RJ Grimshaw – Oswego, NY


By RJ Grimshaw

I’ve been blessed to have the game of hockey in my life for 44 years, either playing, coaching, billet dad or watching. I take a different approach when spectating this wonderful game as I enjoy watching the coaches on both teams and how they interact with the players. Overtime I have witnessed coaches that are in the role for the correct reasons, as well some that are not.

In today’s world, I don’t see many coaches or leaders that are proficient in the art of coaching.  Many seem to be able to handle the factual side of things or the science of it, but they struggle with how to teach, motivate and handle people.  I have a saying when coaching coaches and executives, “People are messy.”

If you don’t like rolling up your sleeves and working with personalities, you will not be an elite coach or leader in today’s world.  Before I give you some tips on mastering the art of coaching, we must revisit the key to elite coaching today…you must love developing people and seeing them grow. You must be a relationship-driven leader, if you are not, you will not find yourself in a position of leadership in the 21st century.

It is imperative that today’s coach/leader know the basic science behind every skill being taught both mentally and physiologically (i.e. psychology, basic understanding of neuroscience, motor skill development etc.), along with the art or ability to transfer the information (science) needed to the athlete or employee seamlessly so they can perform at a high level.

In other words, elite coaches understand what the pupil needs to do and they possess the teaching/coaching skills to reach the individual so they are motivated to learn and perhaps master the activity.  Great leaders and coaches can develop proper habits that hold up under pressure.  Are you an elite leader or coach based upon this criteria?  Here are some tips to help us master the art of coaching.


Tips for Mastering the Art of Coaching in the 21st Century

  1.  Be a Relationship Driven Teacher Who is a Master Communicator…Asks and Listens

Today’s athlete or employee wants someone who they can trust, is committed to excellence and cares about them personally.  Artful coaches ask questions first like, “What do you want to accomplish today?” or “How can I help you get you where you want to be?” and then they listen.

  1.  Develop Trust through Consistency and by Following Through

The #1 killer of coaching is a lack of trust in the leader.  Consistency breeds trust as does following through on promises or commitments the coach makes.  Consistent teaching and feedback is paramount in the art of coaching, you can’t be a ‘manic’ leader.

  1.  Demonstration or Modeling is Critical to Timely Success

Today’s coach or leader must be able to demonstrate correctly what is being asked of the athlete or employee at a very basic level.  You don’t need to perform all of it or do it at a world-class level, but you must be able to slowly demonstrate what you are wanting them to do.  Remember, world-class leaders and coaches, model the behavior they want to instill in others.

  1.  Create a Teaching Environment that Enables Success but also Makes them Fail

Many master instructors believe the optimal learning and transference environment is a 70-80% success rate with a 10-15% failure rate to insure you are making the learner stretch themselves. Being too successful in training means you are not taking enough risk to make larger improvements. Also, remember failing at something gives them a reason to try a new technique or process.

  1.  Know When to Break the Speed Limit and Control Barriers

The Navy SEALs say slow is smooth and smooth is fast, what they don’t tell you is they do speed things up in their training and train to the truth or the actual speed they will perform at in combat. Too many coaches are obsessed with perfection and never let their people experience what too fast is, so they can discover what optimal speed is necessary.  Slow is good but so is fast.

  1.  Say More by Speaking Less…Be Observant, NOT Overbearing

The coach who talks the most during practice and competition usually has the worst prepared athlete. Great teachers ask questions and give specific feedback and limit their words.  This technique forces the learner to develop creativity and the ability to have felt and self-correct over time.  We challenge coaches to find the one-thing that helps solve 80% of the athlete’s issues and say it in 140 characters or less!

  1.  Have a Customized Blue-Print for Success

Daily plans and season-long plans are imperative to world-class coaching and development.  John Wooden prepared three hours for an hour and a half practice to insure success and development.  As a hockey coach all our meetings and practices were detailed down to the minute to insure proper execution of fundamentals and to have synergy and alignment in regards to the outcomes we wanted long term.



This season stay focused on both the science and especially the art of handling any difficult situations in great detail before, during and after it occurs. It probably won’t be perfect, but we must remember, we aren’t going to be perfect or become a Master Coach in one day or in a month. Master leaders are built slowly, layer by layer, year by year just like our players we coach.  Mastering the art of coaching is not easy but it is a separator and creates difference makers.  And one last thing…mastering the art of coaching and leading is no different than parenting.  Some of the most artful leaders I know are excellent parents.  Mastering the art of coaching (like parenting), is a life-long endeavor but well worth it!

Make it a great season!

Feel free to contact me at rj@rjgrimshaw.com.

RJ Grimshaw is the CEO, President for UniFi Equipment Finance. He has over twenty years of leadership, coaching as well hockey coaching in upstate NY. RJ and his family now reside in Ann Arbor, Mi. You can follow RJ on Twitter @rjgcoach.

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