Professional athletes need a coach, why don’t you?
The greatest athlete's all have great coaches.
Mike Tyson had Cus D’Amato.
Tiger Woods had Buch Harmon.
Serena Williams had Patrick Mourayoglou.
Usain Bolt had Glen Mills.
Ronda Rousey had Edmond Tarverdyan.
Wayne Gretzky had Glen Sather.
Tom Brady had Bill Belichick.
Michael Jordan had Phil Jackson.
But does the relationship between these world-class athletes and their coaches make any sense? Look at Usain Bolt and his long-time coach Glenn Mills. What does an overweight, middle-aged man know about becoming one of the fastest people on earth? Bill Belichick didn't ever play professional football. Cus D'Amoto was in his 70s when he trained Mike Tyson. None of these coaches were more athletically skilled than their protégé.
Their value must come from a different skill set.
In his fantastic Ted Talk, Atul Gawande, describes how he felt he had become stagnant in his skills as a surgeon. Consequently, he hired a coach (a former professor) to observe him in the operating room. Describing the first observed surgery, he said:
"… that first case. It went beautifully. I didn't think there would be anything much he'd have to say when we were done. Instead, he had a whole page dense with notes. … I had to think, you know, there was something fundamentally profound about this. He was describing what great coaches do, and what they do is they are your external eyes and ears, providing a more accurate picture of your reality. They're recognizing the fundamentals. They're breaking your actions down and then helping you build them back up again. After two months of coaching, I felt myself getting better again. And after a year, I saw my complications drop down even further. It was painful. I didn't like being observed, and at times I didn't want to have to work on things. I also felt there were periods where I would get worse before I got better. But it made me realize that the coaches were onto something profoundly important."
Besides the typical roles of teaching, training, planning, and motivating, a great coach provides a second set of eyes. They help you see those things about yourself you can't see. The strengths you need to maximize. The weaknesses you need to fix.
Steph Curry, arguably one of the greatest basketball players of all time, testified to the value of coaching in his career.
"To excel at the highest level — or any level, really — you need to believe in yourself, and hands down, one of the biggest contributors to my self-confidence has been private coaching. Individual coaching sessions have helped me develop … I always feel like there's more I can achieve. That's why each and every day, I do something to try and get better."
The professional sports model has proven that top performers can improve through coaching. So, if the greatest athletes in the world need coaches to give them perspective and help them improve, why are the rest of us hesitant to do the same? Why have those outside of sports been so slow to adopt the coaching model?
I'm a perfect example of someone who fights against this thing that makes so much sense.
I want to become a better writer with the goal of one day writing a book on entrepreneurship. I've had this goal for several years, and I am working on it. I've read books on writing. I've started writing (Hence this blog). But my progress towards the book has been minuscule.
There are writing coaches out there. Lots of them. Why don't I hire one? Why don't business executives employ a business coach? Why don't business owners hire an entrepreneurial coach?
I can't speak for anyone else, but when I'm honest with myself, I haven't ponied up for a writing coach for two reasons.
(1) A coach would likely hold me accountable. I would have to actually write. I would need to produce a book. And then what if it fails? I guess it's easier to tell myself I'm working on it rather than taking the risk that no one would read it.
(2) I don't want to admit I can't do this on my own. Expertise means not needing to be coached. Asking for help means I can't do this on my own. Asking for help is a sign of weakness.
I know. These are horrendous excuses. But I'm not the only one who thinks like this.
In their amazing book "How Google Works," Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg tell the story of how Eric didn't want a coach in his role as CEO of Google. When a board member suggested he work with a coach, he replied, "I don't need a coach. I know what I'm doing."
A year later, Eric was singing the praises of his coach.
"Bill Campbell has been very helpful in coaching all of us. In hindsight, this role was needed from the beginning. I should have encouraged this structure sooner, ideally the moment I started at Google."
If the once CEO of Google has the humility to admit he is not perfect at his job and could use some help, then we can too. Follow the lead of the world's greatest athletes who continually strive to be better. If you and I want to accomplish something great, that second set of eyes can be invaluable.