A piece on Coaching Mistakes by John O'Sullivan

(11 Mar 2020)

1. I Focused on Outcomes (Instead of Learning):
It’s easy for coaches to become wrapped up in results. Athletes are often critiqued based on the outcome of the game or match, and not on how well they actually performed. Instead, coaches should focus on opportunities to learn rather than win. Every practice and competition provides a chance for athletes to learn from mistakes and grow.

2. I Focused on Being Serious (Instead of Enjoyment):
When expectations for success are high, enjoying the moment can often become secondary. This becomes an important issue in sports because athletes are more likely to develop and stay engaged if they are enjoying themselves. Therefore, coaches should try to balance their approach. “Coaches can focus on enjoyment and be demanding at the same time,” O’Sullivan writes.

3. I Tried to Inspire by Demeaning (Instead of Being Demanding):
There is a fine line between being demanding and being demeaning. It may seem like pushing an athletes buttons with sarcasm or demeaning comments might motive them to perform. But this approach can actually do more harm than good. A successful coach will demand more out of athletes and inspire them to keep getting better, rather than trying to embarrass or humiliate them.

4. I Took Credit for the Good and Blamed Others for the Bad (Instead of the Opposite):
After a loss, coaches start assessing what went wrong. This is a potentially pivotal moment of self-reflection that makes teams and individual athletes better in the future. It is just as important for a coach to be self-critical as it is for an athlete. Though it might be easy to say poor effort, poor focus, and poor execution were the reasons for losing, a coach should consider their own role before blaming others. “When you blame an athlete for a mistake, he or she will likely blame another, and the blame cascades down until no one takes responsibility. But if you take ownership, your athletes will as well,” O’ Sullivan writes.

5. I Did Lots of Talking (Instead of Listening):
It’s only natural for coaches to do a lot of talking. From organizing, to providing instruction, to motivating athletes, there are a lot of reasons for coaches to be constantly talking. But people only improve when they listen. Young athletes need direction, but too much lecturing can cause them to lose interest. Instead of thinking you have all the answers, allow yourself to listen and learn from those around you.

6. I Acted Like a General (Instead of a Teacher):
Athletes are able to reach their full potential after they accept responsibility over their own development. When coaches are trying to control every situation by providing constant instruction, an athlete’s ability to grow is inhibited. Especially during competition, try to act as a guide and mentor by focusing on the learning process. When a coach acts like a general, things might run smoother in the moment but lessons will not be carried into the future.

7. I Used Fear as a Motivator (Instead of Love):
Threatening athletes with the prospect of sprints or a grueling may seem like enough to inspire a great performance, but there are better ways. When an athlete loves and respect their teammates and coaches, they’re much more likely to do all they can to make everyone successful. Building this type of culture should be a point of focus for any coach. “Nothing is more powerful than a bond of love and respect among teammates, coaches and parents working together. No team will fight harder than that team. No athlete will play harder for a coach then one who feels cared for and loved,” O’Sullivan writes.

8. I Knew it All (Instead of being Humble):
There is always more to learn. Coaches can often be stuck in their own philosophy and approach, but that type of stubbornness will hold you back more than propel you forward. Take advantage of the knowledge that other coaches have to offer, never stop asking questions, and don’t be afraid of change. “You can admit when you are wrong. Athletes will forgive you, and better yet, are far more likely to go all in for you and their team if they know mistakes are OK, because even the coach makes them,” O’Sullivan writes.

John O'Sullivan Changingthegameproject.com

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