By STEPHANIE PRICE
First I should tell you I do not know a lot about sports. I did play, coach and referee basketball for some seasons in my life, but that’s about the extent of my sports experience. Turns out it is OK, though, that I am not a sports expert even as I write about a subject usually associated with sports. See, you don’t actually have to know much about athletics to know about COACHING.
So, coaches and coach-ees, let’s talk about it — sports knowledge or not.
As a 41-year-old wife, mother and student, I am a coach — to my children if no one else — and I HAVE COACHES who guide me, be they classroom instructors, my wise husband, colleagues or friends. Specifically for me, I work as a doula, a profession I occasionally describe as, “You know, like a labor coach?” I also belong to a CrossFit gym I joined not for its fancy equipment but for the personal coaching I get.
So this coaching thing is all around me — probably all around you, too, if you look. Since we’re all coaching or being coached by someone, it’s worth looking at how to do it well, right?
Here you go. In my experience, a good coach ...
1. Coaches in a well-defined relationship. Just offering a friend a piece of advice — solicited or not — does not a coach make. I prefer, whether doing or receiving the coaching, to have my relationship well-defined. As a professional doula, for example, people pay me for advice and services. We’re clear what my role and parameters are. At the gym, I might be friends with the coach, but when we’re there, I’m paying her for her expert advice about health and fitness. I used to be uncomfortable with giving and receiving money for coaching, but now I believe it actually helps things quite a bit. Expectations by both parties are clear, then, and clarity usually means fewer opportunities for misunderstanding.
2. Learns all he or she can about a person. A good coach becomes well-acquainted with the person or people he or she is helping. The more you know about a person, the better you can tailor your counsel. This is true in every kind of mentor-mentee relationship from parent-child to teacher-student to doula-client to coach-athlete. I make it a point to be super nosey with my clients. It’s amazing how an off-hand comment over coffee about how a person grew up, say, can become a crucial consideration in my coaching strategy.
3. Shares proven advice, not theories. Deals in facts, not opinions. Rarely, very rarely, in my coaching do I use words like “I believe” or “in my opinion.” Instead, a good coach points to a known fact or a proven method when offering advice. Sometimes people will ask — as I have to others — “Well, what would YOU do?” Sometimes I tell people what I would do, but most times I tell them how I came to a conclusion rather than what that conclusion is. Also, a good coach doesn’t tell you how he or she “feels” about something but share facts about that subject. As a doula, I like to point to evidence-based research — “These are the statistics about epidurals,” for example — rather than to how I “feel” about something. (Aside, but who cares how I “feel” anyway? As a coach and a coach-ee, I just want to know what works, what doesn’t, and what any given action is likely to get me.)
4. Always has the long-term goal in mind. “What’s the ultimate goal?” is something I’m often considering. As a coach — think “parent” — this can be especially helpful as you pick your battles, so to speak. Is the spilled apple juice or whatever really a big deal when the goal is to raise healthy, happy people? As a coach-ee, I’m glad to know my coach is thinking of the big picture so that SHE knows which battles to pick. At the gym, for example, she might know it’s OK for me to take it easy on a certain skill but push it on another because she knows where we’re headed and how to get there. The coach-ee forgets where we’re headed or, like children, doesn’t know it at all.
5. Is a strategic thinker. Personally, I love planning, thinking, strategizing. My husband says I’d be a good chess player if I were patient enough to sit down and play for a while. A good coach is always thinking “How can we get there?” and putting, if only in his or her mind, plans together to do so. I’ve taken to telling my doula clients, “No matter what comes up, we’ll have a strategy to handle it” rather than give them an answer for every possible scenario. (You can’t define every possible scenario anyway.)
6. Maintains a high standard. Here is where we love — and hate — our coaches. They don’t back off. Not a good coach, anyway. This can feel tricky when you’re emotionally moved, but you dare not lower a standard because someone is afraid or feeling sorry for himself or herself. Standards really are not ours to move anyway. This doesn’t mean we don’t applaud little victories, offer much encouragement along the way and cheer people at key milestones. I like the motto, “progress, not perfection.” It reminds me we can be happy with progress but never forget we’re aiming for perfection. If my coach were to let me get ALMOST there and say, after I threw an tantrum, “Well, since you’re upset about it, I guess that’s good enough,” I would want my money back.
So take a look and see where, in your life, you’re coached or coaching. Is it what it should be? Likely we can all do better. So move it, move it, move it!
Goshen News columnist Stephanie Price is a wife, mother, teacher, childbirth educator, midwife’s assistant and nursing student from Elkhart. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, 269-641-7249 or on Facebook at the page “Whole Family Column by Steph Price.”