The Element of Luck

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

There is 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 which 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.

I do not mean this in a vacuous way where praise is without meaning, but rather when the consequences are real, winning and losing are on the line, hold steady to your principles. When success comes later, even if it 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.


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 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.

Do You Have a Leadership Problem?

A friend sent me a link to a piece Forbes is running entitled “15 Ways to Identify a Bad Leader.” Many of the items on the list will resonate with coaches. You can go here for the list, but here’s an excerpt from author Micheal Myatt which makes the case for the list’s relevance:
“In a previous piece entitled Looking For Leadership, I share a number of concerns about corporate America’s obsession over leadership assessments. There’s a not so subtle abdication of responsibility that has occurred as rationalizations take place around DISC scores, or justifications surrounding a 360 review are used to defend an ineffective leader. My question is this: what about real world tests? If your enterprise has trouble identifying leaders, or has a shortage of leaders, you don’t have a testing problem – you have a leadership problem. One of the primary responsibilities of leadership is to create more and better leaders. I believe it was John Maxwell who said, “there is no success without a successor.” Go ahead, test if you must, but paying attention to the following 15 items (listed in no particular order) will be much more practical, accurate, and effective. If your organization has leaders who fail to grasp the concepts outlined below, you may want to stop testing them, ranking them, and promoting them – instead consider developing them or exiting them.”
This last point is the crucial one. Do you have an intention to develop leaders in your organization?  A list of qualities you believe in is a good start to assessing leaders, but it has limited value if your efforts end there.

Building Culture

Gary Curneen is up at Just Football with the final segment of a three-part series on Jose Mourinho, the Coach of Real Madrid.  It’s an enjoyable and laudatory recap of the teachings from an NSCAA special topics course; within it are a handful of important points any leader or coach will find valuable. Part I of the series focuses on Mourinho’s approach to coaching, particularly leadership and building team culture. Relationships, with staff and players are central to his core philosophy:
“Mourinho then asked his staff how long they have been working together. When one informed him that it has been since 2001, Mourinho then explained that he and his staff have worked with many players over the past 12 years, but when they move on to another club, they never view the player as an ex-player. Instead, once you play for Mourinho and his staff, you are always one of ‘theirs’. “Forever is forever”, he told us. This is a unique bond that is not evident in professional football. Again, by creating this bond with the players, he can get top performances for a long period of time.”
Part II  focuses on a training session and will be interesting to soccer coaches primarily. Part III  contains two key points which are useful to coaches, but transcend any one sport: The first lesson, a coach should envision how he wants a team to play then create the training sessions that will get them there. Here’s a quote:
“Mourinho explained that the selection of training exercises should always be consistent with the way you would like to play. “You can’t create a contradiction with the idea you want for the game.” Mourinho added, “If your team does not play from the back during the game, do not incorporate this in to your exercises.” He went on to answer what the rest of the world has always questioned: where does he get his training drills/exercises? ”Don’t go to books or websites. First decide how you want to play. Think about it and sleep on it. From that idea, the exercise then arrives.”
The second key point here is the balance between the amount of details coaches require to succeed and the proper amount to provide to players. Plain and simple coaches need to steep themselves in every detail, but players require significantly less to succeed. Money quote:
The attention to detail in these reports was always of the highest degree because that is the base of how you prepare for a match, Morais explained. However, Mourinho was quick to point out that the information given to the players could not be as detailed. “Do not give thousands of information pieces to players.” Mourinho added, “It has to be short and objective.”
Head over to Just Football to read the full series.    

Focus more. Care less about what others think. Be confident.

What is confidence and how do we develop it?  Augusten Burroughs offers one definition over at the New York Times book review:
The typical advice for gaining confidence — being better at what you do — is wrong; one can be inept yet confident (a frighteningly common human condition, I’ve found). I theorize that confidence isn’t something you feel internally, but rather a trait others ascribe to you when you’re focused and comfortable with what you’re doing. So you don’t need more confidence. You need less of something you already have in excess: caring what other people think about you. Concentrate on the thing you’re doing, not on what people are thinking as you do it, and they’ll perceive you as confident.”
You can read the whole article here.

Dean Smith: A Coach’s Life

Dean Smith's A Coach's LifeRecently I was asking for people’s favorite books by or about coaches. Someone mentioned Dean Smith’s A Coach’s Life (written with John Kilgo and Sally Jenkins) which I had read over a decade ago and remembered loving.   So, I went back to it. Dean Smith, the legendary North Carolina men’s basketball coach, needs little introduction even to a casual sports fan out there. He won two NCAA national championships at UNC,  but more importantly he was an educator and honorable person. I am an alumnae of the school which helps to explain my affinity for him, but my respect is also stoked by the now familiar story of the times he referred to UNC as a “women’s soccer school.” I pulled the book off the shelf and reread some of what I had underlined, highlighted and bookmarked with paper clips years ago. It proved to be wonderful way to spend several hours. Smith delivers remarkable coaching insights throughout and he details for the reader how he built that culture and why. These insights alone are worth the read. A Coach’s Life is fantastic, but more importantly reading the book reminded me of what I have always loved about Coach Smith. As great a coach as he was, he was an equally great man. Smith, a bright thoughtful and well-read person never condescended to his audience. Here’s a quote regarding his retirement, which displays humility, perspective and the respect he has for the reader’s intelligence:
“I tried to tell myself that I was a teacher as well as a coach of a Division I program. But the jobs differed in one important respect: A teacher didn’t have as many people watching the examination and grading his students in their living rooms…There was no better example of that than my announcement in 1997 that I was retiring. I was shocked to find that my press conference was carried live on ESPN. I couldn’t help mentioning that I felt our society’s values were mixed up. When a Nobel-Prize winning professor retired, there was a simple announcement in the newspaper. It was a Kierkegaardian “switching of the price tags.”
Glad I asked for recommendations on twitter. Even though had I read Dean Smith’s A Coach’s Life before,  it was well worth my time to revisit it.   Have any other books I should read? List your recommendation(s) in the comments or send them to me at inf0 at thecoachingconversation d0t com

What is a Growth Mindset?

Mindset: A Book Review
What is a growth mindset?  Why do some athletes take on challenges while others stay in their comfort zone? Why do some seem to jump back from failures so well, while others are debilitated by setbacks?  Why do we sometimes choose to pad our schedules with easy wins and avoid the challenging and evenly matched opponent? Or, hide from presenting at annual meetings or convention? I am sure the answer to these questions are varied and complex, but one of my favorite books in the last 5 years, Mindset by Carol Dweck, provides insight into these questions Dweck, a Stanford Psychologist, uses the construct of mindsets to study achievement and success.  In the book she describes two distinct types of mindsets, the growth and the fixed. I have read some of her work in the past, mostly as interviews, but this simple paradigm was a real “aha” for me. I saw myself in this book, as well as, many of the athletes and teammates from my past.
The two mindsets, fixed and growth.
In the “fixed mindset” an individual perceives herself to be already established and permanent, or as Dweck says, “carved in stone.” You either believe you are smart or that you are not.  Talented or not. Creative or not and so on. If you are stuck with a fixed mindset you believe you are who you are.  You must always be either proving yourself or hiding your flaws and limitations. Failure can be debilitating.  There is little hope for improvement. On the other hand, the growth mindset, indicates you believe you can improve and grow with effort.
As Dweck asserts, “The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset.”
Setbacks motivate this person. He believes he can get better and conquer the challenge.
“Grow Your Mindset.”
Dweck makes the case that you can change your mindset. Each chapter ends with a section titled “Grow Your Mindset” intended to help in the transition from fixed to growth.  She asserts that you may go back and forth between the two in your lifetime based on your experiences, including success. You may have a fixed mindset in one area of your life, like your relationships, but a growth mindset in another, perhaps your career. She breaks the book into different disciplines like art, sports, relationships etc. From my point of view the weakest section is on sports. It feels a bit shallow.  I imagine an artist will feel the same in that chapter and a business leader in the chapter devoted to business. I found some of the most valuable information in the book on the chapter on teachers.  For example, her section titled “Which is the enemy success or failure?”  she considers the possibility that success leads to the fixed mindset. Is she opposed to winning then? No, but she is wary and includes this reminder:
“Beware of success. It can knock you into a fixed mindset. “I won because I have talent. Therefore I will keep winning.” Success can infect a team or it can infect an individual. Alex Rodriguez, one of the best players in baseball, is not infected with success. “You never stay the same,” he says, “You either go one way or the other.”
Anyway, worth the read I think.   The Coaching Conversation is an amazon affiliate. Your purchase supports this blog. Thank you in advance.