The modern coach this book describes is an expert at both production—organizing, teaching, and driving the physical, technical, and tactical elements of the game—and relationships—getting the best out of players and teams. The challenge and fun of coaching is that it demands the rational analysis and logic of the scientist but also the empathy and instinct of an artist. While all coaches start their career fully focused on production, it is true that most coaches end their careers absorbed in the power of relationships and attitude. Both are essential to peak performance:
- Good production + good relationships = peak performance
- Good production + poor relationships = potential to win but little commitment
- Poor production + good relationships = commitment to win but little ability
It is important that coaches build positive relationships, which can act as the glue that cements their players to the cause and binds them together as a team. Such positive relationships create resonance—an environment where players feel their feelings are being taken care of—as distinct from dissonance—a feeling of not being cared for.
Players would describe a coach capable of creating resonance as upbeat, warm, caring, approachable, a good listener, tuned in to emotions, genuinely interested in the players, optimistic, humorous, and secure in themselves. On the other hand, players would describe a dissonant leader as irritable, touchy, domineering, cold, pessimistic, governed by fear or ego, short-sighted, and captive to their own emotions. As the mind-set of the players is largely determined by the personalities and actions of the coaches and the coaching environment, it is clear that coaches must develop a new range of relationship skills:
- Being emotionally intelligent, learning to be in tune with both themselves and their players
- Creating resonance, a positive emotional climate that frees the best in players
- Preventing dissonance by planning, organizing, and behaving in a way that minimizes negatives
- Communicating sensitively, knowing that when leaders speak, their words and actions have a strong emotional impact on the team
- Engaging players by creating a motivational coaching environment that recruits players to the cause
- Providing emotional leadership by guiding the players feelings through the emotional roller-coaster of the season
Paul Barron, goalkeeping coach at Newcastle United, is an advocate of relationship coaching and once described his philosophy as
- They forget what you say to them.
- They forget what you do with them.
- But they never forget how you made them feel!
Relationship coaching is about coaches connecting with their players, getting to the real pulse of the team, and releasing a powerful collective emotional energy. This very often is the edge that allows teams to survive the bad times and go on to remarkable achievements.