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Saturday, July 27, 2013


A few weeks ago, I had a post about a book and made reference to the fact that I would have loved to have read it when I first started coaching.  In fact, it would be in my Top 10 books that I think could've impacted me greatly as a young coach just starting out.  I have since received a great number of requests asking for the complete list and so each day, over the next few weeks, I will list a book that I think young coaches would benefit from reading as they start their coaching journey.  I would imagine that many will be looking for X&O books -- just as I did when I first started coaching -- but instead you will find a list of books that will not only make you a better coach, but a better person. Books that concentrate on teaching, goal setting, communication and leadership.

Book #3

Practice Perfect
Doug Lemov, Erica Woolway, Katie Yezzi

This certainly an outstanding book for a beginning coach/teacher as it breaks down so many phases of "getting better at getting better."  As the authors mention in the opening paragraph:  "The three of us are first and foremost teachers.  And though this book is for readers in a wide variety of fields, it began some time ago as a book for and about teachers.  Still, if you are a parent or a manager or a coach or a mentor or a leader in your organization, you'd have a hard time convincing us you weren't a teacher anyway."

You should measure two things:

1. The effectiveness of your practice
Does doing something in practice actually enable people to do it in performance?

2. Practicing the right things. 
Are you practicing the things that need to be practiced in order to improve performance?

The typical coach will often watch a game as an unfolding narrative.  Coaches may look back at a game and have a general idea of how it went:  "We played well."  "We struggled to play together as a team."  "We had trouble on defense."  But to determine what it is that you should be practicing, you should look at games (or lessons, surgeries, or sales pitches) as a series of date points.  Instead of subjectively evaluating how your team played, look for specific data that reflects the skills you have practiced.  For example, how many players made diagonal runs? How many teachers asked their students to do something again if they didn't have 100% participation?  How many times did a particular sales strategy result in a sale?

Collecting and measuring date on performance post-practice allows you to evaluate your own effectiveness in facilitating practice.

No one would argue the notion that you need to plan out your practices.  Coaches, managers, organizational development teams all plan for the time they have to develop their staff.  As we have learned from our work at Uncommon over the past several years, chances are that what you are doing now probably isn't nearly good enough, if you want exceptional results from your practice sessions.

Specifically, we are perpetually astonished at just how much it pays off to do three things:

1. Plan with data-driven objectives in mind

2. Plan down to the last minute

3. Rehearse and revise the plan

Coaches and leaders often fail to recognize that planning practice must be a data-driven endeavor.  What is more, the best coaches constantly adapt their practice in response to what they learn about the needs of their team from on-the-job performance and from the results of practice itself.  As people succeed at tasks, you add complexity; as they struggle, you reduce it.

Good plans for practice leave nothing to chance.  There is no question of which drill will be inserted where, or who will get a chance to practice which skills.  There is no mid-practice poll of what favorite drill to do next, no free time earned for efficiency in completing activities. Plans that lead to successful practice account for each minute with useful activity.

When his teams first practiced shooting or dribbling, John Wooden often made his players work without the ball.  "One of the challenges I faced during practice," he wrote in Wooden On Leadership, "was the distraction caused by a player's natural instinct and desire to score baskets or grab rebounds.  Either urge is such a powerful siren song that it's hard to make them pay attention and learn the 'dull' fundamentals that ensure success in scoring and rebounding -- such things as pivoting, hand and arm movement, and routes on plays."  Wooden called the seductive draw of things that recall the drama of performance too directly on intensely "catnip," because they can drive participants to distraction.  While our instincts often tell us to recreate those situations to make practice more useful, he tried to remove them during the learning process.

Economy of Langauge
Fewer words are usually stronger than more.  Being chatty signals nervousness and indecision while choosing words carefully shows preparedness and clarity of pupose.

Do Not Talk Over
Make a habit of showing that your words matter by waiting until there is no other talking before you begin.  By ensuring that your voice doesn't compete for attention, you domeonstrate that the diecsion to listen isn't situational

Do Not Engage
Once you have set the topic of conversation, avoid engaging in other topics until you have satisfactorily resolved the topic you initiated.

Stand Up/Stand Still
In every comment you make,you speak nonverbally as well as with words.  Your body can show that you expect people to follow your request.  When you want to express the seriousness of your directions, turn with two feet and two shoulders face the object of your words directionly.  Make sure your eye contact is direct.  Stand up and straight or lean in close (this shows your level of control by deomonstrating that you are not she or afraid; you don't crouch down to a dog you fear will bite you).  If the student to whom you are speaking is distant, move towards him

Quiet Power
When you get nervous, when you are worried that studetns might not follow your directions, when you sense that your control may be slipping away, your first instinct is often to talk louder and faster.  When you get loud and talk fast, you show that you are nervous, scared, out of control.  Though it runs against all your instincts, get slower and quieter when you want control.  Drop you voice.  Make students strain to listen.  Exude poise and calm.

A bonus blog post from Practice Perfect on positive framing.