What Makes an Effective Coach?

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“A common mistake among those who work in sport is spending a disproportional amount of time on x’s and o’s as compared to time spent learning about people.”—Mike Krzyzewski, Duke Basketball

Although a sports journey may span decades, the qualities that define successful coaches remain constant. Describing a coach as successful in this context is not defined by winning statistics, multi-million dollar salaries, championships or awards. Rather successful coaches leave a lasting legacy which endures beyond the sports experience. These are the coaches who impact young people for the rest of their lives…in a positive manner.

A parent of a child just entering the complex culture of youth sports today’s needs to note what qualities the man or woman in authority over their child are most important. As you might imagine, this can make all the difference in whether a child likes a sports experience. Since the earlier experiences should be heavy on fun, the degree of knowledge of the sport takes a back seat to the way the adult relates to the young athletes.

In a questionnaire I provided elementary aged children, it was clear that children take note when coaches yell at them. That is one of the things that they didn’t like about playing sports. Older young athletes who quit a sport reported that is was most often the coaches who negatively influenced their decision. Obviously as athletes grow and develop in their sport, fun can be defined differently. It is always more fun when you win, but it is also fun to have meaningful playing time, improve one’s performance, and function as part of a team. Wise coaches know this, and kids who play for them most often enjoy the experience.

I learned firsthand a contrast in coaching styles while playing junior and senior high basketball. When our coach was able to make us “gel” as a team, respect his authority and want to please him because we shared his goals, it was a peak experience in every way. We loved practice although it was hard and challenged us. We won a lot of games. We even won a championship. This coach saw the potential in us and cared about us on and off the court, something we all knew. No playing favorites, no abusive techniques. Yes, he did sternly confront us when he wanted to make a point; yet, it was in the context of a healthy culture he had already created. We knew we were valued by him. So we were not hurt, but rather motivated to work harder.

Below is my list of the most important qualities a man or woman whom your child calls “Coach”can possess. It doesn’t matter whether it’s pee-wee baseball or high school playoffs. These traits can make all the difference in your child’s sports experience.

  1. This individual is a child advocate. If he/she were a teacher, a babysitter, a parent, or a neighbor, the welfare of children would be his foremost concern.
  2. Safety is his number one priority. Physical, emotional, mental, social, and spiritual health are the foundation for the culture he creates, a culture that is safe and healthy in which to implement his values.
  3. He demonstrates to players that sports are a vehicle for teaching life lessons, character building, and team mentality. They become better people just by being around his example.
  4. Players know that they are valuable to him, and not just for their athletic ability. There is mutual respect, transparency, and fairness.
  5. Excellence is not limited to winning percentage. Excellence in practice, in sportsmanship, in the details is the goal. He knows that wins will follow.

Undoubtedly, the importance of knowing his sport, his ability to develop players, teach skills, and manage a game are important, and increasingly so as the young athlete moves up the ranks in the sport. But without the other priorities, success is greatly limited, because the sport ends at some point for every athlete. What remains is the measure of value of the experience. As some have said, the true indicator of a coach’s impact on his athletes can be measured by how often former players return to visit, stay in touch, and continue to honor the relationship.

Key Tips

  • Parents are responsible to ensure that a coach is a suitable role model for her young athlete.
  • Successful coaches impact the lives of those whom they coach long after the sports experience is over.

1 thought on “What Makes an Effective Coach?”

  1. I think of the many coaches I had over the years in different sports and recall 3 or 4 that I had the pleasure of reminiscing with as a professional long after my sports career ended!


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