A lot of what passes for coaching — in workplaces, in homes, even on kids’ sports teams — is really just a lot of exhortations and fervent repetitions of normative statements.

Here’s an example from a manager:

“What are you DOING?!? That’s not what you’re SUPPOSED to be DOING!”

For someone who is executing inaccurately, and already painfully aware that something is going wrong, is there anything at all in that intervention that could change performance in any way other than by ratcheting up the worker’s fear? And fear — although it may be accompanied by intensified focus — is more likely to create more errors or disruptions, not fewer. Not to mention its role as a relationship-killer.

Or what about this one, from a sports coach:

“HELP each other! You’re supposed to HELP EACH OTHER!!”

Who? How? When?

The kids on the team clearly did not know what “help each other” meant. The only perfectly clear message was that the coach was disappointed and dissatisfied. Some ignored him and continued to do what came naturally; others just seemed more anxious.

And how about my own silly story: As someone who applied for a driver’s license relatively late in life, it was this very brief interchange with my husband that convinced me I needed to pay a driving teacher:

Urgent him: “Turn the wheel! Turn the wheel!”

Plaintive me: “Which way?!?”

These examples all demonstrate the coaches’ expectations of the trainees’ prior knowledge and mind-reading ability — but no sense of detailed situational analysis, or actual teaching.

Coaching is neither innate nor instinctive. It takes clarity of thought, careful understanding of and empathy for the learner, and practice. But a lot of people in positions of authority, whether they are conscious of trying to be instructional or not, apply pressure instead of support and create fear of failure instead of hope for success.

It’s very easy to critique, and much harder to provide an actual corrective to imperfect performance. What examples of poor coaching have you observed, or experienced or, heaven forbid, subjected others to?