Coaching for the Win in Sports and in Business

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Coaching for the Win in Sports and in Business

By: Steve Cox
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3 main lessons managers can learn from professional coaches @sodexoUSA #coaching #leadership
Tuesday, August 16, 2016 - 1:10pm


This blog originally appeared in

When it comes to the championship of any sporting event, all eyes are on the athlete.  And reasonably so, given that the athlete has poured thousands of hours into preparing for this one moment. However, we often forget about all the other people who help athletes turn their dreams and aspirations into reality, specifically the coaches.

The relationship an athlete has with a coach is vital to their success. A coach serves as an organizer, a motivator, an expert, and a friend to an athlete at all stages of their sports career. In these ways, we can see many parallels between coaching and managing. As managers, we push and support our employees to reach their full potential, allowing them to achieve their own career milestones. One of the most satisfying parts of being a manager is watching your employees find success- similar to how a coach finds joy with watching their athlete take first place.

While I’m certainly not a professional coach, I’ve definitely found myself in ‘coaching’ roles, whether as a U.S. Marine, a business professional, or working with my kids’ youth sports teams. And as an aside, every parent can attest to the ‘coaching’ demands and lessons learned in raising kids! From experience in different roles I’ve learned that you have to ‘create the environment you want to manage’ and then ‘manage the environment you create.’ Neither is easy, but both are required for success of individuals and teams. I’ve also learned there is a balance between freedom and discipline that must be struck – with each individual and with teams as a whole. Freedom allows for creativity, but also supports the concepts of accountability and responsibility (i.e., to whom much is given, much is required). Discipline is best viewed as a focusing activity and the resilience required in pursuing goals, as opposed to something that is applied when standards are not met.

Achieving personal peak performance is one thing, but helping others maximize their potential is another – and as business professionals, at some point in our careers, we all find ourselves in the role of ‘coach.’ There’s a lot managers can learn from professional coaches. Here are a few main lessons:

Employees can’t be fit into one mold

Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps are both top swimmers, but their coaches have completely different regimens for them. Every athlete has a different body type, a different personality, and a different lifestyle. Part of being a coach is having a deep understanding of the athlete you work with, and creating a regimen that best suits them.

Managers should strive to do the same. Certain employees thrive when independent, while others do their best work when collaborating. Some employees seek positive reinforcement, while others prefer to not be recognized. One of the key components of managing is obtaining a deep understanding of your employees, and tailoring to your employees needs in order to create a high functioning environment for every single member.

Employees thrive in a positive environment

Happiness is proven to be a key component in the workplace, and keeping a positive environment helps aid employee’s happiness. Throughout our jobs we’ll face challenges and sometimes even fail. It’s important to support your employees in times of struggle and remind them of their past success.

Julia Mancuso, a bronze Alpine skiing medalist, credits her coach for her ability to stay motivated and positive. “What he likes to do is put on video of a good run or an inspiring run that I’ve made and he’ll sit me down and say, ‘Forget about what you just did and look and this — this is what you can do,’” says Mancuso. Having a coach who could pick her up when she was down was vital to her success.

Employees have a lot they can teach

Often when we find ourselves in a leadership role, we feel we’ve “made it.” As a leader, we’re supposed to be an expert in our field. While that may be true, there’s still daily learning opportunities that will help us grow and expand our knowledge. Many of these opportunities come from our employees. Employees see the company in a different light than we do, because their daily interactions are vastly different from our own. The perspective they bring, combined with our own perspective, can lead to an environment of understanding and innovation.

While top athletes seek out coaches to help mentor, regulate, and enhance their performance, coaches can also learn a lot from the athletes they coach. Every single sport continues to evolve, and new participants can bring a fresh perspective on how to bend the norms. The coaches who embrace this perspective not only find success with the current athlete they are coaching, but future athletes as well.

Being a coach has an abundant amount of similarities to being a manager. Both jobs are highly rewarding, because you get the opportunity to be a leader and a mentor, guiding many to success. It’s interesting that the approach to teaching a kid how to catch a baseball or swing a golf club, or designing a play that helps a team score, or practicing a maneuver that enables Marines to conduct a successful operation, or developing and executing a plan that builds a brand are really very similar – all take elements of coaching. We can learn a lot from successful coaches, and their approach and mindset is worth bringing into the workplace.

I’d love to hear about your ‘coaching’ experiences – what have you seen and what did you learn?

Steve Cox leads Public Relations for Sodexo North America with $9B in annual revenue, 125,000 employees, 9,000 operating sites and 15 million consumers served daily.

Keywords: Diversity & Human Resources | Athletes | Coaching | Human Resources | Leadership | Olympics | Sodexo | career | performance | talent management