Updated: Aug 25, 2019
The most influential people in our lives are usually those we spend the most time with: parents, friends, or siblings. For athletes, it's their coach. Coaches are mentors that help us grow and learn life's toughest lessons before we face the real world. They help prepare us mentally, physically and sometimes end up guiding us through the challenges we face outside of training. Being a great coach comes with hidden duties: they do such a seamless job that most athletes and parents are oblivious to the time, sweat and teams that goes in between training,
What are these qualities that make the stuff of GREAT coaches? We have narrowed it down to 8 qualities that all great coaches have in common:
1. KNOWING YOURSELF
If understanding your strengths and weaknesses are important as an athlete, they are even more so as a coach. You have an entire team depending on you so understanding your shortcomings effects many more people than just yourself. The best coaches realize their areas of weakness and constantly work to be better. Planning, timekeeping, focus, temperament are all examples of traits that can be improved through dedication. Accepting and working on your weaknesses shows that even a coach is human and that they lead by example. The best coaches are those that are self-aware of their strengths and weaknesses and eager to work on them.
Nowadays we are more likely to seek instant gratification rather than wait for long-term rewards. Everyone wants things NOW! Yesterday even. In coaching, this won't work: helping athletes to become strong in skill, body and mind can be gruelling and painstaking. Great coaches are patient enough to take days, weeks or months drilling a concept or skill before moving to the next. Developing fundamental abilities is a necessary building block to learn a skill. A great coach knows that great skill is built on strong foundations, so they will be the ones making you repeat round-offs for an hour because all other tumbling skills are based on that building block.
The ability to be consistent is equally admirable in athletes and coaches. For athletes, consistency is the mental and physical ability to repeat skills over an over again. For coaches, it's being able to count on them on a daily basis. Imagine one day the coach if fully on point with their session plan and the next day they have no idea how to manage the team’s time. This would be highly frustrating and inefficient for the athletes, therefore coaches need to also perform consistently when they’re on duty. Whether it the day after competition or before a holiday weekend a great coach gives you their all every single time
4. A YEARNING FOR LEARNING
Leading a group of athletes of different backgrounds, needs, expectations and goals is tough. A coach needs to have enough context and knowledge to manage, guide and lead with success: in athleticism and beyond. Being a “fountain of knowledge” of your sport as well as being a skilled mentor allows you to lead by example and inspire your athletes to follow your footsteps. Great coaches seek to instill greatness in an athlete's life beyond the sport: they can fall in love with learning even if they don’t turn pro and it will change their life. Athletes learn by following an example, so this has to start with you.
5. BEING POSITIVE ABOUT FAILURE
Life and sports can be defeating, harsh, and crushing. Failure is often seen as a negative instead of being seen as a necessary stepping stone to success. We always hear success stories: the rich, famous and successful. What we should focus on more is their journey: it takes many failures to make a success. Imagine a coach not allowing a team to try a new skill after they didn’t get it the first time: that would be crazy! A great coach gives athletes the opportunity to fail in a safe environment: accepting every missed attempt as a necessary aspect of growth and a step closer to success. Failure is just another word for a learning opportunity.
6. POSITIVELY REALISTIC
Telling an athlete that their failed attempt was "rubbish and here’s why” is a fine line to walk especially when the athlete is giving it their all. Gifted coaches are able to use failure as a learning opportunity without crushing their athlete’s self esteem: they motivate them to improve. But this is a double-edged sword: telling an athlete who is performing badly “that was great!” is doing them a disservice because you are reinforcing poor performances by using broad statements. Great coaches are clear when explaining what was good about the repetition, what was bad, and how they can make it better. Positive feedback should be focused on rewarding effort, attitude, and at accepting failure as part of the process. Coaches see missed attempts at skills on a daily basis, it’s their job to find the positive while being clear about the learning points.
7. THE ART OF COACHING
Top coaches take their craft as seriously as the competitive sport their are coaching. Truthfully, coaching IS a competitive sport! Every time their athletes perform, in practice or in competition, they are the ones jumping higher and cheering louder than anyone else. They are the first to arrive and the last ones to leave training; planning, strategising learning, and thinking of ways to make their team more successful. They spend late nights reaching out to other coaches and mentors for ideas or advice, sharing videos for feedback or spending hours on YouTube video to get creative. A great coach is artful in the way they care for their athletes, fellow coaches, and the sport in general. They are the ones offering help others for the name of the sport, not just the name of their team. Without expecting anything in return, they are the coaches for the “greater good”.
8. ICEBERG AHEAD
Coaching is like an iceberg: you only see the 10% of the surface, not the 90% below the water. The countless hours of planning, learning, talking with parents, traveling, worrying. The list goes on. Yet that 10% is given with maximum effort, so athletes don’t even realise that they’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg. When an athlete knows you care about them and the team, they will care more about what you’re saying. There is no one-size-fits all approach to coaching: everyone has a different character and background, however to be better than the majority of all coaches, you need to lead, learn and love what you’re doing. Your passion and consistency will set the bar for those looking up to you as long as you push yourself to be the best you can be, even when no one’s watching.