NFL Replacement Refs and what they teach about the best coaches

This past week the NFL and its referees ended their labor dispute. The "real" refs came back to work, while the deservedly maligned replacement referees went back to refereeing at little-known colleges and high schools.

It is worth exploring why the "real" refs won this dispute, and how this relates to the executive & leadership coaching market.

The NFL ultimately gave into the referees' demands for a simple reason: They bring unique value to the game. This was proven by their absence, and by the horrendous, sometimes game-changing calls, that the replacement referees made. When a key call was blown in the Green Bay Packers vs. Seattle Seahawks game, costing the Packers the game, the fans and media cried out and said that enough was enough. If the NFL wanted to preserve the integrity of the game, they had to get the "real" refs back.

The regular referees understood the game, kept the games running smoothly (and 11 minutes shorter than under replacement refs), kept the players in check, and helped everyone feel confident about the integrity of play on the field.

In other words, they added value.

Now here is what's interesting:

Both the NFL referees and the replacement referees had about the same hours of experience.

However, the NFL referees are true masters of their craft, able to demonstrate and provide value. In fact, during their strike, they still met regularly to review the NFL playbook and discuss games — a sign of true commitment to one's profession. The replacement referees worked for no-name schools and didn't have the same ability to deliver results.

In some coaching circles, one wonders whether we are dealing with NFL-caliber refs or replacement refs. That's because the key measure of coaching competency in these circles is hours spent with clients. Well, some coaches have spent many bad hours with clients; in fact, the first hour is almost as bad as the 750th. Others game the system by having friends coach them for a few dollars, or even having a revolving $10 bill travel from coach to coach in exchange for "proof" of paid coaching hours.

The real measure of coaching competency is whether or not you get results for your clients, and by results I mean results worth 5-10 times your fees. The best coaches can document these results, and that's what counts in the market for this, or any other professional service.

Getting results like this requires a special individual, and most coaches don't make the grade. To be a true NFL-caliber coaching professional, we at the Center for Executive Coaching believe you need to have the following in place before you join a coach training program or get into the field:

– Some sort of experience and seasoning that you can bring to the table, beyond coaching skills. This could include a few options. For instance, you might have seasoning as a leader and executive, so that you can more easily step into the shoes of your clients and be able to say, "I have been there and done that." Or, you might be a therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist, so that you have a deep understanding of psychology and counseling. Some sort of grounding is required. 

– The mental acuity to improvise and dance with your clients during coaching conversations. Coaching truly requires you to think on your feet. If you can't, your coaching sessions quickly go silent and your client wil wonder why he or she is paying you.

– Strong ability to listen to both what someone is saying, how they feel (empathy), and what they are not saying. Without this ability, you will not build the trust and rapport needed to be an effective coach.

– You care about other people and their success — without letting your own ego, or need to be a hero, get in the way.  If you have been known for helping others to develop and grow, you are probably a natural coach.

The good news is that the market is crying out for the real deal. There are lots of "replacement ref coaches" out there, and it is easy to beat them — if you have the right foundation already in place.

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