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Learner driven coaching

I am often asked by officals at the start of a game what do I want to do if we win the coin toss. I let them know that I have no idea and to ask the team captains who will be on the field. They are always shocked to learn that I do not make this decision nor even care to know the answer. My rationale is that this is their game, their team and their season. I am simply along to guide them through Socratic "learner driven" coaching.

What makes learner driven coaching unique is the emphasis on self-directed learning. In creating a team of self-directed learners, it is crucial coaches hold the line on guiding and not teaching. To do this, requires coaches to develop new pathways of communication whereby we listen more and speak less. We should adhere to the old adage that God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason.

Athletes are the Captains of their own Heroes Journey and as coaches we are along for the ride. We are not to become the “petty tyrants” which rob athletes of the lessons best learned through self discovery. As learner driven coaches, we will hold each other accountable to these foundational points:

Point #1: A promise to each other As learner driven coaches we believe clear thinking leads to good decisions, good decisions lead to the right habits, the right habits forge character, and character determines destiny. Put simply, we believe athletes have the courage to do the right thing and you change the world – and themselves— for the better.

Point #2: Power corrupts Lord Acton’s most famous saying, "Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely." True in dictatorships; prisons, and yes, in traditional athletic programs. History suggests petty tyrants, or the acts and habits of petty tyrants should not be taken lightly; good intentions don’t count. Just courage and the right acts, day after day. The Hero’s Journey; Growth Mindset praise; boundaries and natural consequences, all protected by team contracts between coaches and players.

Point #3: The sting of “Fake Coaches” All of this brings me to a point about Real Coaches versus Fake Coaches and drawing a clear line in the sand. The label Fake Coaches stings like a rebuke. It should. I mean for it to sting, like touching an electric fence.

Why? A athlete-centered team run by an adult is not similar to a learner-driven team, where self-management and self-governance flourish. Not even close. Learner driven teams are not about how many skills an athlete can master; it is instead about developing a framework through which to build constructive relationships which ultimately build better communities and civilizations.

Learner driven coaches are like the Johnny Appleseeds of civilization. That’s a sacred task. “Well, of course you don’t really mean a player should call all their plays and make all of the important game day decisions.” I have heard these words far too often. Yes, I do mean exactly that: coaches should never rob an ahtlete of the chance to make his or her own decisions, with consequences, just because it’s more expedient or resolves some inner angst in the coach.

Many of us have a petty tyrant inside. It’s not pretty. Worse is a petty tyrant hiding behind passive-aggressive lies as someone who “just wants to help them develop” by nudging, poking and bending an athlete “for their own good.”

Growth Mindset, praise and encouragement are the best way to coach so that good habits become destiny. But, you must set aside the "petty tyrant" inside and turn over the keys to the athletes. You must recognize that this is not "your team" but theirs. You must recognize that you are simply a coach, a lesser character in a much bigger story which is their Heroes journey.

The more we let go the more true success they will have because they will have penned the script, directed the play and played the starring role. As coaches, we are simply the Key Grip making sure the curtain goes up and down.


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