Qualities of a great sports coach

The International Olympic Committee has published this text concerning the identification of the main qualities of a great coach. They are interesting, as beyond individual differences, they describe psychological dimensions very similar to those of any other leader who guides successful groups in other areas.

There is no single correct way to coach an athlete. You have your own unique coaching style that works and that no one else can replicate. Nevertheless, there are some traits that are common to all great coaches, no matter how they are applied.

  1. UNDERSTANDING THE SPORT  - To be able to teach effectively, you must have in-depth understanding of the sport from the fundamental skills to advanced tactics and strategy. You may even have experience from a career playing the sport. Coaches must plan for the season, know the progressive nature of training adaptation, know the rules, and provide a simple, structured environment for athletes to succeed.
  2. EAGERNESS TO LEARN - While a good coach knows a great deal about a sport, you must continue to learn and develop new training techniques. Staying up-to-date and informed of new research, training and everything which supports the coaching process is a sign of a great coach. Attending classes in a range of subjects such as sport psychology, nutrition and exercise physiology is a great idea and is readily accessible for any coach who wants to grow and improve.
  3. SHARING KNOWLEDGE - Obtaining knowledge is important but having the confidence to share and seek others’ views, especially those outside of your sport, is a key quality. The best coaches clearly understand they are there to educate the athletes. Most athletes spend most of the time training on their own, so the more they really understand what they are doing and why they are doing it the better they will train and practise.
  4. MOTIVATIONAL SKILLS - A successful coach is a motivator with a positive attitude and enthusiasm for the sport and the athletes. A coach who can motivate is able to generate the desire to excel in their athletes. When motivating a player, a good coach stresses trying to reach performance goals, not outcome goals. Enjoyment and fun are the cornerstones to successful coaching.
  5. KNOWING THE ATHLETE - Being aware of individual differences in athletes is an important ingredient in coaching excellence. Emotional displays may work for some athletes but could have a devastating effect on others. Individualising communication and motivation to specific athletes is vital to successful coaching. Paying attention to your athlete’s emotions, strengths and weaknesses is the responsibility of a good coach.
  6. COMMUNICATION - An effective coach communicates well and exudes credibility, competence, respect and authority. You should be able to explain ideas clearly. Clear communication means setting defined goals, giving direct feedback and reinforcing the key messages. Acknowledging success is also essential for good communication. Language is a key part of coaching and keeping everything simple and easily understood can be vital.
  7. LISTENING SKILLS - Part of communicating effectively is listening. You should be compassionate and welcome an athlete’s comments, questions and input. An effective coach will actively seek out information from athletes, and work in an environment where athletes are encouraged to present ideas and thoughts.
  8. DISCIPLINE - Athletes need to adhere to a reasonable set of rules both on and off the field and if these are ignored you are responsible for discipline. Trust between athlete and coach is of paramount importance at all times and essential for successful coaching. An effective coach clearly states a code of conduct up front and adheres to it. Evidence supports that for discipline to effectively change behaviour, it must be mild, prompt and consistent.
  9. LEADING BY EXAMPLE - An effective coach also leads by example. You should adhere to the same rules you expect of athletes. A coach who wants respect should also show respect and a coach who wants athletes to listen should also listen to athletes.
  10. COMMITMENT AND PASSION - The best coaches are in the profession because they love it. Besides being strongly committed to the sports and success, the best coaches display a clear commitment to looking out for the best interest of the individual athletes. Coaching is an around the clock job, as top coaches live and breathe the art of coaching.

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