What does COACHABLE mean anyway...?


Imagine a volleyball court. It is the grade 8 high school tryout. There are 50 anxious kids who want to be a part of their first high school team. The athletes are nervous - the coaches have clipboards, shouting out instructions while assessing their prospects. 

Sometimes I wonder how decisions are made in a chaotic environment like this. To my untrained eye, the athletes often all look the same. One or two sometimes stand out as exceptionally talented or exceptionally inexperienced. Otherwise, there seem to be a lot of players in that bubble zone. Coaches use terms like athleticism, team-player and coachabilitywhen explaining their assessment process.

Only very recently did I understand that ‘coachability’ is not about an athlete’s ability to listen. It is about more than that. It is actually a life skill that applies to all teams – athletic and workplace. It is the art of giving and receiving feedback. To produce optimal results, it is a skill set that is important for both parties in the relationship to have.

I spoke with Coach Larry Hurst who has 39 years of coaching experience with a focus on youth hockey, softball and basketball, to understand what he is looking for when assessing athletes at try-outs and how he defines coachability.

Coach Hurst is an elementary school principal with a gentle, reassuring nature. He is also a coach who likes to work with high level athletes to support them to reach their goals. He starts out by explaining that there is a difference between what he calls the appearance of coachability and real coachability. “Sometimes you see athletes nod their heads, make eye contact and use soft skills” in receiving feedback. What he is looking for is the athlete’s ability to demonstrate that they are able to incorporate newly taught skills during a scrimmage or a game. This takes some risk on the part of an athlete but is an important ability that needs to be demonstrated during a try-out. As a coach, he is thinking of that player at the end of the season and do they have what it takes to receive and apply the feedback to improve their play as the team grows. When I asked about specific methods, he explained that he uses several techniques to give the athlete opportunities to incorporate the knowledge such as repetition, specific goals for how many times the coach wants to see the skill used and asking the athlete to exaggerate the skill when performing it so that they are sure of the technique. 

In sports, feedback from a coach has to be received and incorporated in a way that makes sense to the athlete. Effectively giving the feedback is as important as receiving it (being coachable). 

 A few simple tips for giving effective feedback are:

·     Be specific & descriptive 

·     Allow time for change. Explaining a concept that may be complicated can take time and repetition to process. Give the athlete a few chances to incorporate your feedback. Acknowledge small steps along the way.

·     Be open to discussion. The athlete may need further discussion to understand the feedback. Make them aware of your availability to discuss. Create space for this to happen by checking in on understanding.

There is also an art to receiving feedback that can help make the athlete more coachable

·     Ask for specific information

·     Keep an open and curious mind

·     Separate your feelings from the content

·     Paraphrase what you hear to ensure you have it right. Write it down later and review it.

·     Express gratitude

The feedback loop is an integral part of personal growth for everyone both personally and especially professionally. We need to be able to give and receive feedback not only from our boss or our coach but from our peers as well. 

I was pleasantly surprised this week when in my interview with youth athletes Leah and Hannah, they brought up giving their teammates feedback as one of the top 4 skills that they think are important to showcase during a team tryout. I agree. This is a skill that is crucial for team growth. Done well, a team can flourish. Done poorly, conflict can arise.

Nadia KybaComment