently reinforced many of the insecurities I already struggle with, from body issues to a lack of academic confidence.  Obviously part of this was my own doing; no one can make you feel something unless you let them, etc., etc.  However, the recent work of rebuilding my sense of self without the pressure of what had become a negative influence has made me a more confident coach.

  • When I set goals I can step back to the big picture and confirm for myself that those goals are worthwhile and valuable, even if other people might not validate them or might even ridicule them.
  • My free time is more creative and productive, because I'm not overly concerned about what I ought to be doing to make anyone else happy or dealing with people who demand that I make them happy.
  • Consciously surrounding myself with people who always treat me like I'm a positive addition to their day (even if I'm grumpy when they're in a good mood), who might not share my interests but who support my pursuit of those interests, and who are thoughtful and generous gives me the extra boost of confidence to be however/whoever/whatever I am right now. Talk about planning complementary pairings for a team!

What are your coaching strengths and where do you use them?  Who coaches you?

1 comment:

Rachel J said...

This is so true! It helps so much to have someone to guide you--something I didn't realize in college until college was over and I was on my own and really missed that coaching. I also really like your first bullet point there, because there's some goals I make and wonder "ugh...kind of an embarrassing goal" and I scrap it--although I end up having to do it anyway. It makes more sense just to do it from the start.

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