Renowned American football coach Vincent J. Dooley once said, “I do not believe there is a more worthwhile profession than coaching.”
For those who share this mentality, coaching is about creating great athletes and watching their success from the sidelines. While the importance of the coach’s role is often understated, it carries a quiet kind of success with watching your players grow, which can be even more rewarding than being out there on the field. To celebrate the importance of coaching, we’ve put together three aspects vital to coaching success as spoken by some of the world’s greatest coaching leaders.
Don’t just create great athletes – create great people
Legendary rugby league coach Wayne Bennett was right when he said in the book The Coaches, “make them better players – make them better people.”
The role of the coach isn’t only to produce medal-winning athletes, but also to produce well-rounded individuals with strong ethics who can be valuable role models for others, both within the sport and outside it. It’s also about seeing athletes as individuals rather than just as a team – taking the time to notice if a player is struggling, and find out why. As AFL coach Jason Mifsud emphasises in this article in the Guardian, many of the skills taught in sport become an important part of everyday life.
“The technical parts are not that hard. But how do you inspire a collective vision and unbreakable belief? There are a lot of teachable moments in footy which are absolutely transferable to life.”
Coaching is also about noticing the differences between players, and working with these differences instead of against them. The reality is, a team is composed of often very diverse individuals, and the most effective training relies on tailoring coaching approaches based off these differences instead of trying to fit every player into a single mould. In an interview with the Harvard Business Review, highly-successful gymnastics coach Béla Károlyi talked about two of his greatest gymnasts, Nadia Comaneci and Kerri Strug, and how they were two entirely different people and required very different approaches in order to achieve their own successes. “Nadia Comaneci was like steel. I never had to say, ‘Don’t be chicken,’ because she was never chicken…Now, Kerri Strug — she was the most timid little girl of my life, so she needed gradual reinforcement of self-confidence. In a competition I had to take away the stress, the paralysing thoughts…Each time, you have a totally different approach.”
In our interview with Boomers coach Dean Demopolous, Demopolous noted it was important to look at the team as a whole as well as the individual players. According to Demopolous, it is also important to foster leadership skills in older players, such as letting them lead training sessions and team huddles.
Great coaching requires attention to every aspect of your players, including their different reactions to situations and how to deal with them. In order to coach your best, you need to know your players inside and out.
You can learn a lot from other coaches, and other sports
You’d think coaching soccer meant you were stuck within the framework of the soccer league. However, for some of the industry’s most successful profiles, stepping outside the walls of your own sport can teach you valuable lessons you otherwise wouldn’t have learnt.
As this Daily Telegraph article says, Australian Soccer coach Ange Postecoglou and netball coach Lisa Alexander are renowned for embracing intersectionality when it comes to their respective sports, with Postecoglou involved in AFL and Alexander seeking advice from Postecoglou prior to the World Cup. Alexander has also attended Wallabies training sessions, all with the mind-set of bringing new techniques to her training to better the Diamonds as athletes on a whole.
“It’s…a great learning opportunity for me, seeing another program in action, what they do. We can always learn things that we can take back and tweak our program and improve it.”
Lisa Alexander in an interview with ESPN.
Pat Howard is a well-known example of the crossover between sports, according to this article from EPSN, moving from playing for the Wallabies in Rugby Union to coaching cricket with great success. This move was so successful as many of the integral values of the sports, such as team discipline and strength and conditioning, are universally applicable.
Like with Alexander and Postecoglou, it’s important to seek advice and mentorship from other coaches, because everyone has their own coaching experience and advice on how to tackle different aspects the profession. Find a more experienced coach, either in your own sport or another, and see how they deal with things like success and failure, so you can apply it to your own teachings and then pass the wisdom onto someone else.
Honesty and encouragement
While it’s important to be upfront with your players about their performance, as American coach Bill Walsh says in an interview with Harvard Business Review, any criticism should be constructive criticism rather than just unhelpful disparagement. You will lose the trust and the respect of your players if you simply pummel them with criticism, but also if you never give them things to improve on – it’s about finding a balance.
An effective way of encouraging your athletes is to set smaller goals that can be completed in the near future, rather than a single season or lifetime-wide goal to work towards. This makes success seem like a much closer reality, and encourages athletes to believe in their own ability by being able to see this success regularly. Remember – it’s all about nurturing skill and self-confidence to create better players, and, as discussed before, better people.
Keep it positive, even in difficult times. As Manchester United football coach Sir Alex Ferguson says in an interview with the Harvard Business Review, “for a player — for any human being — there is nothing better than hearing ‘well done.’ Those are the two best words ever invented.”
Coaching is an incredible opportunity for self-growth and helping grow others. As a coach, you learn from your players and from other coaches, which will help you develop a better skillset as both a coach and as a person. Not only do you learn a lot – but you teach a lot too. Coaches can be amazing role models for younger players, and can create an impact in a player’s life that lasts a lifetime.