By John Woolf, MS, PT, ATC, COMT

Have you ever watched a great coach in action?

I used to work for a Division 1 university as the director of sports medicine. These were some of the most challenging years of my professional career. I remember very long days and difficult situations. With many of these challenges came many great learning opportunities, such as the opportunity to work with championship teams and great coaches.

After I left the university and began my own private practice, I applied what I learned through my involvement with sports teams to my own staff. Of course, the game of business success is different in many ways from managing a football team. But the basic elements of leadership, goal setting, and execution are quite similar.

Here are the top management tips I learned from some of the nation’s best coaches that I now apply to my own practice:

1) Work Is a Game

There is a good book called The Game of Work by Chuck Coonrad. In the book, Coonrad examines why people work harder at sports and recreation than they do on the job, and encourages managers to approach work as if it were a game. He argues that businesses of all sizes have enjoyed increased productivity, employee satisfaction and motivation, and bottom-line profits by doing so.

If you think about it, there are a lot of similarities between work and sports. For example, consider what motivates people to join an athletic team:
• To be a part of a team
• To challenge themselves
• To compete
• To feel successful

These reasons also speak to why people go to work: to win, to challenge themselves, to enjoy the feeling of reaching a goal.

So how do you create a game environment in a workplace that drives organizational success? The first step is to help each player understand the “why” of their hard work.


2) Explain What Winning Looks Like

Have you ever started to play a game without knowing what winning looks like?

It would be very difficult to win if you had to guess what the desired result is. Imagine standing on the free throw line and shooting the ball, but not knowing where the hoop was. You would be going through the motions, but not knowing if you were hitting your target. The same extends to work. How can anyone feel successful if they don’t have a goal to reach?

It is not uncommon for business leaders to ask their players to play hard yet fail to provide them with clear goals to help steer them toward success. Tell your employees specifically what success looks like—and why it is so important.

What are the goals for your team? What would it feel like if your team had specific goals to improve your no-show rate? Increase the number of patients who finish their plan of care? Increase the number of direct access patients? Provide more references on social media?

And don’t forget to consider how you would measure success. This is one of the areas in which great documentation software can make a significant impact. Does your software measure the metrics that define your success?

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3) Make it Easy for Staff to See Their Scoreboard

How do you know if you’re winning the game? Of course, if you are playing basketball, you have the ability to look up at the scoreboard at any time to determine whether you are winning or losing. The number of baskets will tell you how you are doing relative to the other players.

Accessing information can sometimes be the key to either winning or losing the game—and is critical in the clinic as you strive for better business performance. Do your players know the score at any given time? Is it easy for them to look at the scoreboard?

There are many statistics that different sports use to measure success. The most obvious is the score. However, other success measures may include field goal percentage, time of ball possession, or turnovers. Each of the metrics can help coaches determine if the team or an individual player is performing well.

In an outpatient rehab clinic, it is critically important to select a few key performance metrics that are designed to measure your team’s progress against goals. Here are some examples:

In business it’s important to check for success metrics regularly. Many businesses structure their reporting on a monthly basis, such as financials and other productivity measures. This is kind of like a team not checking the scoreboard until halftime. It would never work.

Teams want to know where they are at every moment so that they can make adjustments. At my practice, we measure most of our metrics on a weekly basis, because if we see a problem, we want to make adjustments quickly.

We use data generated from documentation software to identify these problems and craft a solution. For example, we were able to proactively manage our patients, improve communications with our referral sources, and decrease our no-show rate simply by monitoring our “Missing in Action” metric.

4) Winning Starts Before Game Day

When is your game day? When do your players need to be ready to perform? All sports teams gather together to practice. It is during this time that coaches and players review fundamentals, address specific concerns, and create strategies for success during the game.

In business we often fail to gather our teams together to work on the fundamentals. We often expect great performance, but don’t coach our players in the skills to help them succeed. Instead, we expect players to show up on game day and get it right.

Training on the “soft skills” for your team is critical. As fundamental as it sounds, how do you address your patients when first meeting them? Do you have a common explanation that your entire team uses to introduce your services and philosophy? Do you provide coaching on dealing with more difficult personalities?

Set aside the time required to help your players and team succeed. I find role playing is an important component of team practice. Define your game in clear measures of time so that each goal is clear and realizable.

5) Review Your Game Film with the Right Practice-Management Software

There is a saying in sports: “The film does not lie.” Game film shows it all. If there is a mistake, if there’s a great play, it does not matter. It’s just the facts.

There is not a single coach in competitive athletics right now that does not review game film to improve performance. When players and coaches sit in the same room and review what happened at the game, they identify what is working and what is not. It’s a time when all team members become accountable to the success of the group, and no one can hide from the truth.

Information is critical to coaching better performance. If you want players to perform better, you will need to be able to set realistic goals and measure those goals against reliable data.

Documentation software can provide you with an immense amount of data. But there is no sense in compiling statistics if you are not using them to refine your game plan. Set aside time to review your “stats,” and brainstorm about how your team could improve on the stats.

Today’s practice-management software offers the ability to easily collect data. And when choosing practice-management software, you must ensure that you can access all of the information—clinical and financial—that you need to be a better coach.

Access to Practice Information is Critical

The key to success in today’s business environment is the same as it is for high-performing sports teams: the ability to know where you are in the game at any given moment.

Great coaches can frame the team environment such that everyone in the room learns from exactly what happened in a manner that lifts up performance and provides opportunities for coaching up needed skills.

If you lead your staff in a similar way, what would you show them for game film? What information could you utilize to coach your players to perform better in the context of the goals of your company? If you and your players knew on a weekly basis the performance on five key performance measures, what would they be? Is this information easily accessible to you and your players through your practice-management software? It should be. PTP

John Woolf, MS, PT, ATC, COMT, earned his BS in Physical Therapy from Northern Arizona University and his Masters of Science from the University of Arizona in Exercise Science with an emphasis in Biomechanics and Motor Control. He is the former director of Medical Services for Athletics at the University of Arizona and currently the owner of ProActive Physical Therapy in Tucson. John serves as the administrative director for IAOM-US. For more information, contact