Six Ways to be a Better Teacher or Coach
Sooner or later, no matter who you are, you’ll find yourself being a teacher, a coach, or a mentor, Me? I have been and still am ‘All of the Above” and the one thing I do know about the teaching profession, is that it is the one job that starts all others! That’s why I stay in this profession. Some of you, I’m sure, ask Why? So when you receive over 600+ emails after the 2011 Women’s World Cup with thanks for my involvement in people’s lives, it was gratifying to know that it just wasn’t all about my daughter Ali and more about the lessons I have taught to hundreds of students, players and coaches over the many years involved in this great game!
So to continue….
1) Use the First Few Seconds to Connect on an Emotional Level
Take a moment and recall the best teacher, coach or mentor you’ve seen or ever known. If you’re like most people, your memories are less about what a person did than about the way the person made you feel. You knew, somehow, that they saw something special in you, and understood you. You trusted them.
Effective teaching is built on trust, and when it comes to trust, we humans are consistent: We decide if we’re going to trust someone in the first few seconds of the interaction. This is why good teachers use the first few seconds to connect on an emotional level, especially on the first encounter. There are lots of tools for making this connection—eye contact, body language, empathy and humor being some of the most effective—but whatever you use, make sure you prioritize that connection above all else. Before you can teach, you have to show that you care.
2) Avoid Giving Long Speeches—Instead, Deliver Vivid Chunks of Information
Thanks to movies, many of us grow up thinking that great teachers and coaches stand nobly in front of groups and deliver inspiring speeches. Nothing could be further from the truth. Master teachers and coaches don’t stand in front; they stand alongside the individuals they’re helping. They don’t give long speeches; they deliver useful information in small vivid chunks.
As a Young Coach, I was accustomed to giving instruction to an entire team at the same time; for example teaching them all the proper technique to receive a passed ball on the ground. But after spending time with master coaches, I started focusing on delivering short, targeted, customized messages to each player, one at a time. And it worked a lot better. Not only did players catch on more quickly, but the process also forged closer bonds of communication.
When you’re coaching, picture the person’s brain lighting up, the wires sparking fitfully, reaching to make new connections. The question is not what big important message you can deliver. The question is, what vivid, concise message can you deliver right now that will guide him/her toward making the right reach?
3) Be Allergic to Mushy Language
One of the most common mistakes teachers and coaches make is using mushy, imprecise language. For example, when a Recreational coach tells a player to “Pick your foot up higher.” How high should the foot move? To the hip? Above the knee?
To avoid this, use the language that is concrete and specific. For example:
· “Move your foot up Higher” is vague. “Move your foot next to the nose of the ball” is concrete.
· “Play the song a little faster” is vague. “Match the metronome” is concrete.
· “Please work more closely with the Technical staff” is vague. “Please check in with the Technical Staff for ten minutes each afternoon” is concrete.
All the good teaching follows the same blueprint: Try this concrete thing. Now try this concrete thing. Now try combining them into this concrete thing. Communicate with precise nouns and numbers—things you can see and touch and measure—and avoid adjectives and adverbs, which don’t tell you precisely what to do.
4) Make a Scorecard for Learning
Life is full of scorecards: sales figures, performance rankings, test scores, tournament results. The problem with those scorecards is that they distort priorities, bending us towards short-term outcomes and away from the learning process. We’ve all seen it happen, in business and in sports. Organizations that focus maniacally on winning today tend to lose sight of the larger goal: learning and developing competencies for the long run.
The solution is to create your own scorecard. Pick a metric that measures the skill you want to develop, and start keep keeping track of it. Use that measure to motivate and align your learners. As a saying goes, “you are what you count.”
For example, I’ve encountered a number of top soccer coaches who track the number of smart passes their team makes during a game, and use this number—not the score—as most accurate measure of their team’s success. The players catch on, and try to exceed themselves each game. Regardless of what happens on the scorecard, this number gives them an accurate way to measure their real progress.
Tony Hsieh (pronounced “Shay”), a founder of the online shoe store Zappos, started out with the desire to create the most skilled customer-service team in the world. The usual scorecard of customer-service success is customers served per hour. But for Hsieh’, that scorecard made no sense. He didn’t want to be merely efficient—he wanted to make people happy. So Zappos ignored the usual scorecard and began tracking the occasions when their customer-service representatives went above and beyond the call of duty—“delivering WOW,” in Zappos lingo. Those moments, tallied and celebrated by the company, form the scorecard. And it seems to work: On a dare, Hsieh’ once phoned Zappos anonymously in the middle of the night and asked if he could order a pizza. He shortly received a list of the five pizza places closest to his location that were still open.
5) “Maximize Reachfulness”
Reachfulness is the essence of learning. It happens when the learner is leaning forward, stretching, struggling and improving. The point of this rule is that good teachers/coaches/mentors find ways to design environments that tip people away from passivity and toward reachful action. This is why good sports coaches will avoid activities where players stand in lines, waiting their turn, and instead employ lots of small, intense games. But the idea of reachfulness applies to more than sports.
Recently, UPS was struggling with its driver-training program. Retention was down; injury and dissatisfaction were up. UPS responded with a novel program: It cancelled classroom lectures and built a $34 million training center that resembled a small town, so the trainees could learn by doing. The trainees didn’t hear lectures about how to drive, stack or deliver—they actually did it. To teach balance, UPS trainers secretly squirted soap on the floor and had trainees walk across it carrying a load of boxes. (The trainees were hooked up to safety harnesses, so they weren’t injured.) The program was a success; retention, performance, and satisfaction are up.
Some progressive schools increase reachfulness through a technique called “Flipping the Classroom.” The term refers to changing the traditional model, in which the students spend class time listening to a lecture and then do reinforcement work at home. In a flipped classroom, students do the reverse. They listen to a lecture at home, online and spend class time actively struggling with the work: doing problems, wrestling with concepts—in essence, reaching—while the teacher walks around, coach-style, and helps individuals one at a time. In a yearlong study of algebra students at one California High School, the flipped classroom scored 23 percent higher on tests than the conventional classroom.
The larger point is that being a good teacher means thinking like a designer. Ask yourself: What kind of space will create the most reachful environment? How can you replace moments of passivity with moments of active learning?
6) Aim to Create Independent Learners
Your long-term goal as a teacher, coach or mentor is to help your learners improve so much that they no longer need you. To do this, avoid becoming the center of attention. Aim instead to create an environment where people can keep reaching on their own. Whenever possible, step away and create moments of independence. Think of your job as building a little master-coach chip in their brains—a tiny version of you, guiding them as they go forward.
‘Small shifts in anything—mindset, technique, game plan—make a big difference to performance’
‘A nudge here, a nudge there—produces champions out of ‘also rans’