When You Want To Celebrate Your Win, But Your Coach Says, “Look Back And Learn!”

Leadership Lesson: In the right fashion, and when appropriate for the environment, a leader should always make sure people are self-aware, and improving and refining their tactics, even in the moments following a great win or success.

As much as I love and watch soccer and, much more, live for the high-stakes championship games, I don’t think I’ve ever seen this before: A coach passionately coaching, correcting, and challenging (?) one of his star players while surrounded by streamers, trophy-presentation preparations, and media encircling them — literally surrounded by the celebratory chaos of their having just won a tournament title.

Related: Lessons Are Everywhere: 10 Leadership Lessons From The FIFA World Cup

While everyone around them is focused on capturing and taking in the moment of celebration, their body language looks like something more commonly seen during a pause in game action between two frustrated members of the same side that’s coming up short on results.

But these two just won the game with a thrashing shutout of the other side to the tune of 6-0.

And this particular and perceived dressing-down is odd considering the player in question contributed two of his own goals to the win and has been a vital force for his club, Manchester City, across all European football competitions.

What do you think? Here’s the interaction from two different angles:

In this moment, the body language and mannerisms of the coach, Pep Guardiola, himself a former professional player, are intense as he shifts his body and limbs in quick motions, simulating the action of play on the pitch, directing his hands with cutting calculation, and raising his eyebrows, with veins popping out of his neck and head, to convey urgency. Raheem Sterling, the star player on the receiving end of Guardiola’s fevered coaching, looking a bit repentant, listens intently to his coach but defends himself without flinching, making the case for his actions.

If you moved this interaction off the field and out of the shadow of the celebrations, you’d swear they hadn’t just won the Emirates FA Cup, a domestic English football competition. But, in fact, they did.

And keep in mind: You can’t hear a word they’re saying. The celebration around them is too loud, and they’re not mic’ed up for sound. But the body language says enough to make it a peculiar sight sight to see against the backdrop of festivities.

There have been many reactions and opinions regarding this moment, but here are a few things I want you to take away from it.

You Don’t Stop At The Win

The worst thing anyone can do in business, leadership, and management is not self-assess. That someone would not look back at what they did, whether unsuccessful or not, and not learn, improve, or refine accordingly, is absolutely mind-boggling. Actually, that’s an understatement. It’s actually mind-blowing. The opportunity to learn is there for the taking. Please, take it.

Some people act as if the work going forward won’t take up time, effort, or resources. They might even act as if there is an infinite amount of time, effort, and resources to give. You would think that’s what they believe because they don’t go back and review their methods against the result, to then improve where possible and conserve resources by achieving greater efficiencies. It’s as if they don’t care that those things are at stake. (Yes, it should be that urgent.)

And even if something gets done or is successful, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a way to tweak the process or approach and improve for the next go-around.

And, sure, always being “on” – being so competitive, you’re always thinking about the next win – can be bad and a bit of a buzzkill. Yes, it can even be toxic to an environment, depending on which leader we’re talking about. But it’s always better to err on the side of caution and resist the urge to rest on our laurels of complacency.

When it comes to that toxicity I mentioned, we don’t know what toll this interaction takes on Sterling, although publicly he states all is good. Who knows if he’s being honest, but regardless, Guardiola’s approach will affect everyone differently.

Coach In The Moment

Depending on the situation and environment, one of the best things someone can do is provide feedback as close to the moment in question as possible. Relating feedback to the moment while in it or soon thereafter is more effective because the moment is still fresh in the mind of the person receiving the feedback.

In catching someone right after they need feedback, they’re still close to the emotion, mindset, and logic they felt in that moment. As more time passes, they’re further away from what their thought process was going into the moment. So, catching them as soon as possible closes that feedback loop sooner.

In sports, everything happens so quickly that catching a player as close as possible to that moment allows them to connect your logic to their improvable actions. They can see the logic in your words. (In this case, as it takes place after having scored two goals and coming close to a hat trick, the last thing Sterling probably wanted to hear is Guardiola’s suggestions. Who knows for sure.)

Everyone Has Their Own Coaching Style

We are all very different, in every aspect. Whether it’s in our values, morals, education, experiences, ambitions, desires, expectations, demeanors, attitudes, etc. The list goes on and on.

You and I wouldn’t coach people in the same way, in general. Professionally, I don’t coach the same way another professional coach might – and they probably wouldn’t coach the same compared to yet another coach.

On the flipside, our preferences for receiving coaching are also very different, so people vary in their openness to different levels and styles of coaching. Some people will work better if their coach is more hands off, allowing the coachee to pay greater attention and realize what needs to be done themselves. Others might want more of a hands-on approach by the coach, choosing instead to save time and get down to the detail of how to get better.

A prime example of different coaching styles is an incident surrounding Michael Jordan, owner of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets, whom people criticized for his approach and interaction with one of his players. Granted, he’s not the coach, but he’s a hands-on leader in a similar position. (Here are my thoughts on that incident.)

Don’t Dismiss Or Judge Without Knowing The Details

Building off of the previous point, it’s important that we reserve judgement when watching anything from afar. (But, yes, use common sense if there’s impending danger.)

What we see here between Guardiola and Sterling may look like an antagonistic and unfair approach. We see body language, but we don’t hear words or tone. And you can’t judge using just any one of those factors alone. For all we know, Guardiola could be forcefully (tone) saying “You’re better than that. I know it, buddy,” (words) over and over again. Ok, yes, he’s not saying that. But you don’t know the words he’s using, so you can’t assign a credible level of judgement.

Also, switching it up, he could be talking cold calculated strategy that Sterling could have used, with his language having been all business (words), yet offset by a tone conveying concern and support. That’s yet a another combination of tone and words. So, again, we should hold judgement until we know all those factors.

Ultimately, most of these coaches want what is best for their players. They’ve been in their shoes. They know talent when they see it. They help those players tap into their best. They see their potential.

We can’t automatically assume anything about the relationship and interaction between a coach and player — or any combination of people for that matter.


Methods aside, in general and realistically, someone needs to hold us accountable. If no one tells us where our actions are lacking, we’ll just keep doing the same thing over and over again. The same goes for that Michael Jordan example above, and what he wanted for his player.

There’s value in telling someone what’s not working and/or what could done be better (depending on the feedback provider’s approach) when it happens. Most of the problems in the workplace stem from people not saying what they need to say when they need to say it.

Granted, not every situation will look the same. The sports world is different. It’s more physical. That’s its nature. It’s not an excuse for Guardiola demonstrating what he felt with his player – if, somehow, you took exception to his approach. (Remember: We don’t know exactly what he told his player.) That’s their business. It doesn’t work – nor does it have to — for everyone else. Hopefully, if it makes you uncomfortable, you don’t see the body language and physicality Guardiola uses in his conversation with Sterling in your own organization, group, or workplace.

Related: How Is Your Organization Or Group’s Leadership Viewed Differently, Internally And Externally?

And there’s something to be said about the public nature of the conversation. It’s as if Guardiola is conveying the idea that We need to keep our eye on the ball, our focus sharp, and make sure we get it right for next time. That’s more important than any of this around us.

In that kind of moment, it also depends on how much each coach wants to celebrate a win. Some will choose to suppress the urge to feed back right away, in light of the celebration. Others will not care, because they want the best for the team and for each and every player before any distraction and complacency sets in.

Just like the Michael Jordan moment before it, keep in mind that just because it doesn’t look pretty to us, it doesn’t mean (a) that it doesn’t truly work for the pair of sides involved, and (b) you yourself can’t take some great lessons and insights away from a situation like this.

Not all coaches are the same. Not all leaders work the same. Not all players and followers react the same.

Keep that in mind, expect the best, and get better, no matter who’s watching.



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