Good leaders also make great managers
Leading a sporting team or managing any athlete is not an easy task. Not only can it be frustrating and exhausting, but it is, at times, fraught with danger.
An undetected or ignored psychological problem can lead to devastating or tragic results if a coach is unprepared to handle the situation. Sports coaches are no different from the leaders and the managers in the corporate world, and they need all the skills which go along with their job roles.
In fact, sporting coaches play a pivotal role in the upbringing and future success of their athletes and, over time, are required to assume a myriad of job roles during the journey.
Coaches influence their athletes’ achievements as well as their social, emotional, cognitive and personal developments. So, the type of coaching style portrayed to athletes can have a huge impact on their success.
While there are many styles of coaching, the two most important are that of a manager and a leader. But it is the interaction of the two that creates the success.
As Peter Drucker, leading management expert, explains “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” But, when we can combine the two, the real magic happens for those involved on the playing field, and that coaching style is known as the ‘Engineer of Success’.
Women’s Rugby Seven’s Coach, Tim Walsh is an example of an ‘Engineer of Success’. He took a group of unknowns – you could even say misfits – and developed them into extraordinary players, in fact, the best on world stage.
He achieved this through the manipulation of the roles he played as coach. At last year’s Rio Olympic Games, the Australian Women’s Rugby Seven team created history by becoming the first team to win gold in this event.
Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things. But, when we can combine the two, the real magic happens for those involved on the playing field, and that coaching style is known as the ‘Engineer of Success’.
While the girls played magnificently to achieve this result, credit should go to Walsh, the man behind the scenes who drove them to victory.
In sports, coaches that assume the manager role could be termed Builders. The Builder is all about helping athletes create and build the processes needed for successful change and improvement.
Coaches who utilise this style rely on the expectation that performance and commitment will be an automatic response to the process they have developed. Unfortunately, this style only works to a point.
Builders generally want to oversee every detail of their athletes’ lives. This can work well when the athlete is emotionally stable and knows that they are in desperate need of support and guidance.
The Builder is great for less experienced athletes or for experienced athletes who know they need to rebuild and learn something new, or when they are in the middle of a slump.
Dependent on the sport, the experienced athlete will usually seek out a coach that allows a freer rein in the process and applies the ‘Leader’ management style in coaching.
Sports isn’t just about building skilled athletes. It’s about building a team culture that allows the development of better people for the long term.
Coaches applying a ‘Leader’ style could be considered Architects. Architects are the promoters of the athlete’s dreams.
Architects are all about helping the athlete – or team – find the drive from within. They also aim to promote and support a vision they are fighting for.
Architects focus on the long-term results, quietly reshaping and transforming the athlete via subtle manipulation and self-discovery. Architects work well with confident, experienced athletes, but poorly with those who aren’t.
Successful coaches in the sporting arena, are those who can combine these two roles. When this overlap occurs, we have Engineers of Success.
Being an engineer of success
Being an Engineer of Success means utilisation of simple mechanics to drive successful outcomes within the complex team system, or the mind of an individual athlete.
Engineers have a clarity of purpose and work towards an overall team alignment. In addition, Engineers are detail-oriented and analytical.
While usually meticulous in planning and detailing, they are still prepared to take calculated risks, often quickly identifying the root causes of a problem and providing an efficient solution.
Walsh appreciated the opportunity he was given, and worked to control what was controllable, pre-empt the undesirable, and produce an outcome that no one could have anticipated.
Clarity and system alignment
Walsh, along with the support of the Australian Rugby Union (ARU), organised a nationwide talent search to source for the countries’ best female athletes, to field a strong competitive team, to score that elusive gold.
The winning Australian team was made up of women from a smorgasbord of sports, ranging from Ellia Green – athletics, to Chloe Dalton an ex-Sydney Flames Basketball player.
The ARU created selection criteria to ensure player selection would be optimised for future performance. It was constructed by choosing players that work well together as well as many other aspects, not just how well they could play the game on the day.
When the final Rio team was announced, it was only understandable that there would be disappointed players. However, through Walsh’s direction, a clear purpose and team alignment, all members became totally supportive of each other. All members, including the ones that weren’t named, remained and trained together until the end.
Detailed oriented and analytical
To quote Walsh: “My role as coach is to keep an eye out for players who may be fatiguing, and to watch for changes in the opposition set-up, and from that, seek opportunities at the set piece.”
Walsh knew that the Olympic games were going to be a challenge for his team, and he became very skilled in developing solutions before the problems even occurred.
One such example occurred in an international friendly game against Japan, prior to the Olympics. Walsh schemed with one of the team’s best players, Charlotte Caslick, to fake an injury.
Caslick’s almost Oscar-winning performance left her team mates almost traumatised, as she was carted off the field. Walsh was instrumental in getting their focus back on the game, which they eventually won.
After the final whistle, Caslick run back onto the field, surprising her team mates, but giving them the knowledge that they could still perform regardless of future injuries.
Calculated risk taker
Walsh was prepared to take risks with his team. At first, he would teach the women all aspects of the game, from technical skills to play strategies.
Just like a house, an architect can design the dream and a builder can construct it. But it won’t stand the test of time if it isn’t engineered to be structurally sound from the very beginning.
Over time he found that it was he who was getting a lesson on strategy. These women with skills from differing sports were soon asking “Why don’t we do this or why don’t we do that?”
In fact, even the men’s team have implemented the women’s trademark ‘Chicken Wing’ move, into their games.
Like Walsh, we must be prepared to take risks, and be accepting of the fact that we may be directing others with more knowledge and creativity than us.
Walsh’s ‘engineering’ was instrumental in his team’s gold medal performance. Just like a house, an architect can design the dream and a builder can construct it. But it won’t stand the test of time if it isn’t engineered to be structurally sound from the very beginning.
The actions Walsh took to recruit and create strong team alignment allowed him to not only develop great players, but also players that he could challenge and have them shine through their own strengths.
What changes do you need to implement along with your personal coaching to allow your ‘athletes’ to perform better?