KarenLoomis hurdles 1978As I mentioned in the first post of the series, Sports & Business: Know the Rules of the Game, I have played sports my entire life, and during all of those years my coaches have ranged from superb to good to okay to really bad. I suppose much of my early years coaches were a reflection of the 70's, the very beginning of Title IX.

As a Title IX beneficiary I had the "same" opportunities as the boys to play sports in school. But, that's where the comparison of equality stopped. Mostly from elementary school to my sophomore year of high school girls sports were coached by those who volunteered or were volunteered. These coaches had nothing that qualified them to be a coach of anything, much less coaching girls…a trial in its self. I had two great high school coaches back in those days who were qualified, not just on the X's & O's, but on how to really motivate, make you believe in yourself and the training regime set in front of you. Coaches who do not motivate you to do the training or conditioning have lost before the game has even begun, and  this is true even in business where the stakes are higher.

Coaching is more than X's & O's

For me, not only were motivational abilities and technical/strategic skills critical, but the manner in which the coach completed those tasks was important too. I needed to be able to respect and trust that the coach knows better than me. This included knowing the best way to train without destroying my body, the actual fundamentals/techniques required to successfully complete the movement and how to teach those movements in a manner that I can duplicate.

Every coach has his/her own way of coaching. I never trusted or respected those coaches who yelled, demeaned or just plain lost control of their emotions during practice or game-time situations. I had a basketball coach who during practice proceeded to yell in such a manner I honestly felt he was going to have a heart attack. I mean really, we were teenagers…is that really necessary. Needless to say after an outburst by that same coach I turned and walked off the court. He yelled, "where are you going?" I replied, "I'm not going to stay here and get yelled at. If you'd like to communicate in a more conversational manner I'll listen"! Oops…guess my defiance explained the sitting on the bench the next several games. Note to self: Choose your battles!

Yosemite Sam Cartoon

During NBC's coverage of the Olympics I saw a human interest story on the Magnificent Seven's 1996 Olympic team Gold victory. I'm sure you remember seeing Béla Károlyi running around the gymnastic venue yelling and screaming like some kind of crazed cartoon character. In a way, he kind of resembles Yosemite Sam…loaded with guns and on the verge of creating complete chaos around him. but there's no question he has the ability to motivate his girls to be their best by completing grueling training while isolated from their family and friends. Béla not only made his students believe in themselves, but I'd go as far to say he scared them into believing in themselves. It probably never occurred to his young protégés to not live up to "his" high expectations. Actually, I venture to bet they performed at high levels because they didn't want to disappoint or let him down. Clearly, the Béla Károlyis or Bobby Knights of the world would have been a bad coach-athlete match up for me.

You Can Do It

According to the NBC interview 16 Years Later: Kerri Strug’s Journey to Gold, Kerri Strug said she performed the vault that she landed on one leg "because Bela said YOU CAN DO IT!" The video footage shows him off to the side of the vault runway yelling his head off providing her with the words she needed to hear at that moment in time. She believed him overriding the strong pain she felt in her left leg she had hurt in her previous vault. She ran down that runway at full speed ignoring every pain sensor in her leg and performed like a true warrior. Hard to argue with the successes of that style of coaching…Kerri completed her vault and seemingly won a gold for Team U.S.A. Gymnastics on one leg. She said in the same interview she had been told and believed she was weak and fragile throughout her career, yet that one moment in time with Bela telling her she could do it, she felt strong and invincible! That's the value of coaching!

Even athletes in individual events like the 10,000 meter race in the Olympics need and have coaches. As instinctual as running long distances may seem without a coach to design training programs, motivate you on days you don't feel invincible or capable of running one more mile, need coaches. The race-time strategy designed by coaches is critical to all athletic performances. Galan Rupp (U.S.A.) & Mo Farah (Great Britain) train together in Portland under the guidance of the great distance runner Alberto Salazar. And guess what…they trained together and won together with Farah taking the Gold and Rupp the Silver! That's taking the individual sport into a team sport even though competing for different countries. Talk about a victory for the coach, Alberto Salazar!

High Level Strategy

Coaching in business can be just as critical to the success of the organization. Whether team or individual sports, coaching is there to make you perform at the highest level possible, not for your individual self-worth, goals or needs, but for the good of the "team". Coaches in business range from C-Level to Senior Management to Mid-Management to Supervisors to Team Leads and Co-Workers with each serving a critical function in the business world very similar to that found in stadiums, on courts or the field.

Coaches are responsible for the high level thinking to help define the strategy and ensure all parts are operating together and optimally to produce the desired results. The employees, team leads, managers, etc. (athletes) are responsible to fulfill their role in that strategy/plan to help the company (team) achieve their own version of a win; increase brand awareness, generate qualified leads, hit sale goals, increase market share or increase revenue.

Coaching Challenges in Business

I think coaches in business have a greater challenge than coaches in sports to get everyone to play towards the same goal. In business, unlike sports, the goal to "win" isn't as clearly defined nor as easy to convince employees to be role players. Entry level employees and up the line may tire of working so hard to "win" for the company. Whether it's burnout from too much overtime, being over worked with too few resources, unqualified, underpaid or just plain don't believe in the company's vision or goals, employees can be difficult to push blindly towards the company's goal. So much can happen at the lower to mid-ranks or just as often at the senior level to demotivate a workforce.

Companies with strong employee (internal) branding overcome coaching challenges more successfully.

Hey Koolaid Graphic

Business leaders are no different than coaches in team sports in that they must put together the best possible team to overcome the many barriers to a winning season. In business, leadership must determine what are the skills required and who are the best players to accomplish their organizational goals. Not to mention cultivate those who are best team players (captains) who will join in to accomplish the company's goals. Sometimes those players are already within their organization in another position, if not, they must recruit players who possess the skills they need.

Business leaders need "kool-aid" drinkers with the right skill sets to propel their employees towards their business goals.

Skills required to win in the present marketplace or as company goals change often requires new team players or coaches. Just like in professional sports where athletes are traded or waived, employees may find themselves in a similar situation for a variety of business or personal reasons. Or being recruited by other companies who need the specialized skills you possess. As an employee, you can never rest on your laurels or past accomplishments. Whether it's new ownership, management or change in company goals, if your skills aren't aligned with the company's vision you may find yourself looking elsewhere for employment.

Just like on the playing field, in business not all of those in leadership positions are equipped to handle the vast diversity of personality types within the organization. Thus their departments may not contribute in a manner that helps the company (team) put together a profitable quarter or year. The leadership in business (coaches) must know how to motivate their team and each employee (player) on their team brings a diverse set of interpersonal needs and qualities.

Personalized Coaching Wins

I clearly remember watching Irene Matlock (successful volleyball college coach) do her thing. It was a work of art. She knew what each player needed to perform their best. Sure it seemed unfair to outsiders, but Coach Matlock knew exactly who needed the face-to-face full eye contact intense verbal commands. She also knew which of her athletes needed a more subtle non-confrontational approach. Of course, she learned this pretty quickly, as some of her athletes (my teammates) would practically cry whereas others (Susie Heggenes) would stand her ground, say "ok coach" and get back on the court and perform better.

I'd like to think I didn't need to be yelled out for making mistakes, as I was fully aware of my errors and no happier than her at the mistake. Typically I would show my anger by gritting my teeth and focusing down. But I can tell you there were some occasions where I made some really bone-headed mistakes. My response was to laugh and move on. That drove Coach Mattlock crazy. Coach Mattlock would just level with me with common sense such as, "go in the net one more time and you'll never play again"! Ahhhh, that I understood!!! Lesson learned – never went in the net again.

Business leaders may have the same interpersonal issues within their team,peers and supervisors. Sometimes the business leader employee match up is just a one-off occurrence. But when the same leader has the same problem with all of their players the next level up may make a decision to remove that coach when training and development do not turn the Bobby Knights into a Duke Basketball and U.S.A. Olympics' Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski).

Business leaders (coaches) may be let go or asked to resign, if they regularly fail to produce winning results. Or, employees (athletes), may find themselves on the outside looking wondering why they're skills or contributions are no longer needed.

No matter whether you're the Coach or the player, big business is basically the same as sports…produce or get off the court!

Make sure you read Part 1 of this series – Sports & Business: Know the Rules of the Game!