Seven life lessons from an award-winning tennis coach
We’re pre-wired to understand meaning in a narrative form. Story captures the imagination more than rational thought. Story also activates people’s emotions, which is what motivates people to action.
by Todd W. Hall, PhD • Rosemead School of Psychology
What kind of people do you want to be around? What kind of person motivates you to do your best? To become the best version of yourself? If you’re like me, the simple answer is people who genuinely care about you. There are a lot of ways to show care, and lots of ways to describe it, but for simplicity, we can call it connection. This is why you should lead with connection. As I described in my last post on the 3 benefits of leading with connection, you’re most effective when you start with connection, rather than competence. In addition, leading with connection means that relational connection should permeate your leadership. So, how then, do you lead with connection in this sense?
THE TRANSFORMATIVE POWER OF A COACH
I had a high school tennis coach who really connected with my teammates and me. He started my sophomore year and, in the span of one season, took a struggling team to one that was competitive against some of the best high school tennis teams in Southern California. Looking back, it was a remarkable feat. Here’s an excerpt from a 1989 L.A. Times article about our team:
Redondo celebrated its first boys’ league tennis championship since . . . well, since anyone can remember. “The last one was a long time ago,” Coach Ted Atteberry said. “I know they had not won a championship while I’ve been at the school.” Atteberry, who started teaching at Redondo in 1981, watched the Sea Hawks end the drought Wednesday with a 15-3 win over Mira Costa to clinch the Ocean League title with an 11-1 record. “We put in an awful lot of time on the courts,” he said. “The kids that come out are not real experienced, but they’re a very hard-working group and very coachable. There are no secrets. We just put in the hours.”
We did put in the hours, but Coach Atteberry was being modest here. He connected in numerous ways that created a team that wanted to its best for him and for us. The root of our hard work and success was that we knew Coach Atteberry cared about us. I knew he cared about our team and each of us as individuals. Whether you’re coaching a team, leading an organization, mentoring someone, or contributing individually to a group, these practices will help you make a positive impact by leading with connection within your sphere of influence.
1. LISTEN FIRST
Coach Atteberry listened to us. He sought our input on the team line-up and the workouts. He was still in charge, but he genuinely valued our input. When someone felt frustrated or treated unfairly, Coach listened first to try understand his perspective. Particularly when there is conflict or confusion, listen first. Try to understand the other’s perspective. What is their experience? What messages are they hearing from you—spoken and unspoken? What do they need you to hear now? True dialogue starts with listening first. That means you don’t think about what you want to say next while the other person is talking.
2. LEAD WITH STORY
Coach Atteberry observed each match, and our overall improvement and wove them into a story. At least once a week at practice, and after every match, he told us the story we were living out on the courts. It helped us to see who we were, and what we were capable of as a team. When we start to hear a story, we immediately sit up and tune in. We’re naturally drawn in because we’re pre-wired to understand meaning in a narrative form. Story captures the imagination more than rational thought. Story also activates people’s emotions, which is what motivates people to action. So if you want to move people to action, lead with a story…