Don’t coach them better

Over the next few weeks I’d like share some of the principles and topics from my upcoming book GameChanger.

It ‘might’ satisfy the emails I’m getting from people and teams looking for advance copies, especially now the NBA season is over (for most). 

Some regard coaching as the process of getting an athlete to do something, by telling or showing them how to do it. One secret I’ve focused on for years is getting an athlete to do something without having to instruct them at all.

How can get an athlete or tactical operator to do something without interacting with them?

First of all, some of you will ask, “Why bother? Whats the point?”

The point is, the point of all coaching—train athlete instinct and make yourself invisible and irrelevant.

As Dan Pfaff told me best years ago, “Good teachers make themselves irrelevant.” He’s right, the most insecure coaches want the player to rely on them.

  • A golfer about to make a critical putt.
  • An NBA center making a free throw to edge ahead in the final quarter.
  • The QB in the pocket with time on a final drive.
  • The point man in a CQB (Close Quarter Battle) facing a loaded gun

All that matters in these moments is instinct.

Act without thinkingIf you can get players to act; develop habits and instinct without thinking you develop seamless operators.

While waiting to catch a plane in Schipol airport, Amsterdam, over 10 years ago, I made a quick stop to the mens room. No one wants to be in a window seat on a long haul flight needing to go to the rest room.

I’ve never expected a restroom visit to provide a learning moment.
On the inside of the urinal there was what seemed like a small fly, which I instinctively tried to move. It slowly dawned on me that it was not a fly. I thought at first it was a mark or crack, then I thought perhaps it was a manufacturing logo that looked like a fly.

What I was actually looking at was a detailed image of a fly, the invention of Aad Kieboom economist who helped Schipol airport reduce splashback and misdirected waterworks from male restroom users. It has since been adopted by many restrooms – you can even buy them here if you feel so inclined.

Don’t coach

Aad Kieboom ‘coaches’ millions unconsciously each day to do something he wants, how can we—it’s actually our job?

We know team sports athletes drink too much sugar. What about if you thought about how you stock your Gatorade or Powerade fridges?

If you want to reduce the volume of high-sugar drinking, what would happen if you placed water at eye level and G2 on the row above and below and Gatorade in the bottom rows only? Try it and watch how you will slowly impact sugar intake unconsciously.

There’s many other ways to impact your make your players better without ‘coaching’ them (directly) on the field also.

Play the one-side dominant player on the other wing of the field putting him on his ‘weak’ side, put the player who is lazier on the lower numbered team or matched against the best player, and so on.

The main benefit is that you allow the player to use his slow thinking energy for stuff that actually needs high cognitive energy.

Remember, you don’t have to hear your own voice to coach.

GameChanger by Fergus Connolly & Phil White is out September 2017. 

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