Should Coaches and Teachers Have a PreFlight Checklist?

Pilots have checklists. Doctors and nurses have patient-care checklists. Not because they’re dummies but because they are smart enough to know that they’re in a performance business. They know that a good checklist is not a crutch — it’s a tool.

The real question is, if checklists are good for pilots and doctors, why not teachers and coaches? With that in mind, here’s what it might look like, based on the master coaches with whom I’ve spent time.

1) ARE YOU CONNECTED?

Before all else, establish the emotional connection. Show you are there, and that you care; take a moment to acknowledge your shared connection, to build togetherness and trust. Practice requires energy; this is where you turn the key and start the engine.

  • Do: Make a joke, get personal, tell a story, ask a question.
  • Don’t: Launch straight into activity.
  • Dashboard Gauge: Have you made good eye contact with everyone?

2) ARE TODAY’S GOALS ULTRA-CLEAR?

Practice is about reaching, and to do it well, everybody needs to know exactly what they’re reaching for. Not vague goals, like “working hard” and “getting better,” but concrete, tangible, measurable targets like “playing that song all the way through,” or “converting more headers off corner kicks” or “nailing the sales pitch in 20 seconds.” You cannot be too clear.

  • Do: Use models and mimickry to show the target.
  • Don’t: Set unreasonably high goals. Aim for something just beyond current ability.
  • Dashboard Gauge: Could a complete stranger walk up to practice, watch for a few minutes, and figure out the goal?

3) IS PRACTICE REACHFUL?

Have you planned a practice that places people on the edge of their ability, making and fixing mistakes? Is practice designed to maximize struggle for the maximum number of people? (In other words, no groups of kids standing in line, waiting around to kick a ball.)

  • Do: Celebrate struggle.
  • Don’t: Celebrate success (it speaks for itself).
  • Dashboard Gauge: Does your peoples’ success percentage in the 50-70 percent range — neither dispiritingly difficult nor too easy, but in the sweet spot on the edge of current ability?

What’s interesting in part about this checklist is what’s not there — inspiring speeches, pep talks, all the Hollywood stuff. This is not because they never occur, but because inspiring speeches are a terribly inefficient way to learn. Learning happens when you create a space where people work together, reach toward a goal; when you make the kind of human connection that keeps people coming back again and again, wanting to reach a little farther.

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