Outside of my Monday to Friday life of coaching corporate teams, I also coach sporting teams as a passion and hobby.

I have been fortunate enough to coach at a range of levels from senior men, junior girls, junior boys and assistant coaching at the elite level.  Every chance I get, I participate in formal training on coaching and read as many books as I can to educate myself on the craft of coaching.

In 2015 I was fortunate enough to run a leadership program at the elite level and in that very year we won the premiership.  See SANFL: How West Adelaide rose out of the abyss | The Advertiser (adelaidenow.com.au)

When I joined the elite level I found there was a lot of discussion around accountability and standards. There is a lot of pressure to perform and high expectations on players.  There was however, a very limited focus on care, nurturing and joy.  We shifted the balance on this and observed many benefits that translated into the ultimate success.

When I moved on from the elite level, I then went back to amateur sport and coached young men.  The biggest battle I faced was a strong masculine culture in sport which focused on being tough, obedient and stoic.  There was a strong philosophy that even young 15-year-old boys needed to be “tough men” and that coming off with an injury was soft or weak.  This was not only the expectation set by the fathers but also the mothers.

A number of years ago I attended a seminar run by Steven Biddulph who is an Australian author famous for books such as “raising boys” and “raising girls”.  One of the things Steven presented at the seminar was an axis in parenting around the balance between being nurturing or supportive, and setting high expectations or being accountable.

He said that if you are out of balance and only nurture without the accountability, kids grow up with out any boundaries and boundaries are important for children to create a sense of psychological safety.  On the opposite spectrum, if kids grow up with lots of boundaries and no freedom they don’t feel joy or ability to play, and therefore won’t develop a growth mindset and passion for life and learning.

Basically, what Steven said is you need balance.

For me, my sporting passion is Australian Football.  Many of our New Zealand clients love Rugby Union and others across Australasia may love cricket, soccer, basketball, netball or other sports.  What is interesting around Australian Football, it appears to be that the teams of recent years who have had the greatest success (Richmond, Collingwood, Geelong ect) all seemed to have very nurturing coaches and the team very much focused on creating an environment of enjoyment and joy.

In these teams, there appears to be clear expectations around accountability, but there also seems to be a strong focus on joy.  Joy of love, learning, life and achievement.  In fact a great quote from Damien Hardwick the coach of Richmond is “at the end of the day, you can live your life in fear or you can choose to live.  We choose to live.”   This is interesting as my understanding was that in the first five years of coaching Damien very much focused on accountability (as he was one of the toughest players to play the game) but with the support of his president (who is one of the few female presidents in the AFL) and his CEO, he shifted towards more of a nurturing style and won the premiership that very year.

This was re-enforced to me when I did one of my coaching accreditations in the Human Synergistics Organisational Culture Inventory (OCI). Shaun McCarthy who is the Chairman of Human Synergistics in Australia and New Zealand, as well as being seen as one of the leaders in our industry said to me that the most effective culture style on the circumplex was the humanistic encouraging as it created the environment that got the best out of others.  It is the style which promotes a growth mindset and encourages joy, passion and authenticity in what we do.

I recently wrote a blog on this titled The Misunderstandings in Building High Performance Teams.  This blog tries to explain that to be elite in your approach you can’t follow the mainstream ideology that focuses on perfectionism, which in its essence is an out of balance approach to accountability (or task).  It explains that to deliver high performance you need a balance between a nurturing environment that promotes teamwork, joy, learning, authenticity and an accountability environment that promotes standards, expectations, goals and outcomes.

If an environment is out of balance in the nurturing style then it promotes passivity where people spend too much time trying to get along and keep everyone happy rather than deliver outcomes.  If they are out of balance in the accountability style, people become perfectionistic focusing on task and achievement over the connection, enjoying the journey and belonging.

As I continue to work with sporting teams and corporate teams, I find many organisations fail to get this balance right.  They often confuse when to be nurturing and when to be accountable, sometimes almost getting them flipside.

The simplistic way to approach it is hold people accountable for the inputs and basic fundamentals that make your team a success.  The non negotiables.

In sport this may be working on your fitness, being deliberate in your approach to training, looking after your body, team defence, off ball positioning as well as off field areas such as leadership stability in the board, calm approach to coaching and a financially stable administration.   In corporate life this may be the fundamentals around safety, cost control, design process or construction methodology as well as good governance. This is often referred to as the concept of Chop Wood Carry Water by Joshua Medcalf.

When these expectations are met, you can be supportive on the things that bring out people’s human spirit and encourage creativity, joy and fun.

This may be making training or work more playful (bring out our inner child), it brings a calm approach to failure, being grateful and looking for the good in the grind (love training more than the game), focusing on what people can control (having realistic expectations), showing empathy for people of different cultural backgrounds, celebrating each individuals personality (show love), being supportive of people’s mental health, providing unconditional support and gleaming with energy at the opportunity to be involved.

The All Blacks are probably the best example of a sporting team who gets this balance right.  As they say “Be a Good Ancestor. Plant trees you’ll never see”.