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  • Writer's pictureDJ

Hitting More Than One Target

A good coach often seeks more than one outcome

In my first month as a University student I attended training sessions with the athletics team, and was a little surprised when the coach asked me to race a series of 200 metre sprints against a girl of my own age. By the end of the session I was more than surprised. I lost seven races out of eight. The girl, it turned out, was an exceptional athlete who would go on to represent Britain. I was no more than average, and this was a useful wake-up call.

If it was useful for me, what did the coach get out of it? When I got my breath back, I asked him, and he gave me a full and illuminating answer.

He wanted to know if I was the real deal, with the talent to build a career in the sport (I wasn’t).

He wanted to know if I was too much of a sexist to line up against a female opponent and treat her with respect (I wasn’t).

He wanted to know if I was willing to dig deep and keep trying, even when I was taking one beating after another (I was. After losing the first six races I scrapped my way to a narrow win in the seventh. My opponent swiftly put me in my place by winning the eighth, but on reflection, winning one race against someone far more talented was a decent effort).

That brief session told the coach how much of his time it was worth investing in me, and what, if anything, I might have to offer his team. I was never going to be fast enough for individual sprint events, and even if I moved up in distance to 800, 1500 or 5,000 metres, he warned me that I’d always find the road blocked by more gifted athletes. He saw just enough humility in me to make me coachable, and enough fighting spirit to make me worth keeping in mind for relays. I would never be an international, though, for Britain or for Wales. I just didn’t have it. His verdict was painful, unwelcome and 100% accurate. I kicked against it by training harder than anyone else for the next six months, but no amount of training could make up the talent deficit. By the summer I’d put so much stress on my joints that I was a mess of injuries. I should have heeded the lesson that a good coach had learned in just 20 minutes when he aimed for more than one outcome.

We often see this in the workplace, and a successful manager/coach may take aim for multiple goals with a single clever shot.

It’s a truism that good managers push us to succeed while bad managers push us to fail. When a good manager asks us to meet a challenging deadline, what might they hope to find out?

-         How do we perform under pressure? In particular, how clearly do we think under pressure?

-         How well do we prioritise?

-         Are we able to reach out to others and delegate important tasks? There’s merit in being able to take responsibility for a project, but there are times when we need to ask for support, delegate tasks and be the person who coordinates, work, not just the person who flies solo. The sooner a manager learns that we can do that, the sooner they can trust us to keep doing it, making their working lives easier and ours more rewarding.

-         If something simply can’t be done, for whatever reason, are we honest enough to push back and tell them the truth. That’s not the same as making excuses; ducking out of a challenge and offering an honest reality check are different types of behaviour from different types of people.

It’s not always clear what a leader is asking us to accomplish, but a good leader is constantly looking for answers to important professional questions. Managers need to know who they’re working with. Show them the best, most honest and most committed version of yourself and you’ll have done them and yourself a very big favour.


Dave, that made me laugh out loud. I had a very similar experience with rugby. Up until then I truly believed I was JPR or Barry J. Ah those glorious Loughborough days? 😎 Starsky

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Thanks mate, hope all is well.

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