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Power of the Coach

by Astrid Burr

Lead Consultant, Assessment Consulting 25th Aug 2016

Being a huge sports fan, I managed to watch a lot of Olympics coverage across the amazing 2 weeks following Team GB in Rio (…and more to come soon with the Paralympics!). Watching any sport, I can’t help but draw parallels between the power and impact of the coach-athlete relationship, and that of the manager-employee relationship, on performance. For athletes to reach the top of their game they need the right coach and team around them, it’s really no different in business. But my guess is how we try and measure and quantify what those ‘coach’ qualities are in business, is very different to how great coaches are identified, and selected, in sport.  

The recently aired documentary ‘Mo Farah: Race of his life’ described how Mo was a ‘great runner’ for many years, but was unable to capitalise on his talent to really succeed at the top level. Mo is incredibly self-motivated, willing to make huge sacrifices for his sport and has an amazing support network. But something didn’t click.Enter Alberto Salazar, considered to be one of the greatest endurance coaches. Things changed, Mo went from being a great runner, to being the best runner.

Leicester City FC 2015/16 football season was a prime example of a coach harnessing individual talent to deliver team performance. At the start of the season, none of the Leicester players would have been identified as ‘top talent’ within the league. To achieve success, each member had to work together as a team, not individuals, and follow the game plan, the strategy, set by Coach Claudio Raneiri. They did this with unbelievable results and self-belief, toppling the premier league giants, despite their ludicrous levels of funding and access to some of the world’s best players.

Chelsea FC, showed us the opposite. Unhappy with their manager, and despite hefty pay packets, the players stopped performing. A great team that couldn’t connect under Jose Mourinho, arguably one of the greatest managers ever, suffered defeat after defeat. This suggests to me that the coach-athlete relationship is as important to success as the past experience of the coach. We can assume that premier league players, or any athlete at the top of their game, are driven to succeed and excel beyond most of us mere mortals- so how is it that the way they felt about their coach not only impacted their behaviour but superseded their innate desire to win?

I think this shows that finding the right ‘fit’ between coach-athlete is critical to delivering high performance results. The same should follow then in business. The parameters are often the same, a group of individuals with diverse drivers and backgrounds, who are all aiming to achieve the same goals and objectives. Perhaps it should be more of a priority for businesses to pay attention to their managers and their relationships with their teams? Perhaps, this could be the difference between companies being great, or being the best.

I’d like to know what ‘high performers’ in my, or any, business attribute their success to. Like any athlete, hard work of course. That goes without saying. But what would they say made the difference? What elevated them, and helped instil the belief that success and high-achievement was possible? I bet they all have a story of a manager, a coach, who turned their ambitions into reality.

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