By Bo Hanson – 4x Olympian, Coaching Consultant & Director of Athlete Assessments

The movie The Blind Side has been enjoyed by massive audiences around the world and deservingly so with its inspirational portrait of football star Michael Oher (played by Quinton Aaron) and the Oscar winning performance of Sandra Bullock, playing his adoptive mother Leigh Anne Tuohy.  If you haven’t yet seen this movie, see it as soon as you can.  It is an outstanding movie all round and especially for sports coaches, it is an important reminder to watch their own blind side too. Often for coaches their blind side is missing the understanding of their individual athletes.

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The challenge of understanding players isn’t an isolated example with Michael Oher’s coach, it is often the norm and research shows that this is the top challenge for coaches. Find out some coaching lessons you can take from The Blind Side.

The most significant scene in the movie

The movie is the true story of football star Michael Oher’s life and with the help of his adoptive family how he overcame great odds to graduate from college and play in the NFL. It is a story of inspiration, resiliency, determination, natural talent, and the impact that caring can make.

One of the most striking scenes in the movie is when Sandra Bullock’s character (Michael’s adoptive mother, Leigh Anne Tuohy) intervenes during football practice. Michael is being coached about his role on the team and his blocking technique. If you’ve seen the movie, I’m sure you’ll know the scene.  It is where Michael’s coach, with the very best of intentions, is yelling at him, stepping inside his personal space, being highly directive and very aggressive. The coach’s message is not getting through and only causing confusion in Michael.  Without being disrespectful to the coach, it appears his only strategy to deal with Michael not understanding him, is to say the exact same thing again, only louder.

Leigh Anne Tuohy (played by Sandra Bullock) intervenes. She understands football, she knows what Michael’s role is on the team and most importantly, she knows Michael. She walks past the coach to Michael on the field. She explains to him how his role on the team is to protect the quarterback in the same way he protects his family. She creates the link that Michael’s family on the field is his team. Essentially, she puts the message in a language and context Michael can understand. It’s the turning point in the movie and the final exchange in this scene is between the coach and Leigh Anne Tuohy, when she says, “Coach, you need to get to know your players.”

Am Football practice

Coaches’ challenges and what makes a phenomenal Coach

The challenge of understanding players isn’t an isolated example with Michael’s coach, it is often the norm. Athlete Assessments conducted a survey of elite sports coaches back in 2008 and it showed that the top three challenges faced by coaches were:

1. 50% – “Understanding individual athlete’s personality and how to best motivate them”
2. 46% – “Personal life balance – managing sport, career, home and social etc”
3. 31% – “Team/squad dynamics and managing relationships within the team/squad”

The survey also asked coaches what they believed were the top three characteristics of a phenomenal coach, and the responses were:

1. 61% – “Focusing on the athlete as a ‘whole person’ (to develop in and outside the sport)”
2. 55% – “Strong communication skills and ability to teach’”
3. 53% – “Persistence in looking for new ways, techniques and tools to improve performance”

I believe the movie is an important reminder of what makes top coaches and what their biggest challenges are.  In the work that we do, we help coaches and athletes to understand each other so they can communicate more effectively.  This understanding enables coaches to put their athletes into a role which suits them best. The movie also highlights how the coach does not recognised how his particular coaching style is not creating the results he wants.  When coaches lack this self-awareness, it is difficult for them to make changes to the way they pitch their message to suit the unique individuals on their team.  Often the message is not received the way it was intended and results suffer. 

In a perfect world (although a little unrealistic), an athlete would be able to say to a their coach, “Excuse me Coach, I do not understand what you are asking.  Could you rephrase it please and help me understand?”  Athletes who know themselves well, are also able to assist their coach to coach them more effectively as they can give the coach some knowledge of what works best for them.  In this mutual understanding, better relationships are formed. This higher level understanding is what creates a quality coach-athlete relationship.

The most significant contributor to athletic performance

This quality coach-athlete relationship does not happen instantly, instead it needs to develop over time.  As such creating an effective relationship with your coach or athletes, is about investing the time and resources.  It is in the same manner as you would invest time and resources into a quality weights or conditioning program.  The difference between the physical training and what I’m suggesting, is the physical training can be hard work with the associated pain and sweat.  Building a better relationship is about conversations and learning about each other.  When using the CoachDISC and AthleteDISC tools, you also have a framework for discussions on topics such as your best environment for optimum performance, your motivation for your sport and what your critical coaching strategies are.

The coach-athlete relationship is critical to sporting success and there is more and more research being done that shows that this should be a key focus area in sport.  For example in the 2009 study by the Canadian Olympic Committee they found the most significant contributor to a medal winning performance or a personal best performance at the Beijing Olympics, was a strong coach-athlete relationship.

Often I am asked to explain what Athlete Assessments is all about. Until I saw the movie The Blind Side, I would embark on quite an explanation. Now, thanks to that incredible movie, I can simply reference this scene. In a nutshell, this is how we assist coaches and athletes. We help coaches ‘get to know their athletes’ and inspire them to the highest possible performance level and without Sandra Bullock walking in on their practice!

Where to from here

For more information or if you have any questions, contact us to find out how we can help you.  If you want to know more about how the AthleteDISC profile helps you to understand your athletes and bring out their best sports performance, go to the pages specifically for athletes, for coaches and/or for performance consultants.

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