Football and workplace coaching, part two: What coaching for performance really looks like
Companies implement coaching because they've read about coaching's innumerable productivity and engagement benefits. They know it will help their people to perform "better."
But is better performance really what we're after with coaching?
As a football coach, I've found coaching to be less about making a player better and more about helping that player to succeed within the system of systems that is the team. As a football coach, I'm somewhat interested in building player skills. I'm always interested in deploying those skills in pursuit of a shared goal, which in my case, is holding an offense to as few points as possible.
I coach the defensive line, the least glamorous position in the game of football. The defensive line is a position that one must play with grit, determination, and a surprising amount of humility.
That's because much of the modern-day defensive line position focuses on "gap control," the technique of taking on would-be blockers so that linebackers and defensive backs can make plays and get their picture in the paper (the following video illustrates what gap control looks like on the defensive line).
To succeed on the defensive line is to exert momentary bursts of strength and agility while maintaining a disciplined position relative to the line of scrimmage. A good defensive lineman is just fast enough to beat their opponent to a spot on the field, and just strong enough to hold themselves in that position even as they are pushed in multiple directions.
As a coach, I want my players to be fast and strong without being so fast and so strong that they will find themselves out of position. When we as defensive linemen find ourselves in the wrong spot, the defense struggles, the system weakens, and mistakes are made.
Coaching football is not just an exercise in helping players to be the best they can be. Coaching football is about building skilled, disciplined players, that recognize their role within the system and know how to contribute to the system's success. Coaching, as it turns out, is fundamentally about the actualization of an identity.
Coaching in the workplace is not just about developing talent. It's about aligning talent to the needs of an organization and helping individuals to be in the right place at the right time with the right proficiencies.
An effective workplace coach defines organizational success. They identify how different roles contribute to that success, and what skills are necessary to fulfill those individual roles. They motivate their people to build and leverage the skills that strengthen the entire system. And they hold coaching conversations that build skills - not for the sake of skill-building, but for the sake of the team's success.