June 15, 2011

The Exceptional Coach

Posted in Learning tagged , , at 8:29 am by kristibroom

Like David Kelly, I often look for learning connections in everyday life. This week it happened during baseball.

Both of my sons are in baseball. My oldest, the 13 year old, is playing for his fourth year. We started him late, so he’s spent much of the last 3 years catching up on the fundamentals. This year we’re starting to see him really put it all together to become a real player. My youngest, the 6 year old, is in his second year, though he graduated from tee ball last year, to coach pitch this year. He is full of competitive spirit, and when many of the others on his team are digging in the dirt, he is paying attention to all of the critical details in play.

There are lots of stories and connections, and I’m sure we’ll explore some of them together in future posts. What struck me this week though is the coaching. Both of my sons, with their personalities, skills, and experience with baseball, probably could use some extra coaching. All of the coaches in the program are volunteers, and this year we are fortunate to have 3-4 coaches on each team. We are also fortunate that on each team, one of the coaches really wears the title well.

All of the coaches do what is necessary: they show up to the games and practices, they show the kids the fundamentals of hitting and catching and base running, and they keep track of who’s played which positions and how many hits they’ve made.

The exceptional coaches, though, go beyond that. They take the time to coach, in the moment, when there is maximum relevance. For the 6 year olds, the exceptional coach will see a coachable moment, and will gather the 5 or 6 boys closest to the scenario, and talk them through what happened, what should happen, and what they can do next time. Not all of those moments are when things go wrong – sometimes he gathers them in to congratulate a teammate on a nice play. For the older kids, it’s not much different, though there are generally fewer kids around since they occupy a larger portion of the field. This exceptional coach typically plays the role of 3rd base coach, an ideal role for him to take some individual time with each player, tell them what they did well, and give them a tip or two for next time. It seems so easy, but I often see the person filling that spot just standing by the player, not talking at all. It’s really an unfortunate missed opportunity.

Beyond the obvious connections to coachable moments, maximizing relevance, and giving targeted feedback, I think there is more here. I think about our learners, who, like the rest of our coaches this year, do what is necessary, but no more. How many of us do the same? And then I think about the learners who, like the exceptional coaches, look for opportunities to improve, even if it’s in just a couple brief moments, and take full advantage of them to up their game.

How do we find those brief moments of intense and relevant learning? How do we encourage those who are just getting by to see the value in them? How do we get people to share what they’ve learned in those moments with others?

I would love to hear your stories of moments, or people, like those I’ve described above. Let’s capture what people are doing, and in the process encourage others to find ways to do the same.