LISTEN TO THE COACH
When I was 14 years old, I began playing football (soccer) competitively in school, and was named captain of the Calabar High School Colts team. (That’s me in the back on the left, beside the coach, showing way too many teeth!) We represented our school at the junior level. To be honest, I can’t recall if I had been actively seeking that position or not. I DO know that the decision to appoint ME was made by Mr. Anderson, our coach. As an eager and committed student of the game, I tried to follow the instructions the coach gave. We didn’t have an outstanding season, but I was continually improving as a player.
The following year, I tried out for the senior team, where Mr. Alty McKoy was the coach. He was experienced. He had played for one of the top clubs in Jamaica, and even played for the national team. I listened to and applied everything he taught us as best I could, even though I sat on the bench for all the games that year. It was a season of learning for me, and 12 months later, when I was 16, I became a starting player. That year, despite being on average one of the youngest teams in the country, we kept listening to Coach McKoy, and finished our season as the second-best team in the nation, after losing the National Championship Final game in front of 22,000 screaming fans. I continued to listen to the coach, and I continued to improve. Two years later, in my final year in high school, I was named captain. We had a good season, and lost the final game of my high school playing career in a Regional Cup final.
Coach McKoy led the football program at Calabar High School for over 7 years, and he was the ONLY coach to lead each of his teams into a top-4 spot for 7 CONSECUTIVE YEARS. Those teams all had success because they listened to the coach. My last game was in 1979, 40 years ago, and Coach McKoy and I STILL talk on the phone every few weeks. He has told me on several occasions that if he were to ever coach again, he would only do so if he could have ME as an assistant. Because I listened to my coach, I had grown tremendously as a player, and as a leader.
The practice of listening to the coach is one that I have applied in other ways as well. When I competed in the 1994 Toastmasters International Speech Contest, I didn’t have a coach. As an inexperienced speaker, I didn’t even know that I needed one, and in retrospect, I’m neither surprised nor ashamed that I didn’t finish in the top three. There is an old adage that says, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” That August day in 1994, he did.
David Brooks, 1990 World Champion of Public Speaking approached me, complimented me, and offered to help me. A World Champion wanted to help ME? That was an easy decision, and once again, I listened to my coach. With his guidance and direction, and a lot of hard work, I was blessed to be named the 1995 World Champion of Public Speaking. That’s what can happen when you listen to your coach.
This truth was driven home to me recently when I watched a 12-year-old video of Jamaican sprinter Asafa Powell as he set a new world record of 9.74 for the 100m dash. After the race, a reporter approached him and said, “Asafa! Asafa! This is your answer to the World Championships?” His response reverberated in my brain. “THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU START LISTENING TO THE COACH.” (See the video HERE) Powell had just BROKEN THE WORLD RECORD! He could have talked about how good he felt. He could have talked about his confidence that he would do well. He could have talked about the long hours of training that he endured in pursuit of his goal. He could have talked about the challenge of facing tough competition. He could have talked about ANYTHING. But he chose to talk about LISTENING TO THE COACH!
What does this have to do with you? Perhaps you you’re an entrepreneur wanting to expand your business. Or you might need to deliver better presentations. Maybe you want to be more influential in the boardroom, the conference room, and on the platform. Or perhaps you’ve been promoted to a position of leadership and are learning as you go (aren’t we all?) Maybe you are a medical professional in private practice and want to run your office more efficiently. If so, getting a coach would be a solid idea. Even if I didn’t specify your industry, profession or enterprise, you likely have access to someone who has the knowledge, wisdom, and experience to help you to improve your performance. Look around you. There is an abundance of life coaches, business coaches, practice coaches speaking coaches (like me), and others. Find one. Pick one. Coaching helped me to grow as a football player and leader. Coaching also helped me to be successful in the International Speech Contest, and to eventually be transformed from a computer analyst into a successful professional speaker and executive speaking coach.
Whatever you choose to pursue, having an experienced, knowledgeable and competent expert guiding you can make a difference. Getting a coach is the easy part. To be truly successful, you have to find the right one, listen to them, and learn from them. Over time, you will gain a level of proficiency that can eventually put YOU in the coaching seat. When that happens…and chances are it will…coach someone else, just as you have been coached. It can be so gratifying and humbling at the same time. Trust me…I know. Over the years I have had the honor of coaching others to achieve what I did so many years ago. In 2001, I coached an eager speech contestant from Auburn, MA as he competed in the International Speech Contest, and Darren LaCroix won the World Championship of Public Speaking that year. In 2008, I was happy to help LaShunda Rundles, the first African-American woman to win the World Championship of Public Speaking.
(After the 2008 World Championship of Public Speaking with my coach David ‘Master Mentor’ Brooks 1990, and my coachees LaShunda Rundles 2008 and Darren Lacroix 2001)
Since then, I have coached several semi-finalists and finalists, two of whom finished as First Runner-Up in their World Championship contests. Please understand that I don’t say this to brag; I want to emphasize the importance of not only working with a coach, but BECOMING one…even to just one person.
You may not win the World Championship of Public Speaking, and you probably won’t break the 9.58 second 100m world record. However, you have an opportunity to learn, change, and to grow. You can excel in your chosen profession and achieve more as you draw from the well of a coach’s wisdom. You may have a significant story to tell and you don’t even realize it. The world needs to hear it! Align yourself with someone who can help you; don’t pass up a glorious opportunity; make a decision to excel personally and professionally, LISTEN TO THE COACH, and TELL YOUR STORY!
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Make a list of interesting or famous people you have met. What intrigued you? How are your lives similar or different? What was surprising or unexpected? Your encounter with a celebrity, a politician or monarch, or even a particularly engaging child may be the seed of your signature story!
STORY Q & A
Q. One of my friends had a really cool thing happen to them and their story would fit PERFECTLY into my speech. Can I just use MYSELF instead of them? Nobody will know.
A. The question isn’t if you CAN, but if you SHOULD. You can do whatever you like, but if someone who knows the story hears you claiming it as your own, you can lose your credibility faster than it takes for Google to return a search result! If you use someone else’s story, let your audience know. Better yet, Keep a story file and you might find that you have an experience that, when told properly, would work just as well.
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