Coaching Them Right

By Mark vonAppen

Running threads throughout many of the posts I have had in this blog involve trust. Faith in the leader, the team, the person next to you, and ultimately in yourself are what I feel are keystones of successful operations.  The words we choose and the style of teaching we employ can make or break learning sessions.

Getting people to trust themselves involves building them up, and teaching in a positive manner in order to get the most out of them.  Most learners, no matter their age, do not respond to negative reinforcement.

In my opinion, a bullying style never works for very long.   Short-term results may be realized but the long-term yield will be a disenfranchised student base.  The way that we treat people in training can build unity in the team or it can drive the group away – far away.  Once they are driven away, good luck capturing their attention again.  Even when all other means have failed I’m not a fan of belittling firefighters – ever.
Standing over a trainee with your arms folded, shaking your head disapprovingly as they struggle to grasp a concept or skill, only proves that you hunger for others to fail so you can assert your knowledge and authority.  This in no uncertain terms is bullying, which leads to resentment and flies in the face of creating a positive learning environment.  If you want to lose your audience immediately, act like a pretentious-know-it-all on the drill ground.

“Getting people to trust themselves involves building them up.”

Students must be allowed to make mistakes in training. Doers make mistakes.  If a trainee fails to perform an evolution correctly at the first attempt, train them on the desired behavior.  Allow for the opportunity to perform the skill correctly as many times as is necessary.  In doing so, you open their eyes to a flaw in their game and by giving them the opportunity to correct it, they will be stronger performers.

The classroom and the drill grounds serve essentially the same purpose – they are for explanation, demonstration, correction, and repetition.  The training ground is the place for failure, and it is the place where we must conquer the fear of failure in order to succeed.
We cannot coach at people in the same way we do not talk at people.  To reach them we must coach to them, just as our efforts in teaching should speak to the pupil.  A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment.  Cultivating trust in the training environment is a must have if we seek an elite level of performance.  Leadership is about owning your responsibility to the future. Coach your people up and give them the tools to survive even after you have moved on.

Trust in the instructor and faith in the training mission allows for trainees to stretch themselves- to go to places outside their established comfort zones.  The results are trainees who seek greater depths of knowledge because they feel comfortable trying new things.
Build trust by caring for the person as an individual – shower them with genuine interest.  Place people in positions where they have the best chance of success.  The student must feel that the mentor will not quit on them – even when they fail.  The deal breaker is when the trainee does not put forth effort, they have to want it too.  The obligation of the student is to make every effort to absorb the coaching and try to improve.  Each person must feel that the leader is speaking to them personally even as the leader is addressing the group. 

How do you develop trust?
  • Communication
  • Establish plans together – students must be honest self-evaluators
  • Execute the plan
  • Mutual exchange – have expectations for the student and allow for the students to have expectations of you (See: What to expect from one another – One Team, One Fight)
  • Be patient
  • Work overtime: Hold some coaching in reserve – speak to people individually about specific areas of improvement after training sessions – this shows interest by spending time outside of the classroom or drill ground
  • Don’t single out individuals in the group setting – people know how they performed
  • Don’t set people up for failure
  • Allow for failure – use setbacks as a learning tool
  • Celebrate success
  • Have a sense of humor

The instructors who made the biggest impression on my life are the ones who displayed the greatest amount of patience and empathy for me as I struggled to comprehend what they were trying to drive home.

I have never gotten good at anything by not doing it – a lot.  I’m the type of person who has to practice a skill over and over again to get it right.  Once I do get it, I still have to practice tirelessly to make sure I stay sharp.  It’s exhausting, I am extremely envious (and rather skeptical) of anyone that can observe a skill once and believe they have mastered it.  I want to know their secret.  It might just be that they were coached the right way from the very beginning.




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