Research the term “player coach” and you will find controversial information. This term originated from professional sports to refer to players who played and coached at the same time. Today, you won’t find many player coaches in sports; the practice is generally discontinued; but in business, player coaches are quite common.

While many resources publish the inefficiency of the practice, you can be an effective player coach.

What Is a Player Coach?

A player coach is a manager and producer. For example, a store manager is a player coach when they stock shelves, wait on customers, and manage the team.

In business, many times first level managers are player coaches. Depending on your company’s size and structure, upper-level managers and C-level executives may also take on the role.

In some situations, you may construct your team to include player coaches. In others, it is not always possible to be a manager without being a contributor. While the reasons vary, the fact that it is a challenging position to hold at any level remains consistent.

Benefits of Player Coaches

Employing player coaches can benefit your business. Hiring one player coach may reduce the need for hiring two positions. It may help you flatten your organizational chart and aid in communication as your manager is a member of the team, which can also improve the time necessary to make decisions.

Since your player coach is a subject matter expert with technical skills, another benefit is they can fill in during absences on the team. Generally, they have worked in the area for some time and understand all parts of the process.

Challenges to Being a Player Coach

There are some great benefits to having player coaches in your organization, but these are challenging positions to hold. Sometimes, player coaches get “caught in the weeds” and lack perspective as it relates to the bigger picture. They may also be very attached to their processes or team members and resist change and new ideas.

It is difficult for a player coach to find balance in their position. If a player coach is producing too much, it can lead to management issues, and the team may feel a bit lost. On the other hand, too much managing can lead to a drop in production.

Honing Your Skills

Focusing on the following areas will help you be an effective player coach:

  1. Encourage feedback from your team on your contributions – feedback is key to evaluating your efficacy
  2. Actively work to find the balance between coaching and doing the work – it may change from day to day or week to week, but strive for consistency
  3. Provide your team with feedback on an scheduled basis – don’t forget to wear the coach hat and don’t take it on yourself all of the time
  4. Develop your team members – just as you can learn from other players – don’t be afraid to work alongside your team

If you are in the position to manage a player coach, you can facilitate their success by:

  1. Engaging in open and honest communication – be transparent with what they’re doing well and not so well
  2. Providing training and structure that they can use to delegate or do it themselves
  3. Setting clear goals and expectations of the player coach and of their team so it’s easier to know if they’re being successful
  4. Prioritizing with your player coaches – help them triage what’s in front of them and their team until they’re able to do this themselves

If you are selective, a player coach can be a very productive and effective position. Choosing productive team members who enjoy teaching and coaching others because they believe in the process is key to success.