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Coaching and the Olympics

Coaching Distinctions and Similarities from the Olympics

So the Olympics are over! What are we going to do now? PVRs and DVRs all over the country are finally cooling down! But what a blast! Here’s to us Canada, eh?

As we watched the Olympics it was easy to notice the presence of coaches everywhere. In curling, the coaches came onto the ice during time outs and helped the rinks with decisions. In speed skating coaches were evident along the sidelines offering encouragement as well as lap times as their athletes sped by. And there were various other examples of coaching playing a role in the Olympics.

It’s interesting to note that even world class athletes and champions use coaches. After every ice skating session there were the coaches sitting shoulder to shoulder with the skaters waiting for their marks; the coaches often giving an encouraging or sympathetic pat on the knee.

Most coaching in the athletic world is about skill levels, technique and presentation; a distinction from life coaching. However, world class athletes also employ psychologists to assist with the mental part of their game. You can see this aspect in downhill skiing where athletes have been taught to visualize the next ski run.

So what does this have to do with life or business coaching? Well, as we watched the Olympics, we were struck with both the similarities and distinctions between coaching in the athletic arenas and coaching in the life and work realms. Some examples…

Curling…as an example

The coaches entered the conversations about shots and strategy, not to convince or advise but to offer different perspectives and possibilities. The curlers ultimately made their own choices. We were struck by the similarity to life, business and executive coaching where the agenda and final decision rests with the person or group being coached.

Downhill skiing…as an example

The art of visualization has long been a staple of life, business and executive coaching. Life coaches constantly urge clients to look down the road, see a desired outcome and a path or steps to achievement of their goals. Sounds a bit like the athletic community borrowed a tried and true technique doesn’t it?

But what happens when the coach turns into advisor, consultant or expert? A distinction…

Speed Skating…a perfect example

Remember when the world champion speed skater from the Netherlands was far and away leading the 5000 km long distance event and literally had the gold medal in his hand? The race had a number of lane changes to be negotiated for each racer to ensure the overall distance covered was equal. On the last lane change the skater from the Netherlands…a world champion and experienced veteran made an  improper lane change and was disqualified; a devastating result. Reports suggest that the coach, a trusted and experienced advisor signaled the ill advised lane change.

When coach becomes advisor we always run the risk of denying the athlete/manager/employee/person the right to choose their own path.

A good reminder from of all places, the Olympics!

One could also argue that life/business/executive coaches are also very much in the skills development game – just like athletic coaches with some important distinctions.  We simply partner with clients to create awareness and rediscover or uncover skills and abilities already present.  Athletic coaches are often chosen because of their expertise in a certain area and they must constantly critique to look for improvement.

Some examples…


The art of pausing to reflect upon what learning occurred in any human interaction is almost a mantra of life/business/executive coaching…just like athletic coaching.

Strengths versus Weaknesses

A strength based approach will always result in better performance sooner. The concept has been proven time and again from Adler to Galwey and remains a principle of most coaching disciplines. Just look at the Olympic athletes that did not look for what went wrong but concentrated on doing it right the next time. Medals ensued!


Seems kind of a mundane piece for this blog but consider this. Life/business/executive coaches constantly assist clients in developing the how of what they want to achieve. Putting a self developed plan of action in place that reflects the goals set out by the clients themselves and is based on their own particular learning or operational styles – complete with how the client decides to keep themselves accountable. Sounds a lot like a training plan for an Olympic class athlete, doesn’t it? As one coach put it, the bigger the why, the easier the how. So for a coach, here’s the thing…getting clear on the why (WIIFM) makes the how really simple!

We welcome your observations, comments and ideas.

And for next time…how does our coaching reflect the International Coach Federation (ICF) Core Competencies for coaching?

  • Setting the Foundation
  • Co-Creating the Relationship
  • Communicating Effectively
  • Facilitating Learning and Results
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