Having never played a competitive sport past fifth grade1 I did not grow up with a Coach. My wife, on the other hand, played competitive sports throughout her entire life2. She has recently started coaching our local high school volleyball team and because of this we have had many after-dinner discussions about coaching. It was through these conversations that I started to realize the attributes of a great coach.
I’ve also had the wonderful opportunity to work for a great Coach, the manager of our software team. Someone who is able to push me beyond what I thought I was capable of. There is the simultaneous fear of failure and consistent encouragement to succeed. This environment, while arduous, produces a confidence in myself and has improved my skills.
These two qualities can be viewed as opposites or as complimentary to each other. They are rarely found together. And it might be even more rare to find those qualities in someone who knows how to effectively accomplish both with you.
A team full of people working together — learning, growing, expanding their skills — is a powerful engine. A great coach is the person skillfully pressing the gas pedal with enough force to get over the mountain, but enough restraint to prevent overheating.
It just happens that one of the members on our engineering team is Ultra Runner Franz Dill. Reflecting on his first 100 mile run he writes:
Taking yourself through an extreme event peels layers away exposing who you are. If you’ve lost your identity, hours on the trail can reveal you, sometimes going a step farther and creating you. It can build self confidence as you drive through mental and physical walls. – Read the full account of the Vermont 100.
A high-functioning team, lead by a Coach will produce rockstars. They will weather the failures, gathering together to help each member succeed. Because, as Harry Truman said, “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”3
And just like The Little Engine4, once on the other side of that mountain, you are no longer saying “I think I can” you are now saying “I know I can.”
Confidence is empty until challenged, tested and triumphant. A great coach will replace empty confidence with proven abilities. This will requires you to respond and apply serious effort, striving for success — while hearing your coach yell “I think you can!” To which you can finally respond “I know I can!”
I played youth soccer, from 1st – 5th grade, at a recreational-level. Though I am probably overselling it by saying it was competitive. ↩
Allison attended college on a volleyball scholarship. First time I met her she was wearing her spandex volleyball shorts :) ↩
There is a fascinating backstory to this children’s story “To think of hard things and say, “I can’t” is sure to mean “Nothing done.” To refuse to be daunted and insist on saying, “I think I can,” is to make sure of of being able to say triumphantly by and by, “I thought I could, I thought I could.” ↩