I don’t know who first came up with the phrase, but the first I heard it was from Tiger Woods. After a relatively poor showing early in his career, he told the sports reporter he just didn’t have his A-game for those 18 holes of golf. For most golfers, Tiger’s B-game would be a dramatic, probably miraculous level of play. But for Tiger, it wasn’t his best and he knew it.
As coaches, we don’t operate in the same spotlight or pressure-cooker context that the world’s best athletes face. But we still have the potential to bring our best or something short of our best. And while the chance of earning millions of dollars is not at stake, it definitely matters whether we bring our A-game or not. So how do we increase the likelihood of doing our best coaching with every single client? Here are four ways.
Set your bar high. Really high. Your A-game is not your average game, it’s your best game. It’s what YOU are capable of as a coach. And the truth is that you are capable of coaching at a very high level.
Don’t give in to the temptation to lower your expectations so you’ll feel better after every coaching engagement. That’s not the way to grow or bring high value to those who invest time and money in a coaching relationship with you. Instead, set your bar for performing as a coach high. High standards and strong expectations reinforce the notion that you are a great coach and those expectations will tend to produce great results.
Measure your performance, not your client’s. Great coaching certainly correlates with great client results, it’s not an automatic causal relationship. Some days you bring your A-game, but your client doesn’t. And some days you struggle but your client still gets a ton of value. As a coach, you must differentiate your performance from your client’s. Otherwise, you will beat yourself up when you shouldn’t, or you will feel way better about your performance than you should.
Determine what great performance looks like for you and then train yourself to pay attention to that. For example, you want to ask questions with the potential to make the client do the hard work of thinking. Whether the client does the hard work of thinking rests somewhat on the client. When evaluating your performance, you want to pay attention to the quality of your questions and your intention with the questions much more so than whether the client took you up on the invitation to do the hard work of thinking.
Visualize the pivotal moves. Research shows that one of the biggest differentiators when it comes to performance is that highly successful people visualize success ahead of time. This is true in sports where a golfer visualizes the perfect swing, or a baseball pitcher visualizes throwing the ideal slider for a strike. It is also true outside of sports. Great salespeople imagine how they want a sales meeting to go. Great speakers create mental scenarios of how they begin and conclude their talk. And great writers go to bed with images of the productive first few hours of the next day.
Take time at the beginning of the day to review your client meetings for the day and visualize how you want those sessions to go. You don’t need to rehearse every minute of each conversation, just the pivotal moments such as connecting with the client, finding a focus, and/or waiting the extra beat during an otherwise awkward moment of silence. Visualizing the pivotal moves makes it much more likely that you do your best coaching in those important moments.
Play the game. I know far too many people who have received coach training, but they are waiting until they are “good” before they do much coaching at all. This is a big mistake.
Face it, if you don’t coach you cannot possibly bring your A-game. In golf, stepping up to the tee box on the first hole means you have the potential of playing a great round or a terrible round. But staying in the clubhouse ensures that you definitely will not bring your A-game to the course that day.
In coaching, you must be willing to coach, and coach some more, and coach even more. You must keep coaching, whether you’re in a slump or coaching better with every session. You have to be willing to do poorly if you are ever going to do well. And bringing your B-game is far superior to not coaching at all.
In closing, don’t let all this talk about bringing your A-game discourage you. Instead, let it motivate you to keep striving, to keep growing, and (most of all) to keep coaching. Your A game doesn’t have to be world-class or trophy-worthy. It just has to be simple obedience to God’s call to invest in the lives of others using what you’ve learned as a coach to the best of your ability.