Coaching or Criticizing

“What on earth are you doing?  That’s not how you do it!”

This is what I heard myself say to my 12 year old son who was in the process of addressing an envelope to his grandparents, in pencil, and with the address scrunched up into the top left hand corner of the envelope.  My internal voice was along the lines of “For goodness sake… don’t you know anything?” and that exasperation had come through in my tone and body language.  I knew that I should have perhaps chosen a different tack when he started to get upset and replied with

“What am I supposed to do?  You haven’t shown me.”

Then it struck me, he was right. I had never sat down and shown him, let alone explained how to lay out an envelope as my parents had done for me.  In today’s age where communication is by email, handwritten envelopes seem to have been downgraded to a twice a year event, thank you cards for birthday and Christmas gifts.  I had let my son down. It was my responsibility to sit down and coach him, not criticize him.

The “criticizing” approach to coaching seems to be endemic… my eldest two sons are soccer referees and it is common to hear parents and coaches yelling from the sidelines at the players (who are 9-10 years old) all through the game

“Kick it… kick the ball!”  “How could you have missed that shot? Pay attention!” “Pass it, Pass it!”

What these parents and coaches seem to have overlooked is that when you are in the middle of a football pitch (especially a full sized one) the player CAN’T HEAR YOU, and even if they can, their perspective of the game is different… shouting at them to “Pass the ball” merely ends in confusion – who am I passing it to? when am I passing it? Pay attention – to what? I thought I was!

The learning for me, as a professional coach and leadership development expert is three-fold

  • Effective coaching means checking assumptions and base-line knowledge on a regular basis – both yours and the person being coached.
  • Effective coaching happens at the right time and place.  That is not to say that it can’t occur in the heat of the moment, from the sidelines during a game, or while the envelope is being prepared, but unless you have set the foundation of coaching in a safe learning environment BEFORE the game, then it is unlikely to be successful.
  • When coaching do so with empathy and patience.  What may be easy for you (writing an envelope) may be new, and therefore not as easy for the person you are coaching.  Discuss the how and the why of the activity and then provide opportunities to practice to embed the new habits and skills.