Cultivate Vulnerability

In the past year of coaching, I learned something I never knew before. Vulnerability is a secret weapon.

I'd always been told variations of the same thing coming up in the ranks. "Make sure you start out tough with 'kids" so they'll respect you". Or "You can always be nice later". I was to "make sure you establish your authority" in nearly everything, or chaos would ensue.

All of those things are at least in some part true. But for me, focusing on this advice led me away from another crucial piece of showing leadership to a group of other people. Moments of vulnerability as a leader are crucial in helping those you lead out of some of their most challenging situations.

I'm terrified too

We all coach swimmers who's mind works against them on competition day. They've trained hard, they've worked to improve their technique. From the neck down, they are ready to be better than they ever have before.

In these moments the mind can override all that work and undo its competitive advantage. This phenomenon can be extremely frustrating as a coach. It's one I've written a couple times about before, but there are yet more ways to approach it. 

I used to say all of the following to anxious athletes in an attempt to make the situation better:

"You'll be fine"

"There's nothing to worry about"

"Don't worry about it, just get up there and go"

I wouldn't recommend any of them. They all dismiss a real feeling the athlete has and signal that you do not want to engage that feeling.

For a different angle, try a vulnerable response. In a quiet moment, hopefully long before the actual competition, tell them about something in your life that fills your stomach with butterflies. Start a conversation with them by admitting to your own humanity, that you too sometimes have a bubbling fear you can't clamp down.

In doing so, you signal that you do recognize what they are going through and have empathy for it. You give them the room to admit that they are struggling with something, the first step to overcoming that struggle. You signal that you are someone who wants to help them with that struggle.

So, when you're out there coaching, be that awesome expert with tough standards, that pushes people to their limits with one hand. With the other, show your struggles so that others will show theirs too and work together to make them better.

Want to learn more about how to incorporate character strengths into your coaching? Contact me.