Information and Opportunity Symmetry

Information and Opportunity Symmetry

Being a head coach is more demanding than ever. As our society becomes increasingly connected on a 24-7-365 basis, the job description of the head coach is an ever-evolving document. The traditional tasks of managing equipment, communicating with coaches, players, parents, and administration, motivating players, etc., remain.

But new responsibilities have emerged. In our modern context, great head coaches recognize they must be great marketers. They understand that a critical aspect of their job as the head coach, dare I say the most crucial part, is creating a brand for their program and selling that brand to all the program’s stakeholders. Whether he likes it or not, a great head coach is in the business of marketing and sales.

If you are not convinced the previous statement is true, take the time to read a book written in 2013 by Daniel Pink titled “To Sell is Human.” In the book, Pink carefully outlines several reasons why we are now in sales. As a head coach, the concept Pink calls information symmetry caught my attention and made me realize that selling is now a critical component of building a strong program.

To make his point, Pink uses a classic scene at a used car lot. Twenty or thirty years ago, a customer came to a used car lot looking for a car with the help of a salesman to obtain information about the vehicle. The customer only knew what the salesman at the car lot told him, and he could not validate the salesman’s claims. Pink refers to this old reality as information asymmetry because one of the people in the interaction held the vast majority of the critical information.

In the age of the internet, this paradigm has changed drastically. Now customers come to the used car lot knowing everything about the car they are interested in buying. Thanks to companies like CarFax, the customer and the car salesman have roughly the same information about the vehicles. This new paradigm, which Pinks calls information symmetry, has completely changed how a good salesman at a used car lot operates.

What does this have to do with coaching and building cultures? The same transition, from information asymmetry to information symmetry, has occurred in coaching. Twenty or thirty years ago, the local high school coach knew all the critical information about building a great athlete and program. Parents and players had no choice but to trust the coach in much the same way the person wanting to buy a used car had no choice but to trust the used car salesman.

In a world where anyone, not just coaches, can gain instant access to some of the best resources for coaching, parents and athletes now have the opportunity to create the same amount of information symmetry the customer has at the used car lot. As a coach, you know from experience that your most ambitious athletes and parents have acquired enough information to be dangerous. They need some help interpreting and applying what they know, but they know way more than you and your parents did when you were an athlete.

This reality, which Pink calls information symmetry, can’t be ignored, and it’s part of why every great coach must be a salesman. As a coach, you must sell your culture, strategies, techniques, practice schedule, off-season conditioning program, etc. The list of things you need to sell to your athletes and their families goes on and on. Love it or hate it, you can’t ignore it.

You might be thinking, “So what if information symmetry exists? How does that make sales a part of coaching?” Information symmetry means that we are all in sales because another type of symmetry has also emerged. Twenty or thirty years ago, athletes played for the school in their neighborhood. They were loyal to their local high school, partly because there were no other options. They had one opportunity and chose to either make the most of it or not participate.
The landscape has changed, and athletes and their families have more freedom than ever. Transfer rules at the high school and college levels allow students to transfer and be eligible for competition. Athletes and parents now have choices, and players increasingly see themselves as free agents choosing the school that best meets their needs (By the way, I see this happening in academics as well). All of this leads to opportunity symmetry. But what I have described thus far is only the beginning of opportunity symmetry. With the rise of club teams, the reality that college coaches are far less dependent upon the high school coach in recruiting than they used to be, and the emergence of offseason camps where players can “be discovered” each athlete “needs” his high school coach to achieve his dreams far less than he did twenty or thirty years ago. Again, you can love or hate it but you can’t ignore it.

To be clear, I’m not a huge fan of some of these realities, and I don’t think athletes and parents know nearly as much as they think they do, nor do I believe the high school coach is as unneeded as some players and parents may think. The merits of their perceptions aren’t the point here. I’m not attempting to argue about the degree to which information and opportunity symmetry exist. The reality we must accept is that information and opportunity symmetry are perceived to exist to a significant degree, and this means that part of being a great coach is being a great salesman. You can’t afford to market your program.

Remember, even though information symmetry exists at the used car lot, there is still a need for car salespeople. The car salespeople have been forced to tweak their game a bit, and we would be wise as coaches to recognize we need to tweak our game a bit too.

The Culture Coordinator System will teach you everything you need to know to become a coach who knows how to market their program without feeling like a sleazy salesperson while building trust and casting your vision for the program.