Coaching Beyond Bias

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Affirmation & Motivation

As part of an ongoing athletics series, we’ll surface stories about unique situations from the world of sports through the lens of Prism:

Up to this point, in her career as a Division I softball coach, Tate had won more games than she’d lost. Her accolades included countless all-conference honors and multiple NCAA post-season wins. She’d guided her teams with the motto “set a standard, leave a legacy,” advising that by striving to be a “value-add” every moment, her players would forever leave a mark for those to come.

Being self-driven and motivated by results, Coach Tate nonetheless also understood that everyone was motivated differently, as illustrated in this video. She usually tried to understand each player and communicate according to individual nuances. Sometimes players needed a nudge with tough love and sometimes they needed a hug.

Tate always felt confident that she knew when to do what. However, midway through the year, her new team was failing. They were buckling during critical moments. Among disgruntled whispers, midyear surveys indicated that her new players felt that she wasn’t instilling a sense of confidence in them.

She then realized that her customary motto of “set a standard, leave a legacy” was no longer resonating. The motto itself had come from her own motivation stemming from self-affirmation. It involved tapping into an underlying need for significance and contributing to a purpose larger than oneself—regardless of whether others notice.

Despite acknowledging individual differences, Tate realized that she had underestimated the deeper mystery of the why versus the how of player motivation. Though she typically spoke the same why language as her players, especially around attainment of goals, she misunderstood the depth and differences of the how. This was especially demotivating to those players who were driven by affirmation from others.

The team began seeing their coach as someone inherently opposed to them, invoking a dichotomy of coach versus players. Through psychometrics tools like the SurePeople Relationship Advisor, Tate realized that her roots in self-affirmation were unintentionally making her neglect opportunities for praising players who needed such recognition from her.

Tate endeavored to connect with her team by becoming more familiar with their individual needs, as outlined in this video. Through relationship building and regular one-on-ones, she began showing concern for each player as a person beyond the field. As part of this new routine, she started taking daily player notes and shared progress reports weekly.

Soon the tide began to turn. Though the team didn’t wholly catch up on wins, their end-of-year surveys conveyed a newfound sense of cohesion and confidence—all of which were possible through Tate’s increased understanding of individual needs and differences.

“The interesting thing about coaching is that you have to trouble the comfortable and comfort the troubled.”
– Ric Charlesworth

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