What Kind of Leadership “Coach” Are You?

Do you remember The Miracle on Ice? Northwestern’s Cinderella football season in 1995? The Bulls’ two three-peats? Then you probably remember reading and hearing lots about about Herb Brooks, Gary Barnett and Phil Jackson.

With the World Cup upon us, we’re seeing almost as much focus on each team’s coach as we are its star players. Whether it’s a youth, high school, college, national or professional sports organization, teams rely on their coaches to combine the various skill-sets of individual players to create a winning team.

Some players have offensive skills. Others are more defensive. Some are leaders, while others are followers. Thinking about how sports coaches create winning teams can help you strengthen your management style, strategies and tactics.

Types of Coaches

Sports coaches use one of three main systems of coaching: command, cooperative and submissive. While they use different techniques within their main style, coaches stick with a main strategy. If they are able to be flexible and adapt to certain situations that conflict with their style, they can be successful.

•Command Style

A command style of coaching revolves around the coach making the decisions, setting the rules, enforcing his directives and benching or removing players who don’t follow his orders. This is often necessary when a coach has younger or less-experienced players who need guidance in specific areas, such as playing skills. It’s also necessary to help green players develop in general areas such as goal-setting, discipline, stress-management and teamwork. British Athletics performance coach Brian Mac breaks this style of coaching down in to “telling” and “selling” methods, depending on how the coach delivers his messages.

•Cooperative Style

Using a cooperative style of coaching requires a leader with the confidence to let players make suggestions and try their own methods for achieving top performance. This type of coach still sets the team rules and enforces them, but might create some of them with her players and asks for feedback as the season progresses. While the coach might have general rules for team members, she works with each team member to develop a plan that works to maximize that player’s ability.

•Submissive Style

New and inexperienced coaches often use a submissive style, especially when the players have more experience than the coach. This is often true in a high school situation where a parent volunteers to “manage” a team because the previous coach has left. The players tell the coach how things have run in the past and how they suggest practices should be run. This can lead to chaos as individual players do their own thing, there is no arbiter to settle disputes and no sense of team develops. Use of the submissive method might work temporarily, such as letting the team plan a social outing, and end-of-practice game or a player meeting during a slump.

Coaching Techniques

Successful coaches use a variety of techniques within their chosen style of coaching. Some use verbal explanation and training to develop skills. Others use their resume to establish their authority or bring in guest experts to train players and get them to buy into the coach’s plans. Some coaches use the Socratic Method of working with players, which is also used by managers in the business arena.

One way coaches help players develop is through the use of feedback. For example, if a tennis player insists on serving as hard as he can every point, the coach might divide the service box in three. He will tell the player he can serve as hard as he can, but he must first say whether he is serving to the opponent’s forehand, backhand or into the body. If, after 10 or so serves, the player sees he can’t place his serve when serving full speed, the player comes to the conclusion that he needs to slow his serve down.

What’s Your Style?

Do you have a macro style of leading your employees? Do you use a blend of styles, with one predominant? What leadership and coaching techniques do you use to manage your team, and do any of them conflict with your chosen macro-style of coaching? Do you command to the point of micromanaging? Do you cooperate with your employees to the point you diminish your authority? Do you take a hands-off approach because you have star talent, but lack a strong sense of team?

Catalogue Your Skills

Pretend that you’ve been invited to speak on a panel about managing employees and building teams. If you’re a successful manager, you should be able to immediately identify your coaching style and quickly write a list of the tools, methods, tactics and techniques you use to manage your employees and which you can recommend to others.

Another method you can use to identify your management style is to write an outline for a leadership seminar you would give to new or aspiring managers. Your topics to cover might include team-building activities, goal-setting techniques, providing employee feedback, staff development, communications, time management and creating and enforcing a staff policy guide. You might include problems to avoid, such as favoritism, lack of communication, micromanaging, or not leading by example (e.g., gossiping, tardiness or not delivering on deadline).

If you don’t have a chosen leadership style and specific techniques you use to “coach” your team members, remember that most employees don’t leave bad companies or agencies — they leave bad managers. The most successful leaders and coaches develop personal styles and stick to a game plan of using their favorite tools and techniques to stay proactive, rather than reactive, when managing people.

Additional Resources

Sport Science and Health: Coaching Styles

U.S. High School Tennis Association: What Kind of Coach Are You?

Ragan.com: 6 Qualities of Bad Managers That Send Employees Running

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