Sunday, November 7, 2010

Therapy or Coaching?

On several occasions, both here and on my website, I have tried to define the difference between therapy and coaching.

Most important, I would say, is that therapy sees the world as a stage; coaching sees it as an arena. The therapist teaches people to act out whatever roles they choose; a coach teaches them to compete at their best. The therapist wants their lives to fulfill a creative vision; the coach wants them to win.

Today, Barry Rubin wrote an excellent article about his experience coaching a soccer team made up of 11 year old boys. Link here.

Rubin’s son and his teammates had unfortunately been coached by someone who thought that it was all about making the experience “therapeutic.” 

This coach allowed every child to play the position he wanted, for as long as he wanted, regardless of whether or not he knew how to play it.

Children would not compete for starting positions.Thus, no one would feel bad for being beaten out for striker. Since no one child was intrinsically better than any other, anyone who wanted to play goalie would do so. 

Winning didn‘t matter, because self-esteem came merely from acting out a fantasy.

You can imagine the results. The team kept losing; to the point where the children thought of themselves as a bunch of losers.

Then one day the coach missed a game and Rubin was chosen to take over the coaching duties. For a single game.

He knew very little about soccer. He did not know how to coach. He had not studied or really played the game.

So he applied the principles he would have applied in any competitive arena. He decided that he would do whatever it took to help the boys to win the game. He chose the best players for each position and played them as much as possible.

Did anyone’s self-esteem get bruised? Not at all. The team won, and the thrill of victory was shared by all members of the team, regardless of whether they had been allowed to act out their fantasies on the playing field.

Here is the moral of the story, in Rubin’s words: “... am I right in thinking that sports should prepare children for life, competition, the desire to win, and an understanding that not every individual has the same level of skills? A central element in that world is rewarding those who do better, which also offers an incentive for them and others to strive, rather than thinking they merely need choose between becoming a government bureaucrat or dependent.”

But was it all therapeutic? Rubin described the scene: “But after the victory, they were glowing and appreciative, amazed that they had actually won a game. Yes, winning and being allowed to give their best effort as a team was far more exciting and rewarding for them than being told they had done wonderfully by just showing up, that everyone should be treated equal as if there were no difference in talents, and that the results didn’t matter.”

Fair competition matters. Merit matters. Winning matters. To the victors go the pride, and when you share the pride of being part of a winning team, or an exceptional nation, or an accomplished family… your mood will improve too.

In many ways the most encouraging thing is how easy it was to lead children back on to the right path. And also, since Rubin was only going to coach for one game, how easy it was to lead them back to self-defeatism.

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