22 Sep

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”

Three 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).

  1. Command style (the dictator)
    1. Coach makes all decisions.
    2. Athletes listen, absorb, and comply.
    3. An example of a command coach is Bobby Knight.
  2. Submissive style (the baby-sitter)
    1. Coaches provide minimal instruction and guidance.
    2. Coaches lack competence, are lazy, or are misinformed about coaching.
  3. Cooperative style (the teacher)
    1. Coaches share decision making with athletes.
    2. The challenge of this style is balancing when to direct athletes and when to let them direct themselves.
    3. 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.

7 thoughts on “Leadership and Self Examination: The 3 Coaching Styles

  1. Good post, Jarod. I think in the business world, even people who would like to use a more cooperative style end up taking on more of a command style when business pressures increase and deadlines draw near. Also, in some organizational cultures, a command style is expected from both above and below. Any tips for countering those tendencies?

  2. Coach Knight is the “most winningest” coach in basketball, who split players and fans into two categories: they hate him with passion, or revere him as a god. Not a bad model to imitate. 😉

    I think most of us think we’re zen-like cooperative style teachers, while actually we’re [failed] dictators..

  3. I’m reading the book ‘Good to Great’, which, by the way, is a fantastic read. Anyway, the book details two leadership styles in successful companies. The first is the “Genius Visionary” leader that is able to make a company great because of the sheer brilliance that they have. Examples here might be Steve Jobs or Bobby Knight. The second type of leaders are ones who work on building a team of individuals that can work together to build something greater than what they can do on their own. The book makes the case that the first type of company is limited by the brilliance of their leader, and the company risks failure if the leader leaves the company. In the second type of leadership, the company is much more likely to acheive greater success and continue to be successful after the leader leaves.

    So, If you are in the 0.001% of the population that is a true visionary genius, that first approach is workable. For the rest of us mere mortals, our time is better spent helping others achieve success, even if it overshadows our own.

  4. @Matthew.
    I wish I could say I had some proven tips. I posted on this because it’s something I’m currently learning more about personally, both in a technical leadership role, and also as a subordinate.

    I have also seen the tendencies you mentioned. It intrigues me how pressure correlates to command and control. In those cases I feel somewhere in the org chain there is not enough transparency as to what is “really happening”, from both directions.

    I have become a fan of agile processes like scrum which get the customer involved early. Expectations are more realistic as they have exposure to the project. Give the customer something that provides value immediately, and let them pull features iteration by iteration, thus somewhat avoiding the pressure of the “huge deadline”.

    Another thing that comes to mind with your comments is an organization composed of different management styles. I can only imagine working for a cooperative manager, who reports to a submissive manager, who reports to a command manager. I think it has to be a culture that starts from the top.

    Why do you suppose someone would start out cooperative, but once under pressure stop empowering and start commanding?

  5. @trasa

    In talking with Dave, the command approach appears to have some success when the athlete\worker doesn’t know as much. When to direct and when to cooperate is the hardest part.

    For example: Bobby Knight is a very successful coach in college, but I wonder how successful he would be coaching professional athletes in the NBA with the same style? He also coached the USA dream team, but I’m sure he wasn’t yelling at anyone or throwing chairs. I bet he was pretty dang cooperative with Michael Jordan 🙂

    I agree with your last statement.

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