What does your coach do?

My son-in-law is a track and cross-country coach. My daughter is a professor in health and recreation. One is a coach, and one is a teacher and they both work with people in sports. If you were an athlete, which would you work with? The coach or the professor?

When you think of a coach, you think of the guy on the sidelines of the football field or the basketball court yelling at the players, calling plays, directing traffic. This same daughter was on a swim team and made it to State all four years of high school. Remember, your face is in the water when you’re swimming. Unless you’re competing outdoors, the echo and reverb in the pool makes it impossible to discern voices and understand instructions. One of her coaches whistled every time her head broke water. I have no idea what that meant. Sitting on the sidelines, I could not tell if made her swim faster or if it was a secret code so that she didn’t crash into the wall or go out of her lane.

I DO, however, understand what a music coach or conductor/director of a music organization does. He tells us when to start and when to stop. If you’re lost, he tells you when to come in. He may do that even if you aren’t lost. He tells you when to play loudly and when to play softly. He may slow you down or speed you up. He may indicate what style he wants you to play–Mozart light or Wagner dark. And…That’s all you see at the concert.

But that’s not all he does. When we start a new piece, he may explain the origin or history of the music and the composer. This gives us an idea of the environment of the piece. Russian music sounds differently than French. 19th century music sounds different than 17th century music. Dance music is different than Program music. He may isolate the melody in each section of the music so we can hear where the melody is. He may review the complexities of the more difficult passages so we can play them in tune, together, and correctly interpreted. He rehearses us. He asks which part is most important here? He asks the trumpet players what the 2nd violins are doing to make sure everyone is listening and integrating their parts into the piece as a whole.

A teacher gives you information that you do not already know. A coach asks you questions to help you understand yourself and your performance. You may have already heard of the way Vince Lombardi started every season, “This is a football.” These guys have been playing football since they were 3 years old. They know that! But, by starting and reviewing the basics, Lombardi was coaching them instead of teaching them. How does it feel when the ball is snapped correctly? Can you make it more efficient? How does it feel when the ball is thrown correctly? How can you make it more accurate? What does a good block look like? How do you prepare for those hitters on the other team that outweigh you by 50 pounds and are taller than you by 5 inches? Look at all those questions!

What the football coach does is take advantage of his perspective, both on the field and in the box. He’s getting information from his players and the coaches with differing vantage points. He can tweak things on the field, calm the nerves of his players, help them focus on the game at hand rather than the mistake they made 3 minutes ago. He’s not teaching during the game just like the orchestral director isn’t teaching at the concert. He’s tweaking the balance; he’s adjusting for the room full of people and that annoying guy in the back that left his phone on.

What, then, do you think a life coach does?

Yeah… The most common answer to that is, “um.” They’re not supposed to tell you what to do. They’re not supposed to teach you. The person who controls the direction of the coaching session is you. What do you want to accomplish? What questions do you need to answer? Are you happy with your current situation? What would you like to change? How would you go about fixing it? Where can you go to get the information you need, the tools you need to use, the resources and people to get the goal done? That is coaching.

Do not assume that a life coach is just what you see in a psychiatrist’s office, or a lecture room, or a bar. A good football coach doesn’t do the exercises, the players do. A good orchestral conductor doesn’t play all the instruments, the musicians do. The life coach doesn’t fix you. The life coach’s prime weapon is the word, “Why?” Then You do the work and You get the results you’re working for.

If you have a “coach” that tells you what to do, answers all your questions, and pats you on the head before he or she takes your money, you have the wrong person.

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