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7 Traits of Highly Successful Coaches

Across any given year tens of millions of kids take to playing fields, ballparks, and courts where they will fall under the guidance of more than 2.5 million coaches. It’s a vulnerable position for child and parent alike, so in this post we examine the 7 traits of highly successful coaches.

First, it’s important to note that most of these coaches are volunteers, have a vested interest (usually in the form of their own child’s participation), and are coaching for the first time. Second, only 10 percent of these coaches have received any formal training.

Not surprisingly, many parents are keen on finding coaches who not only will teach their kids how to play a particular sport, but also can be trusted to protect their kids against injury, treat them with respect, and perhaps pass along an important life lesson or two along the way.

For a player – for any human being – there is nothing better than hearing, ‘Well done.’ Those are the two best words ever invented.

As most who have played an organized sport know, a coach can have an enormous impact on a young psyche. The right coach teaches a child to overcome adversity, to ‘be a good sport’ in wins and losses, to treat opponents fairly and with respect, to develop confidence, and most of all, to enjoy the game for what it is – a game.

Unfortunately, poor coaching is considered one of the leading causes for why roughly 70% of kids abandon sports by the age of 13. Which is why we thought it best to provide parents with this guide to the 7 traits of highly successful coaches.

#1. Self Aware

While this could apply to just about any individual in any role, it’s particularly true for the coaches who wield authority, influence, and power over the powerless (i.e. children). Outstanding coaches are always working on themselves, are open to feedback, and recognize there are many ways to improve what they do.

#2. Excellent Communicators

The best coaches are outstanding communicators, and not just in big, motivational half-time speeches. These coaches are equally adept during practices, when, let’s face it, the truly important work is being accomplished. They’re clear on what they expect from kids so there are no surprises when it comes to game time. These coaches also tend to be direct and honest and in a way that brings out the best in kids – without demeaning them.

#3. Treat Kids as Individuals

Smart coaches recognize that the makeup and background of every child is different and, as such, that each player will respond differently. Bela Karolyi, whose gymnasts netted nine Olympic gold medals, noted that some of his girls, like Nadia Comaneci, were “like steel” while others, like Kerri Strug, were “timid.” Each became a champion, but had to be molded using different tactics.

#4. Constructive

Contrary to the bellicose, screaming coach so often portrayed in Hollywood films, the truth is that calm, collected coaches who employ positive feedback enjoy the greatest success. This is not to say that these coaches don’t shout or criticize a player. But when they do so, it’s constructive in nature. Sir Alex Ferguson, coach of Manchester United, echoed what behavioral psychologists long have known: that most humans respond to encouragement rather than criticism. “For a player – for any human being – there is nothing better than hearing, ‘Well done.’ Those are the two best words ever invented.”

#5. Playful and Pragmatic

According to numerous surveys, studies, and polls, the number one reason kids abandon sports is that it is no longer fun. And a key culprit in robbing the game of fun? Coaches (and parents). Good coaches are recognized as much for their ability to have fun as their competency and skill. If a coach never laughs during practices or games and, in particular, can’t laugh at him/herself, it’s best to look elsewhere. (Come to think of it, seems true for just about any relationship.)

#6. Competency and Skill

Ideally, a coach has genuine skills in the sport he or she is teaching. This doesn’t mean all coaches have to have played a game to coach it, but they certainly need to understand the sport, its rules, and tactics for participation and competing. The younger the age of the participant, the more important it is that the coach focus on teaching fundamentals. The older the kids, the more important the in-game strategic mindset.

#7. Fair

This is one of the most important qualities and also one of the most difficult to assess. Coaches often find themselves in something of a pickle when it comes to issues like playing time, in part because kids and parents alike want their teams to be competitive, and in part because some kids put in more time than others (i.e. they deserve more playing time because they make the effort, including make it to all the practices, work on fundamentals on their own time, and so on). Look for coaches who have a formula for playing time based on effort AND equality.

The bottom line: when it comes to picking a coach for your kid(s), do your best to ensure they possess as many of these traits as possible. Your child still may not end up a superstar or on a wining team. But he or she very likely will come away from the experience healthier and happier and grateful for the opportunity.


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