How to Become an “Anti-Coach”

Becoming a better coach by focusing on not being a bad one.

Most coaches focus on the wrong thing.

We read books, listen to lectures, and watch videos trying to answer the same question: “What do I need to do to be successful?”

This seems like a good thing to do. I’ve never met somebody who wanted to fail. I suspect you don’t either.

But success isn’t a problem that can be solved forwards. Instead, success is much more attainable if we approach it from the other direction.

Invert. Always Invert.

Much of success is dictated by luck and context.

Because of this, we can’t trust that what worked for the successful edge case will work for us. This tendency to only study those who have succeeded is called survivorship bias.

So what should we do? How can coaches like us study others and derive lessons that make us more likely to succeed?

The answer is counter-intuitive.

Instead of thinking about what will lead to success, we should focus on NOT doing things that will result in failure.

Billionaire investor Charlie Munger has long been a proponent of inversion, which he describes with the following sentence from a memo:

“It is remarkable how much long-term advantage people like us have gotten by trying to be consistently not stupid, instead of trying to be very intelligent.”

But it’s not just investors who can benefit from inversion. Coaches can too.

Bill Belichick is known for applying inversion to game-planning.

Instead of asking, “What will it take to win this game?”, he asks, “What can we do to avoid losing?”. And according to Michael Lombardi, Belichick always takes the latter approach.

Inversion can be applied in many different areas of our life.

But to end this short article, I want to think about the craft of coaching itself.

Specifically, I want to help you apply inversion to become a better coach, have a better career, and leave a lasting legacy.

Becoming an “Anti-Coach”

An “Anti-Coach” is my term for a coach who applies inversion to his or her coaching philosophy.

An Anti-Coach will ask questions like:

  • What behaviors would undermine the trust I have with players?
  • What will cause me to “lose the locker room”?
  • What things can we eliminate from our practices to make them more effective?
  • What traits did my least favorite coaches growing up have in common? How can I avoid those?
  • What behaviors would lead to me burning out five years from now? What systems and rules can I build into my life now to avoid those?
  • When I retire from coaching, what types of things will I be ashamed of?

Notice that all of these questions lead to a minimalist approach to coaching. Instead of adding more complexity, you cut away the noise and focus on the signal within.

Is this counter-intuitive? 

Absolutely.

But does it work?

I’ll let you be the judge.

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