I started coaching when I was still in high school; whether it was helping train classmates for their respective sports, coaching at summer camp or working with kids in the neighborhood, I began developing my coaching style at a young age. Fortunately, I had some great role models to emulate. Primarily, Coach Bill Long has been tremendously influential in my growth as a coach. From him I learned professionalism, focus on a mission & preparation, and the importance of strong relationships. After 25 years coaching athletics, I am still coaching today, although the arena has changed from playing fields to classrooms, hallways, schools, and offices (although I still find time to get to all practices for the fall sports, and I intend on coaching our basketball teams this winter). Likewise, my players are adults who teach, coaches who coach, students who learn, athletes who compete, and parents who advocate. About 10 years ago, a friend gave me a book by then USA Women’s Soccer Coach Tony DiCicco called “Catch ‘Em Being Good”. The primary message in the book is that as coaches and leaders, we must strive every day to catch our people doing great things, point those things out, praise them, show them as examples, and talk about why those things are great. So often, the only times some leaders communicate with their people is to point out the bad, the things that need correction, in a reactive way. Each morning when I walk onto campus, I look for every opportunity to communicate something really positive with my people. Whether I let a teacher know how much I enjoyed a lesson (being sure to always include some very specific and anecdotal details in my praise), or taking the time to tell a student how kind or respectful he/ she was in relating to a peer or adult, or even taking a couple minutes to write an email to a parent of a student who has perhaps made a nice turnaround, or even a small improvement. These relationship building, and equity building practices are both enjoyable for me, and important for when we have to share more challenging information. The time spent on the front end is well worth it.
In addition to the good climate that catching people being good creates, especially since it is an infectious practice, the approach also improves the team work among all the people in the school community. Good relationships lead to good teamwork. This teamwork benefits everyone- students, teachers, administration, and parents. At the end of the day, we are in schools to help our children have the best experiences possible. A full 360 degree support by a team of adults and peers can help us maintain such a positive climate wherein great experience can be had by our students. DiCicco also talked about the relay paradigm in his book. Essentially Gestalt theory, the concept is that together we can achieve more than each of us individually would achieve on our own. Whether this achievement is academic, athletic, artistic, emotional- it matters little. Again, the team is the powerful catalyst.
As I mentioned, catching them being good, and sharing our positive feedback makes sharing constructive feedback, or even more difficult information more palatable for those on the receiving end. When we talk about communication with those in our community, we talk about “sandwiching” our message. We always start with the good- the positive elements (again, using specific, anecdotal details that will resonate on a more personal level), then we share our concerns or the difficult portion of the sandwich, but ultimately, we finish with a growth-minded strategy to improve the condition. The message is more easily digested in this way, and the practice of sharing strategies for improvement once again reinforces the team component of working together. (*I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that there are some conversations that are significantly more difficult that are crafted in a different way- a topic for another post).
Finally, a key attitude that is requisite in being able to execute many of these positive emotional climate building practices is that we must be present in our day, with our people, and in our actions. Awareness comes from being attuned to all that is happening. Good relationships come from being present- and attentive to our environs.
I have always thought myself to be a player’s coach. These approaches to my every day life have led me to continue to keep my focus on the people I work with and to always look to catch them being good.
DiCicco, T., Hacker, C., & Salzberg, C. (2002). Catch them being good. New York: Viking.