The good coach

The actor David Duchovny wrote a widely read op-ed in the Wall St Journal the other week. Titled, “What A Good Coach Does”, he recalls his high school basketball days in New York.

Long hair, cursing on the court, jumping up and down every time he scored. “I was concerned with how many points I made,” he wrote. “On the court, I was an ass.”

In his junior year, a new coach came to the school. He told Duchovny to cut his hair, direct his anger to the desire of winning games and stop the clowning around, reminding him that he was good, talented, and a team together games could be won.

He never knew if Coach (always just “Coach”) liked him or not, but that was immaterial. Coach saw his potential, demanded he respect the game, (which he soon did), and in the process the self-respect started to show..

Here is what Duchovny said:

That is what a good coach does. He fills you with a belief that may or may not be justified. As you make the dangerous crossing from unproven belief to actual accomplishment, from potential to reality, a good coach holds your hand so expertly that you don’t even know your hand is being held. I got better because [Coach] told me I was already better. It was that simple–a magic trick. And every success I’ve had ever since has had some of this same magic in it, either at the hands of other skilled teachers or by the generous trickery of the voice inside me that they instilled.

(By the way, their team never got close to winning any championships, but they improved their game considerably.)

And that is true of coaches, bosses, parents, lightly but steadily holding that hand, from potential to reality. Allowing people to do what they are uncertain they can do- overcoming a hurdle, but letting them do it, not anyone else, giving the guidance and go-ahead gently but firmly. Putting aside doubt and anxiety, emphasizing the positive.

No one hires on weakness; all they care about are the strengths. Whether a sports or business coach, practice on what you do well, and don’t spend time fretting about what you can’t do..

A good coach can ethically both challenge and support someone–and do so in the same breath. That is the end goal–one goal, anyhow.

* * * * *

Some people asked me what the genesis was with my latest blog on “Wising Up”. Actually, some of my thoughts were from an interview with Bob Eckert, Mattel’s CEO, in a recent NYT column:

Kraft Foods was my first company out of school. I was a 21-year-old trained M.B.A. type, and I’m going to work for this fellow who’s in his 50s and worked his way up the ladder a lot differently than I was going to work my way up the ladder. And I showed him a lot of respect. I never walked in with an attitude of, “I’m an M.B.A., I’m Bob, let me tell you what to do.” And he taught me so much about the company. He’d worked there for decades, and he was open and willing to share a lot with me, and I would take that in.

I also met the old-timers for breakfast every morning in the cafeteria. I’d listen to their stories and engage with them, and they allowed me to be a part of their little club. I learned a lot about the company and how it worked and how they worked.

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