The Surprising Skill Successful Coaches Share


Guest post from Alain Hunkins

On Saturday, I got to be a guinea pig in an experiment on leadership, coaching, and motivation.

I didn’t plan for this.  It just worked out that way.

The laboratory?

My local CrossFit gym.

The experiment?

A group workout, where were matched up to work in teams of two.  Saturday’s workout was a 5000 meter row on the rowing machine.

It was set up so that each team member would row 500 meters, then we’d hop off the rower and their teammate would row the  next 500 meters.

It’s a high intensity workout, with each 500 meter effort taking somewhere between 90 seconds and two minutes.

There were sixteen rowers that morning: eight teams of two.   We were matched up by general ability to make it a friendly competition between the teams.

I was the first of my team to row.

Sitting in the ready position before the timer went off, I could feel a slight surge of adrenaline go through my system.



It didn’t take long to feel the burn.  Rowing hard is an intense workout.

After the first 500 meters, I got my first break.  I was going to get to do that four more times.

Getting on for the second round is when I transformed from rower to guinea pig.

In that second round, the other group began to cheer on our first group.  In their desire to encourage us, each rower began to root us all on and support us in our efforts.

Rationally, I have no doubt that all eight meant well.   They all had good intentions to help. But viscerally, what I experienced was fascinating.

Each of the eight had their own style of encouragement.   Depending on the style, my body (and my motivation) responded quite differently.

There was one camp of coaches who were predominantly enthusiastic.  They would say things like

You’re doing great!  Way to go!  You’ve got this!

I noticed that my body responded to this coaching well.  I’d find extra reserves to exert even harder through my 500 meter intervals.

Another camp of coaches were predominantly fiery and intense.  They would say things like

Come on!  Don’t give up!  You can go even harder!  

With this coaching style, I felt my body sag.  Listening to them was more draining than energizing.

Inside, I yearned to get one of the first coaches back.  Or at the very least, for this fiery group to just stop saying anything.  They were doing more harm than good.

It turns out that what I experienced intuitively on Saturday has been borne out in the research.  Sports scientists have found that athletes respond poorly to negative feedback. Coaches interactions with players affect players’ hormone levels and have both a short and long term impact on performance.

Science has spoken:  Encouragement and being positive works better.

Athletes aren’t the only ones who respond poorly to negative feedback.  As a leader, your job is to help people achieve their highest levels of performance. Think about the leaders who have best inspired and motivated you.  What was their predominant style and tone?

If you’re in the fiery/intense camp of coaching, it can be hard to take a look in the mirror to see what’s really there.  You may have great intentions and think that “intensity” is helping.   You might think “But that’s just who I am.”

But like with many aspects of leadership, it’s not about your intentions.  It’s about results.

How do your people perceive you? How do you know?

What practices do you use to encourage and support those you lead?  Join the conversation by leaving a comment below.
Source: Alain Hunkins



Author: Alain Hunkins

Alain Hunkins leads personal and professional development trainings for individuals, teams and organizations. Over the last two decades, Alain has facilitated for over a thousand groups, ranging from at-risk youth to Fortune 500 executives. He moves between the educational, artistic, not-for-profit, government and corporate worlds. His corporate clients span nearly every industry. Companies include: Reckitt-Benckiser, Microsoft, Coca-Cola, Pfizer, Citigroup, United Technologies and Coach. Alain is currently Senior Facilitator & Vice President, Business Development for Eagle’s Flight. His work has taken him to nearly every state in the USA, as well as Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica, Belgium, Britain, Ireland, Spain, Egypt, France, Italy, Switzerland, Hungary, South Africa, and Taiwan. Alain sharpened his facilitation skills as an Educational Consultant in New York City, developing programs on many subjects, including Conflict Resolution, Networking, Customer Service, Communication, and Leadership. Alain earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Amherst College and his Masters of Fine Arts from the University of Wisconsin/Milwaukee Professional Theater Training Program. He is a certified Leadership Challenge & MBTI facilitator, as well as a certified co-leader for ManKind Project International, whose mission is to help men lead missions of service in their families, communities, and workplaces. A native of Queens, NY, Alain calls the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts home, where he faces his greatest leadership challenge yet: raising his young children, Alexander & Miranda. Alain completed the New Warrior Training Adventure in 1995.

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