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He’s done it – Andy Murray has won Wimbledon; the one he’s dreamed of since he was a boy. But what is it that’s taken Andy Murray from a good player to an outstanding one, made his dream a reality and propelled him to win the Olympic Singles title, US Open and now Wimbledon? For those in the know and indeed for Murray himself, his success is down to his coach, Ivan Lendl. In an article from The Telegraph yesterday morning, following his Wimbledon win, Murray is quoted as saying about Lendl:
“He’s made me learn more from the losses that I’ve had than maybe I did in the past…He’s been extremely honest with me. If I work hard, he’s happy. If I don’t, he’s disappointed, and he’ll tell me.”
In sport, it is universally accepted that in order to excel and reach the top level, you need an outstanding coach, yet in other disciplines, namely business, the value of coaching is not (yet) so widely recognised. And yet, for those in business who do use coaching for performance, the benefits are unquestionable. In a 2008 study by The ICF (International Coach Federation), 96% of clients said they would choose to be coached again given the same circumstances, whilst the report also stated that companies can expect to see an ROI of 7 times their initial investment for coaching.
So can we use the example of sports coaching to enhance our understanding of coaching in general? What parallels can we draw between the two disciplines and how does coaching enhance performance?
1. The One who tells us the Truth. A coaching relationship, whether it be sports or business, is built on trust. The role of the coach, in both disciplines, is to provide a confidential arena, in which questions and concerns can be addressed. The coach must be an active listener and must provide open and honest feedback. As we saw in the quote from Murray above, the coach may not always say want we want to hear, but it is only by being made aware of our shortfalls that we can improve. And it is because this feedback is given within the confines of a trust relationship, that it is more openly received. In business, performance is accelerated by heightening self-awareness, identifying gaps in capabilities and challenging the client to reach their full potential, just as it is in sport.
2. The Accountability Driver. Another key role of both sports and business coaches is to heighten accountability. Doing what you say you will do, acknowledging and rectifying failure and mistakes and taking learning points from your experiences are techniques used in both disciplines. Accountability is not just about your responsibility to others, it’s about taking personal responsibility for your actions, committing to a goal and doing everything you can to reach that goal. Accountability improves performance in sport and in business by acting as a conscience; a constant reminder that there are consequences for not following through on our commitments. The coach not only helps us to gain perspective over these consequences, but also acts as our very own Jiminy Cricket.
3. The Strategic Planner. To succeed in sport and business you need a vision, goals and a plan on how to execute those goals. The role of the coach is not to dictate this, but to provide the framework for it. Excellent coaches are excellent strategists. They keep on top of current thinking and research in their discipline and as such are able to formulate and adapt strategy, taking into consideration individual requirements, external factors and new technologies/innovations. In business, as in sport, strategic direction enhances performance by providing a clear picture of what success looks like and a road map of how to get there.
4. The Motivator. Even the most enthusiastic of individuals hits the wall sometimes; perhaps because they’ve experienced failure, or because the journey has turned out to be harder or longer than expected. Whatever the reason, the role of the coach is to get us through these times. In business and sport, losing focus of our end goal is not uncommon, but without that end goal in sight, we also lose sight of the steps we put in place to get there. The coach reminds us what it is we want, of how far we’ve already come and of what is still required to achieve it. Coaching enhances performance in sport and business by clearing a path through the fog and keeping us focused on our most important goals.
Coaching for performance works. Whatever your discipline, a coach is more able and better placed to identify the gaps in capabilities and to help you develop strategies for closing those gaps, allowing you to realise your true potential, just as Ivan Lendl helped Andy Murray do on Sunday.