Pause, Listen, Respond

Nicole Lindsay has an interesting article on Lifehacker with some really good advice on how to take constructive feedback. Her recommendations begin with suggestion that one should pause before responding, which requires tremendous maturity, but is a skill worth practicing.  The advice reminds me of the Victor Frankl quote from the stellar Man’s Search for Meaning  “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” If we pause, we can choose how we respond.

The rest of the list and her advice is all good. Here’s one more of her suggestions which stood out for me:

As the person shares feedback with you, listen closely. Allow the person to share his or her complete thoughts, without interruption. When he or she is done, repeat back what you heard. For example, “I hear you saying that you want me to provide more detailed weekly reports, is that right?” At this point, avoid analyzing or questioning the person’s assessment; instead, just focus on understanding his or her comments and perspective. And give the benefit of the doubt here—hey, it’s difficult to give feedback to another person. Recognize that the person giving you feedback may be nervous or may not express his or her ideas perfectly.”

The entire article is filled with good advice for navigating what can be a difficult experience.

Deena Kastor: Make the Postive Choice

Runner’s World ran a short interview a few years ago with Deena Kastor, one of the world’s best marathon runners, and the American record holder in both the marathon and the half-marathon.

Deena Kastor and Teyba Erkessonaturalturn via Compfight

The interview covers her return to running, turning 40 and other topics.

She is asked to recount lessons from her running career:

Coaches Matter

A few things stand out including her gratitude to her coaches for their contribution to her remarkable career.  Coaches matter.  What a coach says and how she says it will be remembered.  When asked about the lessons she’s learned over the years she cited a coach in both examples.

Clearly both coaches have had very positive long-lasting effects on her.

Benchmark against the best

Deena Kastor also reminds me of one of the keys to coaching elite performers. Elite performers in many fields, not just sports, typically compare themselves to the best in their field.

They aspire to be the highest level and therefore want to benchmark their efforts against the standard set by the best.

Here’s the quote:

What are some of the lessons you’ve learned over the years that you’ll take into 2013?
DK: Words of advice that both of my coaches have given me. Joe Vigil, after I won my first major championship, cross country nationals in Portland, Oregon. I defeated Lynn Jennings, who was a nine-time champion, and he said, “I’m not going to give you a pat on the back until you can run with the best in the world.” That taught me that he was proud of that moment, but that there’s always more to accomplish. To me, it’s been fun to accomplish something, then reset my goals to see how good I can be.

It is apparent that she trusted her coach enough to hear his words positively and find the implicit praise. But more importantly, she relished the challenge of being compared to the best in the world.

Authentic Approach

At the same time she establishes that a runner should remain true to herself, focus on her own plan, style and strengths:

Coach [Terrence] Mahon, before the Chicago marathon in 2005—he’s usually very eloquent and philosophical on the way to the start—that day he told me to define myself. I reflected on that awhile and during the 26.2 miles and realized there were so many moments in the race when I made a decision. You don’t realize how many thousands of choices that get made during a race, to give up or give in, follow the race plan or throw it out the window. If you can always make the positive choice, you’ll get closer to your goals. In pursing that, you are defining your character.

I feel that way when I’m racing, and in life now. When we make choices, we choose how we want to define ourselves to ourselves, our families, to the other people who are helping us reach our goals. I feel so fortunate to have had such great coaches who have given me life philosophies I can carry into the future.

Clearly, her coach’s philosophical approach fit Kastor’s style as a runner and person. She reminds us in this response that the choice to follow your own path, whether in a race or a career, does not happen just once, but must be reconsidered and re-established over and over again.

The entire interview is worth a read. You can find it here.

Leyland

Jim leyland

I enjoyed this article on ESPN.com by Howard Bryant about Jim Leyland whose Detroit Tigers are competing in the world series. Well written and insightful the piece captures the paradoxes in Leyland’s coaching style and philosophy that make him successful.

In some ways he’s old school–direct, disciplined, and authentic–and in other ways he’s very modern–a coach who trusts his players.

He is  the coach at the highest level of his game who never spent one minute as a player in the same arena, yet has earned the respect of the best players. Leyland makes this very interesting point about what is required for great players who become coaches:

“I think it is one of those things where sometimes you have to earn respect and sometimes you have to lose respect, and so I try to just do my job and not talk too much about it and hopefully you gain their respect,” he said. “I’ve said a lot when you’re a manager like I was coming up, I had to earn the players’ respect. And when you’re another manager that was a big league player and had a good playing career or something like that, you probably have to lose the players’ respect. So there is a little bit of difference.”

It’s an entertaining article that helps set the stage as we gear up for the World Series.

The Element of Luck

Can you make your own luck? Can you deal with some failure in order to create success?

There was an interesting interview up on Wired.CO.UK  with Frans Johansson, the author of the new book The Click Moment.

I want to point to one interesting question and response.  The question reminded me that not only do individuals need a “growth mindset” to be successful, which I have written about before, but companies and teams do as well.

You have to be willing to make your way through some failure in order to get to the point of success.

Here’s the question and answer:

“What sort of people do you need for this kind of approach?
You need a passionate team that has the wherewithal to stick with it through the inevitable mistakes they’ll make. This requires companies to reward output instead of punishing failure. Action matters more than sitting and running numbers. If you decrease the cost of failure you will see that people’s risk tolerance will go up.”

The implication for coaches is clear:

Celebrate risk taking.  Create a culture in which your athletes try new things, see the effort and intent over the outcome and you will end up with a team willing to learn, to explore, to get out of the comfort zone. In other words, a team that can make your own luck.

I do not mean this in a vacuous way where praise is without meaning. Instead,  when the consequences are real, winning and losing are on the line, hold steady to your principles. When success comes, even if it is later and appears to be separate, the ability to stay the course will have mattered.  To some degree you made your own luck, by the ability to stay the course through the difficult.

For instance, in that tight game when an athlete tries something you have been working on for weeks and fails. Acknowledge that courage even if you need to suggest the alternatives within the context of that particular game.

Make it safe to grow. Make your own luck.

Conversations with Dave

The other day I was working out with Dave, my personal trainer. We started to discuss the impact of coaching on our playing.

He’s a lifter, a big guy, but lean. You can tell he has put in his time in the weight room.

Anyway, he mentioned that since he has started training other people it has completely changed him as an athlete. He can look at the workout posted for him and make adjustments, tweek things and make the days’ workout fit him better.

What ensued from there was a discussion of the value of learning to coach while still playing the game; the value of being able to teach and the “ahas” that emerge for an athlete about her own game after trying to help another person develop.

You see college players who make strides after learning to coach in the summer at an elite soccer camp where they really had a chance to teach. In trying to make others see, they saw more for themselves.

It makes them better players.

But, Dave also made another point. An equally important point. “It’s also good that I have kept training even after I have switched to making my living from coaching and not from competing”, he said.

“Why”, I said, “because you can improve your own workouts so much?”

“No,” he explained, “I am more forgiving of my clients. When I look at the sheet on the wall I realize I cannot do it all any more. Somethings I adjust the workout because I can’t do the same things anymore without hurting myself.  Things I used to do easily. It makes me more forgiving of my clients and more understanding that some things are just hard for some of us to do. I judge less.”

The words have resonated with me for the past week.

I hope I too will be more compassionate towards athletes and remember just how difficult it is to execute a skill in the midst of physical and psychological pressure of a competitive match.

I accept that the professionals are compensated to bear that pressure and to some degree to live with our judgments, but our youth and high school athletes deserve a less exacting critic and a more forgiving fan.

I intend to be one.

learning to coach

Healthy Competition

Brad-Friedel-Healthy Competition stiksa via Compfight

In case you were looking for more reasons to respect Brad Friedel, the 41 year old goalkeeper with Tottenham in the EPL, Grant Wahl is up with a piece on SI.com about Friedel’s recent benching and competition for playing time.

The piece includes this gem:

“So we have a competition now. It’s healthy, but there’s a competition. It’s friendly,” Friedel continued. “It’s going to be a situation where André will choose a team that he feels will win the game on the day, and that’s how it’ll be from now until the end of the season. I don’t think anyone will be ‘guaranteed’ starts, if you like.”

A coaching decision ended his record-setting streak for games started at 310. Wahl writes:

As for the end of his playing streak, Friedel said he’s keeping things in perspective. “When I ended last season and played all the games, I went into the summer sort of half-expecting this year would be when the run would end at some stage,” he said. “You never know when it will end. But 310 consecutive games, can I complain? No. I never put myself out on the field in a game just to make that number, and I don’t think any manager put me out there because of the number. It’s an achievement that I’m proud of, not just because of the number but ultimately because I’ve kept my form up for this long.”

A streak like this always has to come to an end, but Friedel models true class and demonstrates the role healthy competition can play in creating a tremendous career.

You can read the full article here.

It includes an update on the MLS playoffs and CONCACAF Champions League.