More from Lou Holtz: How to coach positively

Sit with me for a few minutes in today’s Fable Friday as we watch a college football game. Lou Holtz, the legendary NFL and college football coach and subject of this week’s newsletter, is doing the color commentary.  I saw this game several years ago and it made quite an impression on me, as the learning point is consistent with our theme of the role of the coach, to teach positive behavior.

Late in the game one team was leading by four points, and all they had to do was run the clock out and not turn the ball over to the other team.  The play-by-play announcer, on seeing the coach of the leading team conferring with his quarterback said, “I imagine he’s telling him not to throw an interception here.”

At this, Holtz jumped all over him.  “That’s the absolute worst thing to tell him.  You never want a player out on the field with negative thoughts in his head. If he wants the kid to avoid throwing an interception, then what he should do is tell him exactly what to do with the ball, not distract him with thoughts about mistakes.”

So right after this coach-player conference, the game resumes, the quarterback throws an interception and the team loses the game.  And Holtz ranted about it some more when the losing coach told the TV interviewer that he had specifically told the quarterback to move the football down the field but not to throw an interception.

Think about this.  Does it make any sense to you that your sales team can learn anything if you spend your time telling them what not to do?

I was lost once while driving and stopped for directions.  Some guy tried to get me back on track.  Here’s what he said, “About a mile down you’ll see a gas station.  Don’t turn there.  Keep on going until you see a McDonalds on the corner.  Don’t turn there either; just keep on going straight.”  I had so much trouble trying to remember what I wasn’t supposed to do, that I could hardly remember the right directions.  That’s how the human mind works.

I once ran a workshop in which I taught a group of managers how to coach an outbound phone campaign.  They practiced fine in the workshop but once they began coaching the callers, all they did was find fault.  I called two of them aside and asked, “Do you remember what we discussed and practiced in the workshop?  How does that compare with what you’re doing now?” And it was like a light bulb went off.  They knew what they should have been doing, but once on the job they fell into their old habits of negativity.

If you’re a trainer or sales manager, consider how you give people feedback after some performance.  Is it, “You forgot to do this.  You didn’t mention that.  You left out the question about…”?  Or do you position it like this:  “Here’s what I want to see you do more of, as you do it so well.”  Then your team will focus on all the right things, and not worry about the consequences of doing the wrong ones.

On Tuesday we’ll discuss some additional tips on training and coaching.  Meanwhile, I’m off to Philadelphia.

Think Like Your Customer!

About Gregory LaMothe
I teach people how to sell things. I own the company ActionSystems. Visit my website at

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