10 things Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Coach Mike | November 11th, 2013

I am not the biggest of sports fans, but I do love watching a great team from just about any sport working together as a unit. The beauty of an powerful individual performance, wrapped in the cohesion of great team work is a thing of wonder and a treasure to behold. The grace, power, and skill of athletes at just about any level is something people from across cultures are taught to admire, but behind those performances is one person responsible for pushing, prodding, organizing, teaching, praising, criticizing, and motivating: Coach. It is Coach is the designer and keeper of the system; prioritizer of strategy and goals; and organizer of the details. It is Coach who leads, inspires, builds, and molds a team into success. Sound familiar? If you are an entrepreneur it sure should, because these are the core skills and responsibilities of an entrepreneur, too.

Coaches, the great as well as the less-than-great, can have an enormous influence over the ives of their players. Think back to just about any childhood and there is an excellent chance that Coach played a significant role in the development of that child, whether through a single play in a single game, or through a long season of hard work and effort. Entrepreneurs may not have the same influence over their team’s lives, but they can still seek to develop talent, teach skills, inspire performance, and set expectations for excellence. Here are 10 things that entrepreneurs can learn from Coach:

1. Coach coaches. Actively.
Coach spends a great deal of time teaching, guiding, and giving direct instruction to the players. Everything from basic skills, to strategy, to the specific plays that were designed for the game. Entrepreneurs also can take the role of teacher and help to instruct their teams in the strategies and tactics used in the business.

2. Coach delegates.
Good coaches understand how to divide the work amongst their staff. Typically a coaching team will have an offensive coordinator and well as a defensive coordinator, and Coach will give each primary responsibilities. This does not mean that Coach isn’t involved, but rather that he recognizes how the other coaches can contribute. Assistants, whether a team parent or team manager are given responsibilities.

3. Coach inspires.
We all know the old trope of the locker room speech at half time. Well, old tropes are grounded in truth. One of the  most important things a coach can do is inspire people to work harder and constantly improve. For entrepreneurs this is equally important – remember your team looks to you for guidance and leadership and inspiring them to give their best is a critical part of the job.

4. Coach set expectations.
A good coach expects a great deal from her players and she will let them know this every single day. Coach always expects players to give their all, perform at the highest level, and succeed. But it is not just on the field that expectations are set: Coach also expects her players to accept responsibility for their own actions, be respectful of their teammates as well as the opposing team. accept the judgement of the officials, and come prepared to work hard every day and improve constantly.

5. Coach builds teams.
Building a strong and cohesive team is the most important single aspect of coaching. Great coaches build character through rewarding positive behavior, correcting poor performance, and providing experiences for the players but they also build it by teaching players to work together, defend one another, and achieve common goals. Coaches will also encourage their players to support one another and praise each other’s hard work, yet still make it clear that they have a responsibility to the entire team and that each of them must count on the others.

6. Coach extracts the best.
Pushing players to achieve their best and to work at their highest level is an essential element of coaching and leadership. Coaches walk a fine line here; too much pressure can make a player conscious and can often have the reverse of the desired effect. The best coaches know that they need to let their players have some rope, but at the same time be constantly teaching, providing feedback, and always encouraging the hard work given by the player.Encouraging “personal bests” from all players.

7. Coach is generous with praise. And criticism
One way a good coach develops her players is through constant praise for excellent performance, but also through consistent and fair criticism. The idea is that certain behaviors want to be reinforced with praise while other negative behaviors can be minimized through constructive feedback and well-informed criticism. There is always a danger for the coach in crossing the line and harming a player’s self confidence, but the criticism and feedback is just as important as the praise.

8. Coach rewards.
What do the best players want from their coach? Minutes. Playing time is the best reward for athletes and a good coach can use this as a meaningful incentive to players: perform consistently and you will be rewarded with playing time. The flip side is equally powerful: coaches who observe a drop in productivity will not hesitate to take a player out of the game of reduce their time on the field. A good coach, however, is wary of being too heavy handed with these type of rewards and punishments, knowing that they can easily backfire and harm not just the individual player but the entire team.

9. Coach knows talent.
The ability to identify the strongest players or those with the greatest potential is a critical skill for a good coach. Experience, instinct, and intimate knowledge of how a game is played as well as the skills it takes to play the game are required  recognize talent and some coaches are better than others. But where the really great coaches distinguish themselves is not just in identifying or recognizing talent, but in the coach’s ability to recruit talented individuals. It is meaningless to know someone is good and know they would be good for the team, unless coach has the ability to close the deal with that player. This takes communication skills, the ability to articulate why this player wants to be on the team, and an ability to help a recruit visualize the success they can have under the coach. In other words, just like an entrepreneur, a great coach need to be a great salesman.

10. Coach leads.
More than anything Coach provides the leadership, stability, and guidance that the players need. Coach sets the tone and provides an atmosphere conducive to teamwork and team identity. Leaders listen to others, allow others to shine, and create situations in which success becomes possible. In short? Great coaches are people that athletes want to follow and great leaders are people who not only earn respect but give it in equal measure.

Photo, Wikipedia: Coach Nathaniel Cartmell and the 1910–11 University of North Carolina men’s basketball team

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