There has been a bit of discussion regarding athlete-centered coaching on Twitter over the past few months. For the record, in most cases, I am in favor of having a coach adopt an athlete-centered coaching philosophy. I have to admit my bias as I have had a “athlete-first, winning second” coaching philosophy since the early 1990s. I was exposed to this type of coaching through the USA Track & Field’s coaching education program. My PERSONAL COACHING PHILSOPHY 2013 (click on link to review my coaching philosophy in PDF format.) reflects this thinking:
“Overall, I mix both command and cooperative style of coaching into what I call “situational coaching” much like the situational leadership espoused by Ken Blanchard, the author of The One Minute Manager. Student-athletes come from diverse backgrounds, which in turn cause me to learn to about them as individuals, and work with them in the way that meets their personal learning style.”
What “athletes first, winning second” means to me is defined by how I perceive the concept of winning and losing in sport. I am mainly a track and field coach because basically athletes can be judged against criteria more complex than a simple team score. If a track athlete has run a 1/10 of a second faster than they have ever run before, then they have won personally, regardless of the meet’s or race’s outcome.
Athletes are not a group of homeogeneous people; each one will represent a different level of physical and mental development, sport technique expertise, social-economic status, etc. They should be addressed as individuals with individual needs within the framework of working together to gain common goals, both personal and group.
For those coaches seeking resources to further explore the athlete-centered coaching philosophy, I highly recommend Athlete-centered Coaching; Developing Decision Makers edited by Lynn Kidman and Ben Lombardo. What I love about this book is that it is a good mixture of concepts and case studies of coaches applying those concepts. You can follow Lynn on Twitter as well.
Before I discovered athlete-centered coaching, I had stumbled across servant leadership in my other professional career. I was a bit lost with my leadership style. I had been taught all too well the discipline method at the Naval Academy–”do what I tell you or you will be punished” aka the command style. Very command oriented in the Navy as you can imagine. But as I was developing as a leader in the national intelligence community, I knew I needed another leadership style to use. Thankfully for me, Robert K. Greenleaf had developed this leadership philosophy over a long career with AT & T. For those you know of this leadership style, please forgive me as I am about to distill it into a few words. A leader relies on his team to perform the actions necessary to accomplish the team’s and the leader’s mission. In many cases, the leader does very little of the actual work required so the emphasis is on the team’s performance. So, servant leadership espouses that leaders serve the workforce by enabling them to perform the best possible. If the team works to its potential, then most likely the mission will be accomplished and the leader and the team are a success. How a leader enables the success is situational but the focus is not on the leader but the team.
If you are interested in further exploring servant leadership, I recommend you check out the Greenleaf Center for Servant-Leadership online or on Twitter. A great resource to start your exploration of servant leadership is Greenleaf’s collection of essays, Servant Leadership; A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power & Greatness.