Coaching through rituals

By Jake Friedman, Consultant

In my junior year of high school, I switched from running long-distance for our track team to sprints/middle-distance. Because I was tall and lanky, I even tried the hurdles. One day after practice, my coach walked by as my dad picked me up. “You know,” my coach said to my dad, “Jacob could be a pretty good hurdler.” To which my dad replied, not unkindly but with a bit of doubt, “Yeah, if he practices.”

In the moment, I was embarrassed and even a bit angry. I felt slighted by my dad and unsupported. I wanted to be good, my coach said I had potential, why wasn’t my dad more enthusiastic?

It took me a long time to see that exchange for what it really was: my dad, a terrific runner himself and a very disciplined individual, speaking simply and truthfully about what it takes to become good at something. He knew I wanted to succeed and he believed in my potential, but he also understood that it takes more than that. To be good, I would need to practice over and over and over again. And I was the kind of person who would go all-out for a short amount of time, but struggled to stick with things long-term. My dad knew that in order to be a “pretty good hurdler”, I’d need to stick with practicing for far longer than I naturally did most things. In pointing that out, he was not only speaking to me, but also to my coach.

Unfortunately, neither of us got the message. True to form, I started the year very aggressively but over time lost my zeal to practice hard. And my coach, while well-intentioned, wasn’t very good at creating a system that would help me train consistently and develop. I finished my high school career as an “okay” hurdler: not bad but not great, and considering my physical gifts, certainly not reaching my potential.

People want to be great, but lack the discipline needed to get there

I tell that story because I’ve come to believe that the theme is very common. And I don’t think it just applies to high school runners. I think the same thing shows up with adults in the workplace.

Maybe I’m naïve, but I truly believe that most people want to do great work. They want to be an expert and achieve at a high level. But, in my experience, most people lack the discipline needed to force themselves to do what’s necessary to get there. They mean well, but they just aren’t able to stick with the practice long enough, they aren’t able to do the amount of repetition needed, to be great.

Your role as a coach

Which is why we need great coaches. A coach steps in to help where we as the performer fall short. It’s their job to work with who and what we are, and help us reach our potential. As a leader in your organization, you don’t just have the opportunity to be a coach for your people, you have the responsibility to. And the better a coach you are, the better chance your employees have of living up to their potential.

Be a better coach by leveraging rituals

One thing you can do to be a better coach is to create and leverage rituals. A ritual is a routine or habit, something that we do so often that it doesn’t take much effort or energy. It becomes second-nature or muscle memory.

Think of brushing your teeth in the morning when you wake up and at night before bed. Singing the national anthem before a sporting event is another common ritual, along with attending a religious service on the same day each week, often at the exact same time. In your business, you likely have rituals even if you don’t call them that. A safety chat or tool-box talk before each shift, a management meeting every Monday, a sales meeting every Wednesday, etc.

Recognizing that most humans have trouble sticking with things because they get tired, bored, frustrated, or busy, rituals replace the need to be more disciplined. Rituals are what make a system of practice sustainable. And it’s only when something is sustainable that it will last long enough to give us the amount of repetition we need in order to truly master a skill or task.

If you’d like to become a better coach by learning more about how you can create and implement a series of rituals to help your people practice the skills they need to be successful in your organization, give us a call, shoot us an email, or click the button below.

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