Anybody who has ever played a sport or personal training studio coach can tell you that a good coach does more than just give you drills and count repetitions. A good coach can influence their client or athlete in a way that carries through their entire lives. Many athletes and successful businessmen will talk about the influence that a childhood or high school coach had on them. A coach, in youth sports, can often be an extension of the parents and teachers. These youth coaches act in a role that gives them authority over the athletes. They put athletes through extremely strenuous exercises and give criticism all in the spirit of desiring success for the athlete and team. A good coach is a teacher, a mentor, and a leader. Unfortunately, there are more bad coaches than good coaches. So, what makes the difference between a great coach and a bad coach?
Growing up, I was involved in just a few sports, track, cross-country, and ice hockey. From grade school, up through graduating high school, I never had the opportunity to play for or work with a good coach. In fact, I do not think I could tell you the names of those coaches, except for one who used to bark at us and was also my P.E. teacher in high school. I do not remember him because he was a good coach, but rather because he barked at us, like a dog. That is not how I expect he wanted to be remembered. The reason that I do not remember any of my coaches is not because I did not put much into sports, on the contrary, hockey was my identity. I do not remember my coaches because my coaches did not care. They did not care about their athletes, they did not care about the success of the team. They did not put time into knowing who their athletes were. This is the first thing that a coach must do to become great. He must care.
Caring about who your athlete or client is and understanding their desires is essential to the success of the client. It is also essential to the success of the coach. A coach should know when a client or athlete is struggling with something outside of the gym or inside their sport. An athlete or client is only going to push beyond their comfort zone for a coach that genuinely cares about them. When a coach shows respect for the client or athlete and cares for their well-being, the athlete will feel this and push far beyond where they would by themselves or with a coach that does not care. Any coach just showing up will not have an impact.
Coaches also must be positive. Positivity is rare in today’s world. True positivity. There are a lot of people out there full of positive sayings and posting success memes all over social media, but few people desire to see others succeed. A great coach must be interested in the success of the client or athlete above all else. This does not mean that a coach must put the athlete above all other things in his own life, but while the coach is with the athlete, the athlete is number one. That is the coach’s time to invest knowledge, drive, and desire in the athlete. If the coach cannot focus on the success of the athlete or the client for that one or two hours that he has them, then he should not be coaching. Believing in the client or athlete and keeping the overall experience positive is essential in being a good coach. Good coaches see things as they are, not better or worse. They see the way forward, how to make things better, and then lay the path for the client or athlete. The good coach has a positive outlook.
Good coaches have a plan. Creating change is a process. It does not happen overnight. There are incremental changes that occur large changes. There must be a path to follow if one expects to reach a goal in an efficient manner. The coach cannot show up and just “wing it.” It does not matter how good the coach is. A coach may get away with this once or twice, but if it is the norm for that coach, the athletes will know and all the coach’s credibility will be lost. This comes back to caring. If the coach cares, he will have a plan and he will know how to communicate it.
Effective communication is becoming a bit of a lost art. Too much communication occurs through email, text, and social media. Being able to communicate clearly and concisely is a skill that must be studied and honed. There are some communication naturals out there, but even those naturals practice it to become exceptional. A great coach must put time into learning how to communicate effectively with his athlete or client. This includes being clear, concise, and know how to use one’s voice for emphasis. A coach who is always yelling ensures that his athletes never hear anything.
Going through basic military training you learn that someone who yells all the time is easy to tune out. In Pararescue training, you learn to listen to the words spoken softly and even more to the words spoken with emphasis. A coach who speaks gently 99% of the time gets 100% of all athletes’ attention if he ever needs to raise his voice. The coach who never has to raise his voice to get athletes to perform is a great coach. This is not to say that a coach should not be prepared to raise his voice if necessary, it just means that if he is always yelling, then his words and his voice lose power.
Whereas I never had a good coach in school, I had amazing coaches in the military. Going through Pararescue training, my “coaches” were called instructors, but make no mistake, they were coaches. They cared about the success of the individuals; they learned who each person in the program was; they ensured that each student knew how to complete their given tasks; they knew how to communicate; and they cared about the overall mission and success of the team.
You can look up what makes a good coach and you will get list of ten things that make a great coach, fifteen things every coach must know, and 5 pillars of a great coach. These lists usually all have great information and should probably be read by all coaches from time to time, but the coach who spends the time to read these articles is probably already better than most. A coach does need to be humble, he needs to know how to communicate, he needs to have a plan for his athlete, he needs to set a good example, and he needs to think and act positively. However, the most important thing that makes a coach great is the amount that he cares. A coach, above all else, must care about his client, his athlete, the success of the individual, and the overall success of the mission or team. Do you care?