Effective Coaching In The “Sport” Of Business

Steve Schloss
4 min readMar 21, 2024
Photo by cottonbro studio

“Things turn out the best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out” John Wooden

This is a wonderful sports time of the year. March Madness(es), Opening Day for baseball, NBA and NHL seasons headed to playoffs, the coming NFL draft, and of personal interest, the start of golf’s major championship season at the Masters.

Of the many individual and participatory team sports, golf stands apart for me (as a lifelong golfer, I’m biased). A uniquely mental game, each recreational or competitive round is filled with choices, decisions, actions, and implications — all met with immediate and measurable feedback. It should come as no surprise that golf coaching expertise to improve mental focus, physical performance, and swing technique is a growing business as the sport experiences continued growth.

The broader topic of coaching came up recently after a quick nine-hole round with friends. When together, I serve as a “coach” among my friends who may ask for career advice or situational leadership feedback. We also find ourselves coaching each other as golfers, while playing a round or as we re-visit our performance as individuals or teams following the course of play.

Regardless of the playing field, the art and science of coaching in sport and business continues to evolve with the advent of AI, bots, and real-time data combined with observation and practice.

So, what can executive and team coaches in business learn from coaches in sport?

They set clear goals and evaluate performance.

The role of a coach in both a business and sport context are to help an individual or team identify specific and measurable goals and develop strategies to attain them. Sport coaches and elite athletes set stretch goals and push the boundaries. In business, stretch coaching goals can be intimidating but are necessary actions for growth.

They effectively convey instructions, recommend approaches, provide feedback, and inspire individuals to excel and challenge themselves.

Through open dialogue, active listening, and constructive criticism, coaches — often in the moment and sometimes after the fact — help others to overcome challenges. Sports coaches and athletes want and expect real-time feedback. Executive coaches encourage leaders to address problems, give feedback, teach them why, how, and when.

They help clarify roles and responsibilities to optimize team performance.

In sport, a team operates as a unit and each player has a defined role within the team structure, contributing his/her unique skills to help realize collective success. Similarly, in business, team members must understand their respective roles, have the necessary resources and support to fulfill their responsibilities, and be held accountable for their performance. It is critical for athletes to know their roles coming out of a timeout, a play must be executed perfectly within seconds to win a game. Team coaches often help teams by taking a “tactical pause” to ensure directional clarity, role clarity, and resource clarity, and make adjustments based on changing context or conditions.

They employ motivational techniques to ignite action or accountability.

Beyond pillars of inspirational sport coaching like Coach K, Herb Brooks, Pat Summit, or Vince Lombardi, is the running coach at a quiet early morning track who inspires a track athlete to push harder in preparation for the final stretch of an upcoming race. An executive coach might motivate a leader or team to think differently, and provide the “push” they need at a critical project or decision point.

They coach in context.

In both worlds, adversity is inevitable, and the ability to navigate setbacks is crucial to long-term success. Coaches help leaders and athletes develop a foundation of resilience, reframe setbacks as learning opportunities, and cultivate a growth and adaptive mindset. They may introduce healthy coping strategies for stress — learning to be present, visualize and build confidence. Just as a tennis coach sits in a viewing box near their star player on court, offering feedback to bounce back from a missed shot or a bad point, an executive coach may help a leader learn from a failed project and apply those lessons to future endeavors. In both cases, athletes and leaders must learn to be able to “move on to the next play”.

Finally, executive coaching and sport coaching are rooted in the ethos of continuous learning, improvement, and feedback.

In every sport, there is film, data, and statistics to capture outcomes and identify areas for improvement. Executive coaches have their own array of assessment tools and feedback mechanisms to support client growth.

So, as my friends and I talked about golf coaching and performance improvement, I wondered what types of questions a coach in business might ask their client to help visualize new approaches and pathways, using the lens of sport as a catalyst?

I’ll share those questions in a follow-up post.

Thanks for reading.

What else can executive coaches learn from coaching in sport?

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Steve Schloss

Coach and advisor to CEOs, executive leaders and teams. Sharing thoughts, observations, and ideas around leadership and culture. Trying to break 80 more often.