The Pole Vaulting Coach: Timing, Feedback, and Celebration

At CMOE, coaching is a big topic. Essentially, our team eats and breathes coaching. The Coaching Skills workshop is our flagship product, and our book, The Coach is one of our best sellers. The skills, tools, and concepts are engrained in our work culture and personal lives because of the benefits and results it offers.I had guessed that all of this exposure to effective coaching was what made me so surprised and disturbed when I saw an example of very ineffective coaching while watching the Olympic Games this summer, but now it seems I wasn’t the only one bothered by this particular example. When the American women’s pole vaulter, Jenn Stuczynski, won the silver medal, her coach, Rick Suhr, responded with criticism, indifference, and no support. If you haven’t seen the clip, click on this link: Stuczynski Hears Harsh Words From Coach. – (you’ll be forced to watch a short ad).

Coaching others for pole vaulting performanceTiming
Although I would promote the use of coaching all of the time, when a team member or employee is facing obstacles, disappointment, or lack of motivation, coaching is especially important. For this Olympic athlete, coaching is strongly needed and it is not the time to point out faults and criticize, as you see in the clip. In such opportunities, the coach should highlight successes, encourage, motivate, and show support. While feedback is necessary when coaching for high performance, feedback must be presented in an effective way.

Feedback
In the video clip from the Olympic Games, you will hear Mr. Surh point out observations. Feedback can be a tricky feat in itself, much less when given under pressures that exist for a coach and team member who are competing in the Olympic Games. Without much thought or care, feedback can result in misunderstandings, discord, and insecurity. Without strong, clear feedback, people are unable to know fully what is expected of them, what they are doing well, or what they can do to improve. Strong, clear feedback, will help others develop, encourage responsibility, loyalty, and trust.

Celebrate
There are definite moments when coaching is needed, appropriate opportunities for feedback, and then there are times to celebrate successes. Without doubt, this was one of the times for celebration and Rick Suhr really missed the boat on doing so with Jenn Stucznski. Sure, both the athlete and her coach may have felt disappointed they didn’t reach their ultimate goal of a Gold Medal. However, coaches must take the time to celebrate their hard work, determination, the journey, and any successes. Jenn Stuczynski definitely had reason to celebrate. Despite this being her fourth year of pole vaulting and her first time competing in the Olympic Games, she won a silver medal. Without celebrations, both coaches and team members begin to lose motivation and purpose, negatively affecting their performance.

I sometimes wonder what might have happened if Mr. Suhr used more effective coaching skills that day by holding his feedback for a more appropriate time and celebrating the success he and Stuczynski were experiencing. Would Jenn Stuczynski have felt even more motivated to reach her goal? Would she have come away from coaching sessions with valuable feedback and ready to improve and progress? What might have resulted if Rick Suhr had encouraged her and celebrated more after each Olympic trial. Maybe she would have won the Gold Medal, and maybe not.

While Rick Suhr’s coaching record shows he is doing something right with his athletes, I imagine that if he had better interpersonal coaching skills he would see even greater success and improved performance with the athletes. It is also likely that there wouldn’t be a video clip of him at the Olympic Games circling the internet!

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About the Author

Cherissa Newton