Fifteen years ago, I began my career at Reebok as Corporate Communications Manager. At about the same time I also acquired another title, one which I still carry today: Coach.

At that time my oldest son was just beginning to play sports. It was exciting as sports has played a significant role in my life since I was a young boy. Not only would I be able to share my passion with him, but it would also allow me to spend even more quality time with him (and later my other boys).

Icehockey coach Dan Sarro coaching his so on the icehockey field
Coaching my sons gave me an insight in to sports and leadership that I’d previously been unaware of.

So, when the time came, I naturally raised my hand and volunteered to help coach. It started with soccer and T-ball, and we later added ice hockey and lacrosse. This experience has been incredibly rewarding as a father, and I hope I’ve been able to help and mentor not only my boys, but the many other boys and girls I’ve had the privilege to coach. But it has also taught me a great deal about leadership and helped me in my career in numerous ways.

I’ve learned many lessons through coaching which can make you a better leader at work. Here are five:

1. One size doesn’t fit all

Kids on a team, like a team at work, are comprised of different personalities, with people who have different skill levels and who respond differently to the different leadership styles. As a leader it’s critical to understand this, and not treat everyone the same – while, at the same time, maintaining some level of consistent standards.

Weaker players may simply need more encouragement but, most importantly, need opportunity to succeed. It’s up to the leader of the team to ensure that happens.

Hockey team huddle. | Coaching
Choose the role that best suits your strengths and get in help in the areas your not proficient in. ©Mojzes Igor/GettyImages

2. Assistant coaches are invaluable – Doing it yourself is not realistic

In my time coaching, I’ve been both the head coach and an assistant coach. What I’ve learned is that other leaders can offer different perspectives and might be better at certain aspects of coaching. In ice hockey, for example, one coach may be an excellent tactician during games, while another might be a great motivator or run a well-organized, productive practice.

A leader needs to recognize the various talents other coaches bring and not only utilize them for the betterment of the team, but also empower them to bring their ideas and talents to the table. In the end, this will only strengthen the overall team.

Coaches and ice hockey team on rink | Coaching
Look at your team lineup and make sure everyone has a chance to show the potential even if it means losing games along the way. ©Hero Images/GettyImages

3. Encouraging failure is key

Winning, while important, can be detrimental to development. As a coach there are certain ‘shortcuts’ you can take to raise the chance you will win, but it’s often a short-term fix. One example might be playing a very conservative style – or playing ‘not to lose.’ This might work initially but it will not make you a stronger team and certainly will not benefit your individual players.

People need to be encouraged to fail and make mistakes. Doing so, creates an environment to learn. If the goal is development, growth and improvement then, as a leader, you need to encourage people to push themselves outside their comfort zone. Make sure they feel like they can experiment in the search for improvement. The wins will come, and you will be a much stronger team in the end.

Hockey player practicing on ice rink with his coach
Keep your enthusiasm on the ice in training or from the sidelines in check. Silent support is much better at key moments in the game. ©Hero Images/GettyImages

4. Your approach sets the tone – create the culture you want

Players look to the coach as to how they behave. You set the tone. One important element of a strong leader is being able to perform under pressure – and keep yourself in an even emotional state when things heat up. Being too emotional – either negative or positive – can harm the overall team.

A coach that is overly emotional in either direction may make their players too tight and not able to perform. Being calm and showing true leadership skills, especially under pressure, will translate a level of calmness and confidence to the team. In the business world, it’s important to keep things in perspective for your team, to support them, and ensure they are in a frame of mind that will allow them to perform – particularly when things don’t go well. In the end, your team will be stronger for it.

A word of encouragement, pulling a player aside to recognize him/her is often a small gesture that will yield big results.

Coach training ice hockey player on rink | Coaching
As a coach take the time to talk to your players. Your example will set the tone for how others in the team communicate. ©Hero Images/GettyImages

5. Effective communication is critical

The need for clear and strategic coach-to-team communication is obvious. As a coach, it’s critical that your players know what you expect, what the goal is for the team and that they are clear on the steps to get there. But player-to-player communication can be equally as important. For effective team play, players need to communicate on the field/ice/court.

One effective way to do so is simply to create an environment where open communication is encouraged and provide the tools and resources to do so.

These are just five lessons from coaching that, for me, have translated into being a better leader in the business world. But there are many more lessons you gain from coaching young people, that go beyond the workplace. I encourage you to raise your hand and take on the challenge. The rewards are well worth it.

Do you give over your evenings and weekends to help coach young athletes? I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below.


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by Kristen 21.06.2019
Dan, we are so lucky to have your leadership in Corporate Communications. You are a fantastic team player and you add so much value to our team. Great tips here for all of us!
by Sean 27.06.2019
Dan, thanks for this very relevant article as I am currently a youth coach for 9-10 year olds and have never thought to relate coaching to applicable skills at work.
by charaka 30.08.2019
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