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Coaching and Teamwork, by Cathy Bolger, PhD
"We play for ourselves, our coach, and our school."

Char DeFransesco, captain of team coached by Cathy Bolger, quoted in the Chicago Tribune.

I have noticed the word "coaching" used more and more lately. Managers now "coach" their employees. People label themselves management coaches, or personal coaches. What do they mean?

One of my first careers after college was as an athletic coach, first at the high school, then at the university level. My teams won conference championships and had undefeated seasons. By now I know as much about successful coaching as most. Here are my thoughts about coaching and organizational success.

"Cathy is a seasoned executive coach that positively impacted my career development plans."

Thomas Wyatt
Senior Manager, Cisco Systems Inc

"Thanks again for your coaching. You are very easy to talk with and very prepared with improvement strategies and other important information."

Mark Kukuchek
Manager, Test and Trials/Guaranty
NASSCO—National Steel and Shipbuilding Company

How many companies are run as well as a winning athletic team? The goal of every player is very clear—consistent high performance in order to win as many games as possible. All players are accountable for their behavior. The coach makes this clear. There are consequences for below standard performance or attitude—the bench.

In order to achieve this goal, the team has strategies. It is organized into an offense and a defense. The offense scores goals and the defense prevents goals from being scored. Each player is clear about her role within the offense or defense. Occasionally when one player is out of position, another has to fill in, so all players are cross-trained.

After clarifying goals and expectations, the coach works with each player to consistently perform near the peak of her capabilities. All movement is purposefully directed toward this goal. Each player is given feedback during practices and games as to how well she is performing. Suggestions for improvement are given immediately with supervision of implementation. Feedback is given until the improvement is made.

In order to accomplish mastery of fundamentals and physical conditioning, the coach knows the appropriate increments of skill and pressure for each player. In other words, the coach pushes each player hard, but not too hard, in order to create a constructive tension to move toward desired performance level.

Once the game starts, all players are empowered to make decisions. Each player is still clear on her role and all are committed to the goal of winning the game through consistent high performance.

During the whole process, the players must believe in the coach and the coach must believe in the players. This is the self-fulfilling prophesy operating in both directions. The players must believe that the coach can help them close the gap between their present performance and their desired performance. The coach must believe that the players can close this gap. This is only accomplished through building trust and appropriate reinforcement of behavior.

The coach is aware that players perform best when certain psychological needs are being met. First the strong psychological need of belonging is met by becoming part of team. For instance, the team has a name, team colors, a logo, slogans, and team pictures. Players often have nicknames. This all contributes to meeting the need for belonging.

Next, being a valued member of a high-performing team increases self worth, as does increasing mastery of skills. An effective coach uses plenty of positive feedback. Players receive external rewards such as seeing their names in the paper.

A third need is "fun." The effective coach varies practices in fun and interesting ways. The coach balances a sense of humor with seriousness regarding accomplishment of the goal of consistent high performance.

Most important of all, the coach must model the positive behaviors and attitudes expected of each player. The coach must build trust by doing what she says she will do. The coach's example is by far the most powerful tool available.

Clear goals, roles and expectations, mastery of fundamentals and physical conditioning, need fulfillment, and a positive role model—how many companies do you know that operate this well?

Cathy Bolger is now a San Diego-based consultant specializing in Leadership, Presentation Skills, Meeting Skills and Conflict Management. She coached her high school basketball team to a conference championship and her collegiate field hockey team to an undefeated season. As a result the field hockey team became the first women’s team inducted into the Northern Illinois University Sports Hall of Fame.

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