What’s Your Coaching-Thought?

One strategy I’ve always found useful is the “swing-thought.” The term originates with golf; it refers to focusing on a single idea as you swing the club.

For example, one swing-thought might be SMOOOOTH. Or ROLL WRISTS.  A good swing-thought works because it un-clutters the mind, clarifies focus, and captures the essence of your best performance.

Which makes me wonder: do the best coaches and teachers have the equivalent of swing-thoughts as they work? Are there key ideas coaches can use in the moment of teaching to help them coach better?

Based on my observations, I’d say that most master coaches have three distinct coaching-thoughts.

The first is CONNECT. They create a personal link; they use their interpersonal skills to capture the spotlight of the learner’s attention. Until that’s achieved, nothing useful can happen.

The second coaching-thought is ASK. The coach puts forth a task — it could be doing a drill or playing a song, or trying something new — it doesn’t really matter what it is, so long as the task 1) is unmistakably clear; 2) puts the learner on the edge of their ability (which is to say, it’s neither too hard nor too easy).

The third is RESPOND. The coach perceives what the learner is doing, and uses it to generate the next task. The next task might be more difficult, or it might be easier — all that matters is that it helps the learner navigate closer to the goal of proficiency.

Connect. Ask. Respond. This process isn’t a lecture from a podium. It’s more like a personal conversation that happens on the edge of the learner’s abilities.

When I coach, I find it useful to visualize what’s happening inside the learner’s brain: to picture the wires glowing, trying to connect, the new circuitry forming through each repetition. I know, it sounds sort of science-fiction-ish, but it works for me because it helps focus on the underlying process. Mistakes aren’t verdicts; they’re pieces of information you use to build the right connections.

Next question for you coaches and teachers: what images and ideas are going through your mind as you work? Are there any useful “coaching-thoughts” you’d like to share?