Leadership and Self Examination: The 3 Coaching Styles
As well as being a Software guy, I also enjoy coaching “club” soccer to kids. I often find hidden lessons from coaching kids that correlate to being a technical leader in an organization.
A few years back I had a conversation with our soccer club director, Dave, regarding some frustration I was having teaching a particular set of skills to my team. I cant remember the exact lesson I was struggling with, but as we were breaking up the discussion and getting in our cars, Dave made a comment I have not been able to forget: “Ya… it’s really hard for us to see ourselves”. As I shut my door I remember thinking to myself “What does he mean by that? I am teaching this stuff perfectly! Does he think I’m doing something wrong? Whatever!!!”
The statement sunk into my conscience pretty heavily, and from time to time I would hear it echoing as I coached new lessons to my team. How do I come across to the kids? What does my body language look like when I am passionately explaining a concept? What do I sound like? How is the inflection in my voice? Am I being too hard on them? Do I care that they are learning these skills or more that they are holding up the progression of the next lesson to STATE CUP DOMINATION!
Dave is a wise guy, not only in soccer where holds a USSF “A” & NSCAA Premiere, but also well taught in kinesiology & psychology. Since that discussion I have had several opportunities to watch Dave coach. On one particular occasion we were at an indoor game. Dave’s team was getting hammered, something like a lot to 1. I was sitting in the box on the bench focusing on the technical components of the game thinking to myself “Geesh their first touch could be better” and “No one is moving off the ball” etc etc .
Dave is pretty laid back, from my perspective he doesn’t seem too involved in the game, just quietly watching the player movements on the pitch. A girl, we’ll call her Chelsea, makes a pass from the back line up to the midfield into pressure. The player receiving the ball has an opponent right on her back, she panics and clears the ball wildly into the opposing team’s area. Loss of possession.
As Chelsea is standing there, seemingly frustrated, Dave calmly calls out to her “What was the better pass?” Chelsea replies, “The square ball to Amy”. Dave smiles and sits back down.
Witnessing this I was somewhat amazed. Chelsea knew the answer, she just didn’t make the right decision under pressure. Yet after making this mistake and being assured by a simple question-answer dialogue, I was completely confident that she had learned a valuable lesson from her mentor. Chances are high given similar circumstances again, she would make the correct decision.
After the game I approached Dave and said I was impressed with his coaching style, and discussed the situation with Chelsea. This was my first exposure to the “3 coaching styles”
In the 3 coaching styles there are types: The “Command style (or dictator)”, the “Submissive style (or baby sitter)” and the “Cooperative style (or teacher).
- Command style (the dictator)
- Coach makes all decisions.
- Athletes listen, absorb, and comply.
- An example of a command coach is Bobby Knight.
- Submissive style (the baby-sitter)
- Coaches provide minimal instruction and guidance.
- Coaches lack competence, are lazy, or are misinformed about coaching.
- Cooperative style (the teacher)
- Coaches share decision making with athletes.
- The challenge of this style is balancing when to direct athletes and when to let them direct themselves.
- An example of a cooperative coach is Phil Jackson.
At times I notice many technical leaders in the community coming across as the dictator. These folks get labeled unapproachable, a “know it all”, and seem difficult to work with (Command style). The frustrating part is that it can be hard for them to see. I am sure they feel like they are approachable, they wish everyone’s project to succeed, and want the best for their team.
I am convinced the right way to a healthy team and code base is mentoring in a cooperative style. I challenge other people in the community to explore the same: The next time you feel like commanding your ideals onto a situation, perhaps take a page from Socrates himself and rephrase your statement with a question.
I think you’ll be surprised to find we are all happier with the answer.