Most of the time when we hear someone refer to him or herself as a coach, we tend to think of a coach within athletics – one who is responsible for training individuals, teams, and groups focusing on the development of specific skills related to sport.  Even though some of us experience a variety of coaches throughout our life, whether that be a fitness coach, a mental skills coach, a life coach, a public speaking coach, we usually think of a coach we trained under while at high school, at a club team, or even in college.

You ask why? It’s probably because that coach may have been one of the most influential people in our athletic and personal development while we were a kid, adolescent, or young adult. Or maybe it is because when we hear the word coach, we think of the person we called “coach” countless times throughout our life whether it was during practice, competition, or during a life-changing event. This “coach” was a person who corrected us when we made a mistake, praised us when we performed exceptionally well, and encouraged us when we experienced a moment of disappointment.  

Coaches have always played a significant role during the earlier stages of one’s development – not only within athletics but life as well. It is said that participating in sports can teach an individual fundamental life skills such as leadership, teamwork, and communication that will be utilized throughout the remainder of ones life. Who facilitates those teachings better than your coach when you are not at home with your family or at school with your teachers?

Similar to how parents expect their kids to learn and have fun while at school, the same is expected of a coach during practice and competition. Sounds like a big responsibility don't you think? Speaking as someone who has coached youth sports for several years I can only express my utmost admiration for full time coaches. It is no easy task but it is definitely one of the most rewarding professions I have experienced to date.

In my own time as an athlete I have experienced a variety of coaches from exceptionally talented and experienced to amateur and verbally abusive. Over those years I have learned many skills and techniques from my previous coaches that I have adopted into my own coaching and leadership style. Here are a few tips that will not only improve your coaching style but also your ability to influence others positively in when you are in a variety of leadership positions:


1)   Using “We” Language. One of the most important tips to remember before and during competition is that you, the coach, are an extension of the team – just like your athletes. When your athletes don't perform well, or the preparation leading up does not meet expectations, it’s not solely you or your athletes’ fault but the entire team’s responsibility. Giving critical feedback during these tough moments may be difficult but simply replacing “I” or “you” with “we” and “us” can positively impact not only your athlete’s motivation and accountability to do better but your own as well. Every coach aims for his team or group athletes to become a family where they support and motivate one another, using “We Language” can emphasize the importance of the group rather than single out individual performances.  The group is always more important than the individual and by creating that sense of collective ownership and responsibility you can create an “our team” versus “my team” mentality.

2)   Focusing On the Process and Not the Outcome. When you coach for the firs time you realize that not everyone is equally talented or develops at the same rate in sports, or in life in general for that matter. That is why having patience and focusing on the process is so crucial. You see this most when working with others on developing new skills as some may naturally get it the first few times while others need a little more patience and encouragement. No one becomes a professional or an Olympic medalist just after one day of training or winning one specific event. It takes time, consistency, and hard work before you accomplish such an outcome. Recognizing that every practice and competition is just another opportunity for you to assist your athlete in giving their best and enjoying the process along the way is crucial to them reaching their desired outcome.

3)   Intensity vs. Emotion. In a role where we want to see others benefit from our coaching, we cannot help but care and show how we feel when they experience success or disappointment. The way we express this is what defines whether we make a positive or negative impact on the group or specific individuals. As coaches or leaders you are bound to experience some form of emotion resulting from your group or individuals performance, preparation, or even behavior, and in most cases they are probably feeling the same as you are during that moment. Maybe it is being overjoyed about winning a championship final, disappointed about suffering a long term injury, or excited about making into the state finals. How we express our emotions determines if it exacerbates or minimizes the way they are feeling. Recognizing what your group or individual is feeling in the moment and being able to give them what they need in order to overcome the disappointment or enjoy the success will impact the influence you have in that situation.

4)   Developing Confidence Instead of Creating Fear. Sometimes individuals or groups that you coach who have experienced limited forms of success throughout their life may have low self confidence or self efficacy. As we may know, confidence is an attribute that takes a while to build but can be easily destroyed. As a coach, what and how you communicate with your group or individuals will determine whether you build or break their confidence. It is natural, when we know someone can be doing better or is repeatedly making the same mistakes, to correct them. The majority of the time, your group or individuals know when they have made a mistake, and how you deal with that impacts their ability to correct it or get nervous about making that mistake again. Changing our communication from “you have to do better” to “I know you can do better” may seem simple but makes a world of difference depending on the recipient. Using “wants” and “cans” instead of “needs” and “haves” in your feedback and coaching can improve your group or individuals level of confidence in being able to accomplish that task.