Bill Walsh won three Superbowls with the San Francisco 49ers. When he took over as head coach in 1979 they were arguably the worst team in American football history. Within two years they were the best. This sympathetic and honest book, published after Walsh’s death in 2007, but largely in his own words, explains in detail the methods he used to achieve extraordinary success. MORE
An engaging experience
I’ve been watching how coaches and other “people managers” engage their charges. By engage, I mean attract and occupy people’s attention. If someone is engaged, they’re going to respond quickly to instruction.
I started doing it in earnest when watching my brother talk to his three-year-old daughter. Now, as a typical brother, I used to think that anything he did was rubbish, seeing him as the 10-year-old who used to annoy me when I was doing something far more important.
So, in a pathetic sort of a way, I found myself fascinated by how successful he was. Whether he was doing it by accident or not (and because he’s my brother, I’ll say by accident), he held the child’s attention for a good two minutes as he explained why she needed to pick up her toys. He used good eye contact, spoke on her level, wasn’t patronising, gave some positives and reiterated his point by asking her open questions.
A day later I was early for a coaching session. I took the chance to watch some other coaches at work. One of them was engaging his players, another wasn’t.
It was easy to see the difference. For one coach, the session was all about him. He was cracking jokes, joining in the games, talking a lot and shouting at the mistakes.
The other coach was also thoroughly involved but in a far more constructive way: asking questions, standing back from the action, moving around, pulling in the players when he needed to make his points.
I was struck by the language they employed. The engaging coach used simple, clear expressions. He spoke with a smile on his face. And there was space, space for others to say something.
An engaging coach creates the right space for players. A space to be themselves and a space where they feel comfortable to say something. And if it’s wrong, it hardly matters.