One of the biggest challenges we encounter at the Academy for Surgical Coaching is overcoming misperceptions of what a Surgical Coach actually does. Without having the right expectations, you’re at risk of disappointment if you’re a surgeon looking to work with a Surgical Coach.

Misunderstandings of what a Surgical Coach does commonly fall into the following themes: 

  1. an association with sports coaching, 
  2. a belief that “coaching” is punitive, 
  3. the expectation that your coach is supposed to give you advice, and 
  4. surprise upon learning that you are in charge of your own learning content. 

For the purpose of you having a great experience that matches your expectations, I am writing a series of posts to dispel myths about surgical coaching.


Myth Debunking Part 1: Your Surgical Coach Is (Likely) Not the Same as Your Former Sports Coach

For many surgeons, the first image that comes to mind when they hear the word “coach” is an athletics coach. And that’s not just the image of a random person. Frequently there is a vivid image of a man yelling at players from the sidelines, neck veins bulging. This stereotype of a coach drawing up plays on a clipboard, blowing a whistle at practice, and barking instructions at players is an effect of the availability heuristic. 

This is NOT how Surgical Coaches are expected to coach. Source: Gary Mook/ALLSPORT/Getty Images, 2018,

According to the Decision Lab, a behavioral science research firm, the availability heuristic describes our tendency to use information that comes to mind quickly and easily when making decisions about the future. The ease of drawing on this image of a yelling coach comes from widely televised sporting events, media coverage of coaches with extravagant post-game interviews, and perhaps your own experiences with your children’s or your former youth soccer coaches. 

For example, a common adage we encounter over the course of surgical training is that “surgery is a team sport.” While another stereotype that doesn’t apply to everyone, many surgeons are competitive individuals, and this personality trait often stems from a personal history of playing sports. Because of the frequency of images crossing our screens and the familiarity with our prior experiences, it is easy to erroneously associate all types of coaches with an athletics coach.

But this mental shortcut may lead you astray when you work with a Surgical Coach. Coaches in surgery don’t carry clipboards and whistles. They don’t yell at the surgeons with whom they work. They don’t simply tell you what to do. And they aren’t stereotypically men.

Surgical Coaches, on the other hand, are closer to professional coaches in business, education, or music. An effective Surgical Coach is a masterful communicator who asks insightful questions to understand your motivations and maximize your potential as a professional. Unlike the yelling coach on the sidelines, a coach in surgery creates a welcoming space for you to reflect on your practice away from the heat of the moment in the operating room. This approach creates the space necessary for genuine, adult learning.

Because of these fundamental differences, your Surgical Coach should be pleasantly different from a traditional sports coach.


I welcome responses of support or challenge to this myth about surgical coaching. Contact us to inquire further! We look forward to hearing from you.





Jason C. Pradarelli, MD, MS

Medical Director | Academy for Surgical Coaching