Leaders are Learners

Roland Thornqvist has been coaching for 24 years, including the last 19 years as the University of Florida’s head women’s tennis coach.  During his time at Florida, he’s led his team to 11 NCAA Final Four appearances and 4 national championships.  His overall coaching record is 512-121.  He clearly knows what he’s doing as a coach!

Even so, Coach Thornqvist continues to be hungry to learn and improve.  He says, “Knowledge is key and we should never stop learning.  Learning is how you become the best coach you can be…  As a coach, you really need to be a motivator, a problem solver, a parent, someone who can give tough love and make tough decisions but also really listen and care.  That’s another reason why you need to keep expanding your own skill set and learning about yourself and your athletes.”

Multiple times in Proverbs we’re told that in order to be wise we must be eager and intentional about continually learning.  We must humbly recognize that no matter how much we already know, we can always grow and improve.  Proverbs 23:12 gives us this directive: “Apply your heart to instruction and your ears to words of knowledge.”  Successful leaders and coaches are learners.

Are you engaging in the intentional learning needed to become not just the best coach you can be but also the person God created you to be?  Consider three questions regarding how you can apply your heart to instruction and your ears to words of knowledge:

1. Who are you spending time with so that you can learn from them?  Learners regularly spend time with people who can impart knowledge and insight, challenge them to improve, and encourage them along the journey.  This is true for coaching and for doing life as a follower of Christ.  Talk with coaches who either have more experience or who do things differently and can give you new ideas.  As you have the opportunity, actively participate in an FCA Coaches Huddle so that you can benefit from being around others who want to follow Christ in similar roles.  Find someone who can mentor you spiritually and in how you go about coaching.

2. What are you reading and listening to that helps you grow?  As those committed to living and coaching for Christ, our first priority is reading and studying the Bible.  There is no substitute for regular time in God’s Word out of our desire for God to teach us and shape every part of our life.  Build the habit of spending the same block of time each day in God’s Word, whether it’s the first thing in the morning or another opening during the day.  In addition, read books and listen to podcasts that are beneficial to your growth, whether as a coach or in other areas.  This requires intentionality.  Ask people you respect what books or podcasts they’d recommend.  Schedule time to read or listen. 

3. When are you reflecting on what you’re learning so you can discern how to apply it?  Because of the level of activity in life, we can study the Bible, talk with wise people, read good books, listen to excellent podcasts…and still miss out on the full potential benefit.  If there is no space in your life to reflect on what you’re learning and discern how to apply this knowledge, you won’t truly grow and improve.  Intentionality is required here as well.  After a helpful conversation or reading an insightful chapter, take a few minutes to jot some notes about what you learned and how you want to incorporate this.  Talk to God about how you sense he’s leading you to grow.  It can also be beneficial to talk with others about what you’re learning as a way to solidify these things in your mind and heart.

Coach, be someone who is always eager to learn.  Keep pursuing the knowledge and wisdom God desires to give you.  Continue to seek out the people and resources that can help you improve.  Successful leaders and coaches are learners.

For reflection:  Consider these possible next steps – commit to spending regular time reading the Bible (perhaps start with 10-15 minutes at the same time each day); determine who you will spend time with in order to learn from them; decide which book you’ll read or podcast you’ll listen to as a means of improving.  Talk with God about what you sense he’s leading you to do next.