Successful sport coaches are often invited as motivational speakers at corporate events, and many corporate executives read their books on leadership, team coaching, and success.
In sports, most of the attention is naturally payed to the athlete´s development, but how about the other professionals around the athletes – those who have big influence to the athletes´ performance? Do these people have the opportunity to be coached as well? Has sports provided a leadership prescription for business, but forgot to eat the medicine?
In sports, developing skills and maximizing potential is at the heart of everything. Methods are invested heavily and increasingly in conditions, structures, resources and even processes. How do we lead an athlete, a team, a sports federation, a coaching center etc? In my opinion, there is a lot that sports could learn from leadership in business as well.
I can already say that I have an external approach to sports, since it has been over 15 yrs from my professional coaching career. Since then, I have contributed to performance and talent management in corporate business environment and thereafter in business coaching as an entrepreneur. Now when I look at the leadership and management in sports, it reminds me of something that in my opinion is quite typical – in sports knowing better than others defines the appreciation and expertise. The coach knows better than the athlete, the sports director knows better than anyone. I myself thought like that as well. What if there were more curiosity, ignorance, listening and joint problem solving? If there were more questions than telling? If there were more listening than assuming and convincing?
Why is interactive relevance particularly important now and in the future? Because to attract young people to professionalism in sports or in business – that is expected. Younger generations are waiting for it and going where they can find it. Young people need and want different things than what earlier generations in the same situation. All employers face the same challenge and opportunity – sport is no exception.
I would be a different sports coach today
I would coach athletes now in a different way than when I was coaching. I would ask and listen more carefully. I would let the athlete take his/her own responsibility in finding the most natural way to succeed. I would still make my own expertise 100% available to the athlete, but at the same time I would open up more space for his/her own innermost being. I would disregard every performance somewhere on the scale of successful – failed, good – bad. I would let the athlete him/herself describe and observe what just happened, how it felt and where.
A goal-oriented sports experience is an unparalleled foundation for development and success in any other area of life. That is one big benefit, when looking for relevance for what you do.
I will highlight three of the many examples.
Tiger Woods continues to train even though he has won everything possible and there is enough money, even if he never wins again. It´s the end of a professional career in sports, when the athlete stops training. In working life, it feels like the opposite. When expertise and professionalism begin, the training ends. There is even a job title for this in business – Trainee or Internship. He/she is not a professional yet because he’s just practicing.
In sports, high process goals are set (input goals). If they are not achieved, the plan and implementation will be changed, so it is still possible to achieve the final performance target. In sports, a lot of feedback is given about the process and the level of performance is tested and assessed. In working life, especially in business, the emphasis is on output goals and likewise feedback is given on the result. In sports, feedback is a prerequisite for development and feedback is given in a timely manner – by the experts around the athlete and by the athlete him/herself – his body and mind. In my opinion, the power of feedback is still underestimated in business.
3.Emotions and resilience
Sport is a superior training ground and test laboratory for emotion regulation. To be able to do their best, the athlete and coach must feel strong and be able to identify and regulate their own feelings, in the midst of both a joyous win and a grueling loss. The stronger an athlete is able to increase his/her self-regulation, the better the chances he/she has to succeed. Feelings of failure and disappointment are due to extreme motivation and personal investment in top sports in their class. Striving forward and interpreting failure as an opportunity to learn develops an athlete’s resilience — a trait of self-efficacy — even stronger.
Let´s continue the dialogue between business and sport
Professionalism, if implemented with a professional attitude – as only a top athlete knows and is able to, brings more opportunities for success. The same attitude produces success for society. On top of sports success, we get skilled and capable people into labor market, people who have commitment to high goals, necessity of lifelong learning and skill to cope with setbacks in their genes.
It took me some time to understand all the value that I have achieved from the time that I spent as a professional sport coach. Without certain courage to look the other person in the eye and give and receive feed-back, also then when it´s not all positive, there is no chance in reaching the targets. Without a skill to regulate your emotions – happy or sad, you are late taking the next step when it´s needed. Without keeping your head cool, when your heart is burning, your brain wouldn´t be ready to analyze what needs to be analyzed. Without a skill to show the deepest understanding in both joy and loss, you would never achieve the trust that is needed to put yourself on a limit. Just to give some examples.
In Business Coaching there are tools and behaviours that have helped me to better understand the relevance of commitment, inspiring conversations, appreciative listening, responsibility and awareness – examples that I would utilize more in all roles in sports.