A Squash Lesson from Hell: How Being Coached Improved My Coaching

27_2546987“Bend your elbow. Cock your wrist. Bring the racquet back above your ear. Get into position! Step with your right foot. YOUR OTHER RIGHT FOOT! Now…SWING!”

The coach sighed. “See. Wasn’t that easy?” he said, sounding defeated.

“Yeah. Real easy,” I said, as I wiped the blood off my knee where I whacked myself with the racquet. “Thanks.”

“Let’s try it again,” he said. “A few more times, and then I’ll let you use a ball.” He told me to get back into position. “Come on. It’s easy.”

“It’s easy.” Those were the words that struck home. The day before, I coached a very successful partner in a global law firm as he participated in a presentation skills class. As I guided him on how to use visuals to direct people through complex content, I kept saying, “it’s easy.” It’s a delivery skill I use every day, and I assume “it’s easy” because, to me, it is. The third time I told the partner, “Come on. It’s easy,” he snapped back, “Stop saying that! It’s easy for you, but I’m struggling.”

I’m not an athlete. My squash coach, and my frequent opponents, will attest to that. Because I’m not an athlete, I’ve never been coached on a physical skill. Writing, yes. Managing, yes. But not physical skills. As I worked with my squash coach, I noted what aspects of coaching worked well for me, and what was not the least bit helpful. The whole experience was enlightening.

Learning to play squash, really learning it, instead of wildly swatting at the ball, and recklessly slamming into the walls of the court, helped me realize how much repetition is needed to master a simple set of skills.

Becoming the student has made me a more effective coach. I’ve learned how to listen to the needs of the person being coached, since different things work for different individuals. I now know better to mix pushing with patience. And the Band-Aids on my knees after a squash lesson are a small price to pay for growing in my skills.

Jay Sullivan is a Managing Partner at Exec-Comm. Visit his corporate bio or LinkedIn profile for more information.

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