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Two Coaching Approaches You Can Learn Watching Basketball

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in Remarkable Leadership with Kevin Eikenberry

I’m a big (especially college) basketball fan, and so right now is a good time to be alive. Whether you are a fan or not, you may be watching at least part of a game over the next couple weeks—I know I will. My hope from this post is that you will want to watch for a new reason.

I recently wrote on my blog about five coaching lessons we can learn from watching basketball (you can read them here), but today, with 16 teams left, I want to share two major lessons about coaching approaches that you can learn when you turn on the game. These are two basic approaches to coaching that you will see and hear the announcers talking about, that are completely connected to and related to our success in coaching others at work.

The Two Approaches

Coaching technically. Good basketball coaches need to know the specifics of the game—the x’s and o’s. They need to know what to do in certain game situations, draw up the right plays and more. As a leader, you need to know the x’s and o’s of your business too. Can you coach people to the specifics of their work and work processes? Do you have specific job or industry experience that applies to their work activities? Have you done their job? Or do you at least know enough to know what the right skills and behaviors are, even if you don’t know every specific?

These are good questions, and inform our coaching perspective and approach. But they lead to another question ... can you coach others without these specifics?

Well, it depends. I believe you must have (or be willing to develop) the understanding of the work enough to help people move in the right directions, create the right measures, etc. Having at least these basics helps you succeed and builds your credibility and trust in the eyes of those you coach. If your technical expertise isn’t top notch, you must have others on your team with this intimate knowledge to support you (some basketball coaches have specialists to coach the offensive or defensive strategies, or focus on analyzing the upcoming opponent, for example).

Coaching relationally. Good coaches also need to know their players. Watch the games and you will see this style as well—coaches more focused on the people than the game specifics. We expect sports coaches to inspire, encourage, and support—in fact, we would be surprised if that energy was missing. Yet how often are you providing these things to your team members? Are you adept at and/or willing to develop these skills and perspectives? When we coach from a place of energy and relationship we are also building trust—less due to credibility and more due to a clear intention and belief.

While successful coaches can have a strength or style that leans to one of these approaches, both are required. Hopefully you noticed that underneath both styles, a reason they work is that both approaches create trust in those we coach—and trust is critical to successful coaching outcomes.

As you watch the games, see what you notice from the coaches in terms of these styles. Then, translate that back to you by reflecting on your tendency and style. Doing that will make your game-watching as valuable as it is enjoyable.

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