The Secret to Effective Coaching

If you want to lecture, become a professor.

“The power of coaching is this: you are expected to give people the path to find answers, not the answers.” — Tom Mahalo

Coaches don’t lecture.

Lecturing and providing answers like a vending machine is the cardinal sin of coaching. As the old saying goes: “It’s not what the coach knows; it’s what his players have learned.

People have the answers they seek within them.

Each answer is tangled in emotions, past traumas and a wide array of biases. Effective coaches ask penetrating questions, listen and coax answers forward into the light.

Mark Twain once quipped, “if we were supposed to talk more than we listen we would have two mouths and one ear.” Limiting the talking, asking questions and listening carefully as a coach is difficult. It’s not about following a script. It’s about ACTIVELY listening.

Coaching for me is like facing a large knot in a fine thread.

I look for one accessible end and begin untangling the thread little by little. Each question I ask helps me identify where to gently pull the end next.

As I pull the end this way and that, I describe it objectively for the individual to hear. Before long, they are working with me to untangle the knot. And not long after that, they are doing the untangling while I simply observe and describe what I see.

Yes, it’s true that effective coaches have often mastered the subject being coached. But we coaches don't have all of the answers, nor would we ever pretend to. And what good would just vending an answer do? In the best case, an unhealthy dependency is formed. In the worst case, bad advice is given.

Real answers come with action. As John Wooden advises, “nothing will work unless you do.” Effective coaching requires people to find the answers they seek within. In the process of discovery, both parties take away something valuable and lasting.

Be an effective coach by asking questions and actively listening.