The cost of not being “coachable”

You already know that you can't coach someone who isn't coachable.

Last night I heard a compelling story about the potential costs of not being coachable.

My son had his swim team banquet, and the guest speaker was a US Olympic swim team coach, as well as the coach of a prominent university's swim team.

He told the story of a woman he coached, and who swam in the Olympics. The story was great on a number of levels. This woman overcame many challenges to make it. In high school, she had to deal with the death of her mom by cancer. This caused her to give up swimming for a couple of years, and get out of shape. She didn't have the most natural strokes, and so she focused on a single stroke that she could master (backstroke). But this university coach saw something in her, and accepted her to their program. Once she realized that her mom would have wanted her to keep swimming, she practiced incredibly hard, got back in shape, became a leader on her team, and improved to an Olympic-calibre swimmer. Today she is a successful blogger and sports writer, and also a motivational speaker.

But the story is not quite 100% a Cinderella story….For me, a coach, the most interesting part of the story had to do with her coachability on one seemingly tiny detail. In practice, she kept doing something a little bit strange with her hand, especially when finishing at the wall. It would have appeared to be a tiny thing to most of us, but her coach saw that it could cost her time. He told her she needed to stop doing it. She said, "Don't worry about it. I'll handle it at the Olympics, when it really counts."

Well, in her race at the Olympics, she didn't change that minor detail in her finish, and she came in fourth instead of winning the bronze medal — by 7/100th of a second.

If she had listened to her coach on this matter, she would have won a medal. Lack of coachability on one seemingly tiny issue cost her an almost infinitesimal amount of time. In turn, this 7/100th of a second cost her a medal.

To me, there are two lessons to this story:

1. As my colleague Andre Hudson says, "practice how you play." If I'm role playing with my clients or they are practicing a new skill, I want them to treat it like it were the real thing,

2. Stand your ground when you see something holding your client back, assuming that you have the data or expertise to back it your insight. If your client doesn't want to listen, they too might miss their medal by 7/100th of a second. The difference between winning and losing in today's competitive marketplace — whether for an organization or a career — can also come down to tiny differences.  

You can't coach someone who isn't coachable. But why tolerate a lack of coachability? Your client is paying you too much, and your reputation is worth too much.

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