Most of us get to adulthood and look back on our lives and see a series of coaches. For myself, some of those coaches include
- My dad, teaching me how to catch, throw and hit a ball so that I could play baseball when I was growing up in Minnesota
- Grandpa Wente, taking the time to teach me how to shoot a .22 in the fields surrounding Hancock, the town where my dad grew up
- My first little league coach; I can’t for the life of me remember his name, but I remember always thinking that he was the absolute coolest guy in the world cause we got root beer after every game!
- My first professional level vocal coach who helped me learn the difference between making noise and singing
- A beloved mentor who helped me learn how to play games like they were real and play at life like it was a game
- An uncle who helped me learn that doing the right thing was great, but that doing the right thing for the wrong reason would only bring misery
As I started writing this list, my mind has literally been flooded with memories of other men (and women) of style and substance who became coaches for me in various things.
All of my coaches, regardless of the area of life that they coached me in, followed a pattern. As I have grown older, I have found that pattern to be repeated over and over as I have worked to develop new skills and improve existing ones. And while it has not been as easy to find coaches for relationship, family and professional development, the things I learned from those early coaches have allowed me to do some personal coaching along the way. I’d like to share what I’ve learned.
A word of caution. Embarking on a process of self coaching requires a level of self awareness that can be difficult. I have found real value in finding someone to coach me, especially when I am trying to make critical improvement in critical aspects of my life. A coach can provide an outside perspective on the activities or actions that need to be changed. But when I am trying to make less sweeping and disruptive changes, or when there is not quite so much on the line, developing and maintaining a dispassionate view of my own performance is something that can help me make progress. Perhaps this will help you as well.
Create a clear picture of success. Whether it was the bulls eye on the target 25 yards out or making a perfect two handed catch so I was ready to fire the ball to a base to stop a runner, there was a clear picture of success. My coaches took time to identify it, piece by piece, until the picture was clear in both our minds. If you are coaching yourself, writing something out with as much detail as possible can provide that level of clarity. Some will call this goal setting, and it might be that if the performance area that you are looking at is an athletic event or other kind of activity where simple accomplishment is what we are working for. But if the type of development being sought is the development of a relationship or the building of a team, it may look less like clear goal setting and more like purposeful day dreaming.
For instance, one of the things that matters a great deal to me is having a happy and supportive family. Sounds simple and clear cut, right? But when I took the time to put into words what that looked like, a future snapshot if you will, things were very different. I started building a picture in my mind of a family reunion where everyone wanted to be. Food on the barbecue, games being played, laughter in the air. The more concrete I made the picture, the more I became aware that it might never happen. But the point of the exercise was to identify the components that would lead to success.
Capture your performance. This is where you require one of three things: strong self awareness, an impartial friend or a phone with a video camera. Capturing perfromance, especially physical skill performance, is easier than it has ever been with the advent of cell phone technology. Whether it is a golf swing or a dance step, flagging down an observer and having them video gives you instant feedback.
If you are looking at any other area of performance, for instance soft skills at work, an impartial observer may be more practical. Sometimes just asking someone else to share what they see is enough to start you on the path to improvement.
Compare the performance with the picture. Pretty simple concept here, but sometimes a simple concept is a difficult process. Whatever hurdles must be overcome on this point, it is immensely worth it. For without knowing how current performance relates to the desired outcome, there is no chance for improvement.
Pick one item to improve on. Comparing the performance is important. And if you are like me, the comparison can sometimes be a little painful. After all, we are talking about something important to you, we are talking about the possibility of ego being involved in the equation, and we are very likely talking about a person who is having a hard time seeing anything other than the gaps. This is where I have found so much wisdom in the idea of attacking one thing and one thing only. Are you seeing five different aspects of your performance that you would like to change? Pick one. Pick the one that will be the easiest to see improvement in. Pick the one that most easily plays to your strengths. Pick the one that you are confident will yield the most benefit for the time that will be invested. You can answer these questions for yourself.
Create a clear picture of the improvement. Now we go back to the picture stage. Only this time, in addition to the overall picture of what we want, we are going to include the picture of the improvement that we are hoping to see. A little straighter drive, a little smoother jump shot, or remembering to ask one more question when working with a customer or an employee. Create a picture of the improvement that you want to see, and let that picture be something that you put in your mind frequently. The more you remind yourself of what you are striving to achieve, the more likely you will notice when you are making improvement in your performance.
Repeat As often as it takes until things turn out the way you want.
There you go. That’s the pattern. Use it!