Who Needs a Coach Anyway?

There’s an old Japanese proverb: ‘If you sit by the river long enough you will see the body of your enemy float past.’

Or to make it a little more topical, ‘If you’re the fourth-best tennis player in the world and you keep entering grand slams, sooner or later you’ll win one of them.’

Yep, two cheers for Andy Murray. What was it – attempt no. 28? Cynics would point out that if the Derby was run 28 times the fourth best horse would win at least once. If the FA Cup was played 28 times the fourth best team would do likewise. So no big deal, and the cheering crowds in Scotland should find something better to do.

But hang on a minute. Andy Murray is still relatively young – he has at least five years left at the top. He’s worked hard, constantly improved and deserves his reward. And he’ll go on to plenty more grand slam victories.

After all, you only have to look at Andy Murray’s coach to see the logic in that. Ivan Lendl, like Murray, lost four grand slam finals before he won one – and went on to win seven more.

Obviously as a business coach I’m fascinated by the role Lendl played in Murray’s success. He became coach on December 31st, 2011: nine months later, Murray won the US Open. So has Lendl made a difference – or was it coming anyway?

In many ways it’s impossible to say. Virtually all the world’s top sports men and women have coaches. But it’s not just sports stars: Barack Obama takes advice on how to speak; Leanne Benjamin (look her up, you philistine) takes advice on how to dance.

How many people in the business world have coaches? Ten percent? I suspect the figure is closer to 1%. So are the majority right? Clearly I’m biased – but there are two areas where I think a coach can make a crucial difference.

Sometimes you need a coach to protect you from yourself. Does anyone remember this speech, from 20 years ago? There was an own goal if ever there was one. Maybe a coach could have taken him to one side and said, ‘Maybe a little less of the middle-aged rock star…’

And maybe that’s one of the key points about the Alternative Board. I said last week that the phrases I most heard around the various Board tables were ‘Why?’ and ‘Why not?’ But there’s another one – less heard but just as valuable. And that’s the simple word, ‘no.’

I’ve lost count of the number of times a Board member has taken me quietly to one side and said, “Blimey, that was a narrow escape, Ed. I was all set to go ahead with that new shop/advertising campaign/member of staff until X told me I was being stupid. I would have wasted a fortune…”

Back to Andy Murray – and let me make a prediction. Murray will go on to win at least three more grand slams. Will that all be down to Ivan Lendl? No: far from it. But if Ivan Lendl gave Murray the self-belief to make that first crucial breakthrough, then he’s more than played his part.

As it is in sport, so it is in business. Your success is down to your vision, your enterprise and your hard work. But yes, you need a bit of luck along the way and sometimes we all need a helping hand. And that’s where I think a coach – and the Alternative Board – can make their second contribution. If we can give you that final push and help you turn good to great, better to best and potential to reality, then hopefully we’ll have played our part as well.

As always, I’d be fascinated to hear your views on this subject. Who’s the best coach you’ve ever seen or worked with? And what’s the one quality you value above all others in a coach? Thanks as always for your input…



  1. Sarah Shafi · September 21, 2012

    Great sell Ed…need anymore coaches on t’board? ;-))

    • edreidyork · September 21, 2012

      Not the most subtle message this week, I agree. As for needing more, stranger things have happened…

  2. Dave Rawlings · September 21, 2012

    As a coach, I have to admit that I don’t take coaching very well. It isn’t that I have unshakeable opinions (or not many), it’s more the acute discomfort involved. A good coach asks you questions that take you to places you don’t want to go – which is why you can’t, or won’t, move forward on your own.

    • edreidyork · September 21, 2012

      Hi Dave – it’s a well made point that being the coachee is not always pain-free during the process. If the right results are attained though, it’s hopefully worth it?

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