Risky and Unorthodox Coaching: Super Bowl Observations

By: Adam G Fleming in unorthodox coaching, 3 years ago

What can we learn about life coaching from how Doug Pederson coached the Eagles to a victory over The Dread Pirate Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots in the Super Bowl last Sunday night?

This line of inquiry gives me pause for two reasons. First, life coaching is often misunderstood and we’re at risk whenever we compare it to sports coaching. If you’re reading this and you’re still not sure what life coaching is, (or any sort of non-sports coaching, like business coaching,) please understand that while there are similarities, there are plenty of differences as well. Second, in general I don’t like blogging about sports, because I know that not everyone enjoys sports. Let’s proceed with caution, recognizing that the analogies are just that: analogies. But, there is valuable crossover here. Also, this was one of the most entertaining (and satisfying, since I’m not a Pats fan) Super Bowls in recent memory, so it queues me up to go ahead with the inquiry.

In a Boston Globe article, on January 30, columnist Dan Shaughnessy said that the number one reason Philly would lose was because of head coach Doug Pederson: “You can’t be indecisive. You can’t coach scared. I worry that poor Doug Pederson might commit all these sins.” I am not so sure the columnist was really “worried” since he’s probably a homer (a reporter with a home-team bias), but although he turned out to be wrong, he makes exactly the point I want to make about life coaching: You can’t coach scared. Kudos to the columnist for recognizing this, and kudos for being bold enough to make a prediction. You can’t win them all. A good columnist takes risks too.

Pederson did not coach scared, as it turned out. In fact, he did some unorthodox things en route to victory. One of them, a trick play with a pass to the quarterback, resulted in a touchdown, arguably the majority of Philadelphia’s margin of victory, was so unorthodox it has never been accomplished before in the history of the Super Bowl. Principle: You cannot do unorthodox things if you are scared. And when you’re up against the best, you cannot win if you are not willing to do the unorthodox thing. Everyone who has tried an orthodox approach against Belichick’s team has gotten whupped. The Pittsburgh Steelers tried that earlier this year. I was screaming at the T.V., “You can’t back off now!” Surprise is an elemental tactic for a great coach, and surprise never comes by an orthodox approach. Surprise and orthodoxy are mutually exclusive!

What does not coaching scared and doing the unorthodox thing look like for a life/business/leadership/etc. coach?

  1. You must not be afraid to lose a client. I am not suggesting that you go out of your way to offend a client! But if you are going to ask really tough questions from time to time, you can’t be scared. Sure, you might occasionally lose a client, but… There are enough clients in the world who want to be pushed. They are the ones who are going to come out looking like a million bucks. You need success stories for testimonials, referrals. So push.
  2.  You must be willing to ask questions that have never been asked before. This is where creativity comes into play, the art of designing a conversation for the client’s benefit, with occasional surprise plays, tricks, one might even say. The goal is to get the client to think differently, and if it takes a moment for them to catch up, the way the Patriot’s defense took a moment to catch up to what was happening on that pass-to-the-quarterback, that’s okay. In fact, it’s your job.
  3. If you are a rookie coach (say, under 300 or 400 hours), you still need to take risks. You will not become the best by sticking to the book. You will need to experiment, fail, and learn from those mistakes. Just remember, if you’re going to take off your coaching hat and do some mentoring, or work with some other methodology entirely, to ask permission first. Stay within the boundaries of the ethical practices of coaching. There is plenty of room within the rules of the game for trick plays.

This is not really about whether your style is tough and gritty or gentle and soothing. This is about your internal playbook, what sort of questions are you asking. If you’re mostly about the good cop routine, try some bad cop once in a while, and mix it up. If you tend to be tough, take some moments to be especially empathetic. Try a question you’ve never asked, or ask it in a different way, and see what you get. Above all, you must occasionally surprise your client. You may get a touchdown!

Your clients will be more likely to come out as winners, and they’ll thank you later.

If you’re looking for an unorthodox coach, you just found one. I’m your huckleberry. Check out my gigs and get in touch!

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