Sports Psychology, Peak Performance and Overcoming Fears & Blocks

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SPECIAL: “What makes a GOOD COACH?”

SPECIAL: “What makes a GOOD COACH?”

SPECIAL ISSUE: “What makes a GOOD COACH?” – Recently I was talking with a talented college freshman baseball player who shared with me this rather disturbing, somewhat bizarre tale. On a full scholarship ride to a major D- I program, this athlete had earned the job as the starting second baseman, an unusual accomplishment for someone so young in a program so strong. Midway through his freshman season he was batting a torrid .345 with 8 home runs and almost no errors in the field. Despite the fact that he had taken some grief from a few of his upperclassman teammates for pushing them out of their jobs, the athlete was a total team player who was gradually making a smooth transition to college life and his new team. He was feeling quite comfortable up at the plate, relaxed in th e field and really beginning to enjoy playing at this much higher level.

A few weeks before the beginning of the conference tournament he was at the peak of his game. He went 3 for 4 in a critical match-up with the team’s perennial rival, driving in two runs with two singles and a double. After the game his head coach pulled him aside and congratulated him on a great game and for how well he had been playing. Then, in the same breath, the coach told his freshman that he needed him hitting more home runs. The skipper explained that he had recruited him because of his bat and that the team’s success heavily depended upon him hitting more of the long balls. At first this player was totally confused by the coach’s comments and even thought that perhaps the man might just be pulling his leg. However, when he realized that the coach was actually dead serious, his confusion turned to dismay and then anger. Wasn’t he already making a huge contribut ion to the team? Wasn’t he already having an unbelievable start? What more could they expect out of him being just a freshman? Did the coach really believe that he wasn’t doing enough for the team? Was the coach really that unhappy with his play?

Of course what happened next could have been predicted. The athlete couldn’t get this conversation and those questions from rattling around inside of his head over and over again. He began to think that the coaching staff was unhappy with his play and he wondered if his teammates also thought that he was letting them down. Suddenly, for the very first time all season he began to worry about his stats and production as he went into his games. Before his at-bats he would think about needing to hit the ball harder so he could get more homeruns. As a consequence he started pressing and trying too hard up at the plate. As expected, he began striking out much more and his at-bats became dramatically less productive. Not only wasn’t he hitting home runs, but he stopped making good contact with the ball. His on-base percentage dramatically fell and this only made him think more and press harder up at the plate. The worse he hit, the more pressure he put on himself to produce and so the harder he tried. Of course, since “trying too hard” is the game of diminishing returns, the harder he tried the worse he did and the more his batting average fell.

After a week of this the coach noticed the startling drop off in his player’s stats and so began to put even more pressure on him to hit. To make matters worse, the assistant coach told him that he wanted him swinging at more first pitches and whenever the freshman failed to, the assistant coach would get really angry at him. Now up at the plate his head was even more crammed with all the things that he thought he needed to do. As his batting slump deepened, the head coach began to threaten him before games with less playing time unless he was able to turn this thing around. When these threats didn’t seem to get the results that he wanted the coach moved him back in the line-up from the lead-off slot to eighth. Initially this took some of the pressure off of the player and a game or two went by where he started to make better contact. However that ended quickly after one game wher e he went 0 for 4.

After that game the team’s senior captain called him out on the bus ride back and the coaches seemed to join in on the attack. In front of the whole team, the assistant coach questioned his heart and desire, accusing him of not trying hard enough and not caring. As you can imagine, this attack from his teammates and coaches was absolutely devastating for this freshman, further undermining his confidence and sending his anxiety through the roof. Suddenly, for the first time in his life he began to dread practices and games. He stopped having fun and began to question his decision to come to this school. He got more and more depressed and then he started getting homesick. He wanted out.

Extremely unhappy and playing under this kind of internal and external pressure, the freshman found himself physically tight all the time. As a consequence, he injured his back during one batting practice and could barely move. He left practice early to go to the athletic trainer. His back strain was severe enough to make it impossible for him to play without experiencing excruciating pain. He returned to practice the next day and told the coach that he was in too much pain to workout and that the trainer had recommended that he take a day or two off to rest his back. The coach thought his player was being soft and threatened to send him home unless he took batting practice. Despite his better instincts he allowed himself to be bullied into taking a few cuts. After three swings his pain became unbearable. He went back to the trainer who referred him to the team doctor. The doctor recommended a period of rest and physical therapy. Following the doctors orders, he skipped practice the next day and when he returned and reported what the doctor had said, the head coach got angry with him and threatened to bench him for the rest of the season unless he “pulled it together and got tougher!”

The next day the team was playing a home game and when the freshman showed up in street clothes to watch the game, the coach angrily sent him back to his dorm room sarcastically explaining to his player that he should be “resting in bed and not straining himself.” When the coach received an angry call from the freshmen’s uncle that night confronting him about his mistreatment of his nephew, the coach denied any wrong doing explaining that he was “just looking out for the welfare of my player.”

As for the freshman, he felt hurt, angry and completely misunderstood. He just couldn’t make sense of why the coaches were treating him as if he was faking it, as if he didn’t want to play. When he showed up for practice two days later, the assistant coach once again called him out in front of the team questioning his commitment to the team and his heart to play the game. The coach stated that if this freshman were “truly committed”, then he wouldn’t be “looking for bullshit excuses” not to play. For the very first time since he picked up a bat and ball, when he was just 4 years old, the athlete felt like quitting the game. Never before had he been accused of being soft by a coach. He was typically a tough kid who worked his butt off, never made excuses for himself and who often played through pain. He just didn’t understand where the coaches we re phoning from. Nothing seemed to make much sense to him anymore and the great beginning that he had had to his college career felt like it was light years away. His self confidence was totally shot. He felt like the coaching staff didn’t believe in him. He worried that most of his teammates felt the same. Maybe he should just transfer...........

There’s no question that many, high level coaches are under a tremendous amount of pressure to produce. Professional and Division I college coaches who don’t win enough games are almost always at risk of being fired and replaced. Even many high school and club coaches feel this same kind of intense performance pressure. Losing teams make owners, fans, alumni, parents and the local sports media very, very unhappy. In these situations the logical person to blame for all of this unhappiness is of course the coach. If the team is underachieving or losing whose fault would it be other than the coach’s? Unfortunately, this kind of pressure to win usually doesn’t make for intelligent, effective or successful coaching decisions. What many coaches don’t seem to realize is that when they transfer this same performance pressure onto their players, it dramatically and negati vely affects their play. When this happens the coaches alone can be directly responsible for the sub-par results.

Coaches who typically get too caught up in their won-loss record, who tend to focus too much on the importance of the outcome are always most vulnerable to making the kinds of unfortunate mistakes with their players that I’ve described above. This head baseball coach and his assistant had a very direct role in their player’s performance problems. It was simply bad coaching and ignorant, insensitive comments that pushed this freshman out of a peak performance state and into a slump. It was these kinds of rather blatant coaching mistakes that were directly responsible for this player’s high level of stress, low self-confidence and resultant batting slump.

What may seem obvious to some isn’t that obvious to all: Winning records are an extremely limiting and inaccurate way to judge the quality and effectiveness of a coach. Simply put, winning doesn’t make you a good coach in the same way that losing doesn’t make you a bad one. The fact of the matter is that judging a coach’s abilities and effectiveness based on the record of his/her team is to totally miss the complexity behind good and bad coaching.

Having said this, let me debunk some myths that many sports fans, parents and athletes hold: Regardless of the level individuals may coach at or how successful their teams have been in the past, coaches are NOT always right. They do NOT always say the smartest things. They do NOT always have all the answers, regardless of what they may tell you. They do NOT always make the right decisions. They are NOT always the most sensitive or understanding of individuals. They are NOT always fair. They are NOT always well-adjusted and mature. Coaches make mistakes and frequently quite a few of them. The fact of the matter is that coaches are human and as a consequence of this human condition their performance as a teacher is always limited by and filtered through their personality, life experiences, knowledge of the game, personal problems, maturity and psychological sophistication. While some coaches ar e absolutely brilliant teachers and should be cloned, other coaches are abysmal and abusive and should only be allowed to work with inanimate objects.

Before we discuss what qualities and skill sets make for a good coach, we need to first acknowledge how very difficult this profession of coaching really is. Coaching is sometimes a thankless, frustrating “no-win” kind of job. It’s an occupation that is most often done in a public fishbowl. In other words, if you coach, then you are in a highly visible position that continually exposes you to the public’s scrutiny and evaluation. It’s one of those professions where the general public regularly weighs in on what kind of a job they think you’re doing whether you want their evaluation or not. When it comes to judging your job performance, everyone seems to be an expert and have the “qualifications” to criticize you. Fans, parents, students, alumni, the media and the team’s organization or administration all seem at the ready to offer you eith er the thumbs up or thumbs down signal. What’s even more frustrating for a coach is that so much of this external judgment comes from individuals who don’t seem to have a clue about you, your players or what you’re trying to accomplish with the team.

Coaching is also one of those jobs where your professional effectiveness is almost always narrowly measured by something that is very often totally out of your control, winning and losing. In many ways you can be an absolutely horrible, abusive coach yet, because you are lucky enough to have great players on your squad, you win all the time. Because of this external record you are considered in your profession to be a “great” coach. Similarly, you can be a wonderful coach and teacher but because of a lack of player talent, luck or other circumstances beyond your control such as player injuries, your won-loss record is just mediocre and, as a consequence of this, you’re seen as an ineffective coach.

To make the profession even more thankless, in most levels of sports, (excluding a few very high level Division I programs and professional teams) coaches are poorly compensated for what they do. Typically coaches have to invest very long hours in the job yet are barely paid an adequate wage for their time.

So now let’s take a look at what makes a really good coach. If you’re an athlete then what follows will help you figure out how your own coach measures up. It will give you some valuable information that will allow you to more intelligently evaluate how your coach conducts him/herself in relation to you and your teammates. In this way it will give you the ability to better “reality test” the coach-athlete situation that you currently find yourself in. That is, very often it’s quite difficult for an athlete to really know if there’s something wrong with him or the coach. Most often in emotional coach-athlete interactions, the athlete typically comes away feeling badly about him/herself. Hopefully the information that follows will help you better understand what is really going on and help you not blame yourself for things that you shouldn’t.

If you’re a parent of an athlete, our discussion will help you get a good idea of what to look for when you shop around for a coach for your child. How do the better coaches conduct themselves? How do they treat their athletes? How do they interact with you as the parent? How do they deal with winning and losing? How do the better coaches deal with mistakes and failures? Parents need to be educated as much as possible about their child’s sport and coaches in order to help their son or daughter have the best and happiest experience possible.

If you’re a coach reading this, then our discussion will help you get a better sense of how the finest in this profession conduct themselves. You will learn which behaviors and characteristics will best motivate and inspire your players. How do the really great teachers conduct themselves? What it is about these individuals that make them so successful? What are some specific things that you can learn from them that will help elevate you in the coaching ranks? If you so choose, then you can use this list to begin to work on making yourself that much better as a professional.


#1) The very best coaches GET THEIR ATHLETES TO BELIEVE in themselves - Good coaches inspire their players to do more than they think they can. In fact, all good teachers do this. They get their students to entertain possibilities that stretch the limits of their beliefs. Part of this involves building the athlete up rather than knocking him down. Good coaches always build self-esteem rather than undermine it. This self-esteem building is not a gimmick nor is it done artificially. In other words the coach doesn’t praise a mediocre effort. He/she simply makes it a practice to catch his/her athletes doing things right. The good coach doesn’t get caught up in playing head games that leave the athlete questioning his/her abilities.

#2) The really effective coaches DO NOT USE EMBARRASSMENT & HUMILIATION AS “TEACHING TOOLS” – One of the characteristics of really bad coaches is that they regularly use embarrassment and humiliation. They think nothing of calling out or putting down an athlete in front of his/her peers, fans or parents. These coaches mistakenly believe that this is the way that you build character and mental toughness. What they don’t really understand is that these abusive techniques are the most effective way I know to emotionally destroy kids. Embarrassing and humiliating a child/young adult for a failure, mistake or shortcoming is an aggressive assault on that athlete. In fact, when an adult does it it’s called CHILD ABUSE no ifs ands or buts! There is NOTHING educational or constructive about it. It tears down that athlete and grossly undermines his/her self-esteem. It can emotionally scar that child for life! This is NOT how good coaches operate.

#3) Great coaches are GREAT LIFE TEACHERS – A good coach understands that what he/she is teaching goes far beyond the X’s & O’s of the court, track or field. As a consequence this kind of individual does not just teach the skills, technique and strategy within the narrow confines of the sport. Instead he/she looks for opportunities where the more important life lessons can be taught such as mastering hardship, handling and rebounding from failures and setbacks, trusting your teammates, sacrificing individual needs for the benefit of the group, emotionally dealing with winning and losing, good sportsmanship, fair play, honesty, integrity, etc.

#4) The best coaches KEEP THE GAME IN PERSPECTIVE – Somewhat related to #3, the best coaches are able to keep their sport in perspective. They do not get distracted by how big any one game is in relation to their job as a teacher. Similarly, they understand that sports are just games and are merely a vehicle to teach their charges other, more important life lessons. They understand that what they teach and how they teach it will have an impact on the student that goes far beyond the sport. They know that long after the athlete has put away his bats, balls, racquets and other sport paraphernalia, the effect of his/her relationship with the coach will continue to influence that individual’s life and happiness. Therefore, whenever they coach, no matter how big the game, these coaches keep it all in perspective.

#5) Great coaches DO NOT LET THEIR EGOS AND SELF-WORTH GET TIED UP IN THE OUTCOME -  The best coaches are psychologically healthy enough to know that they are NOT their performances, regardless of what others around them may say. They do not feel diminished as an individual when their teams fail nor do they feel that much better about themselves when their squads succeed. These individuals understand that coaching is only one thing of many that they do and therefore they do not let this one thing solely define themselves as a person. Coaches who get into trouble with their athletes do so because they are emotionally more vulnerable and tend to feel threatened by a loss or failure. Their egos are on the line whenever these individuals compete and therefore they feel like they have much more to lose. If your ego is on the line whenever your team competes t hen you will be quite vulnerable to saying and doing some rather unfortunate things with your athletes. Many blatant coaching mistakes come directly from the coach’s overemphasis on the game’s outcome because that individual self-esteem is too caught up with this outcome.

#6) Great coaches UNDERSTAND INDIVIDUAL DIFFERENCES IN THEIR ATHLETES – The best coaches have a basic understanding that each athlete on their team is different in attitude, personality, response-ability, sensitivity and how they handle criticism and adversity. As a consequence, these coaches take the time to get to know each athlete’s individual differences and styles. They then hand-tailor what they say to and how they treat this athlete to achieve maximum coaching effectiveness. They know that while one athlete may respond well to a hard edge and raised voice, this approach may totally shut another one down. You can’t be really effective with a team full of individuals unless you truly take the time to get to know what works best for each one.

#7) The best coaches COACH THE PERSON, NOT JUST THE ATHLETE – Really effective coaches take the time to get to know the athlete as a person. They take an interest in the athlete’s life off the field, court or track. They do not see personal, academic or social problems as a distraction to the job of coaching the athlete. In fact, they view these “outside problems” as an opportunity to further build a relationship with the athlete and help him/her become a better person. This kind of caring is never lost on the athlete. Coaches who take an interest in the athlete’s total life are more trusted and respected than those who don’t. Coaches who really care about the athlete as a person are better motivators. Do NOT approach your athletes’ outside problems as outside of your coaching purview. You can’t ever separate the athlete as a performer from who he/she is as a person. Relationship issues, family problems, academic stressors and gender issues all of which seem to have no relationship at all to the sport are all importantly related! If you have an investment in truly being an effective and successful coach and teacher, then these need to be considered by you when they come up.

#8) The best coaches are FLEXIBLE – They are flexible in their approach to their teaching and they are flexible in their approach to their players. For example, when an athlete struggles learning a play or correctly executing a specific technique or strategy the better coaches do not look at this as a “learning disability” and blame the athlete for their incompetence, thick headedness or ignorance. Instead they approach it as a “teaching disability” and therefore change how they are presenting the material to that athlete. If one approach doesn’t work, then they try another and another until they figure out the best way to reach that particular athlete. Similarly coaches who take it personally when an athlete has a learning or performance problem are missing the boat. Just because that athlete may not be responding to your coaching does not mean that he/she has an attitude or commitment problem. Be flexible enough to examine yourself when your athletes struggle. Rigidly assuming that they are the ones with the problem is not the mark of a good coach. Remember, rigidity is not a quality that goes with success and winning. Coaches who are rigid, who continually adopt the attitude that “it’s my way or the highway” are far less effective than those coaches who have mastered the fine art of being flexible. Understand here that flexibility does NOT mean being wishy-washy. You can be flexible and strong at the same time.

#9) The great coaches are GREAT COMMUNICATORS - You can’t be effective as a coach unless you can successfully reach the individuals who you are working with. Good coaches understand that communication is a two-way street and involves a back and forth between coach and athlete. Bad coaches think that communication is a one-way street. You talk and the athletes listen. PERIOD! Instead, effective communication entails that you as a coach carefully listen to what your athletes are saying. When your athletes talk you must BE QUIET INSIDE SO THAT YOU CAN LISTEN. Unless you carefully listen to them when they talk then you won’t have a clue as to what your athletes are really saying or how to best help them. Far too many coaches are too busy countering in their head what their athletes are saying to actually hear them. If you can’t learn how to listen then you will never truly be ef fective in reaching your players.

#10) Good coaches TAKE THE TIME TO LISTEN TO AND EDUCATE THEIR ATHLETES’ PARENTS – Many coaches find it a bit of an inconvenience that they have to actually deal with the parents of their athletes. If your job entails having to interact with parents understand this. Your life will be far easier and you will me much more effective if you make it a regular practice to communicate with the parents and educate them about the sport and the role that they need to play on the team. Your success as a coach often depends upon getting parents to work with you, not against you. The only way to make this happen is if you take the time to talk to and train your parents. This means that you must learn to listen to their concerns and questions. Take a proactive role with them. Do NOT wait for a problem or crisis before you decide that it’s time to actually approach your parents. Do so righ t from the beginning of the season and do it often. Let them know about their support role on the team. Help them understand that their job is NOT to motivate or coach their child. Teach them what are appropriate and inappropriate behaviors at games and on the sidelines. Educate them about the sport and what it takes to excel. Explain your philosophy about competition and playing time. Be open to feedback in a non-defensive manner. Never assume that your parents know what they should do and how they should behave. Approach them like your athletes. You coach your athletes. You must also invest some of your time and energy into coaching and training their parents. Be proactive with your parents, not reactive. Use an educational, preventative model when working with them rather than a crisis intervention one.

#11) GOOD COACHES “WALK THE TALK” WITH THEIR ATHLETES AND PARENTS -  If you want to be effective in reaching those that you coach, then you must learn to put your actions where your mouth is. That is, there must be some congruence between what you say and how you act. If you are teaching your players about the virtues of consistent, hard work yet you yourself are inconsistent in this area, then what you are really teaching your athletes is that you are a hypocrite, it’s really OK to slough off and that talk is cheap. Because you have decided to coach, you have put yourself in a position of intense public scrutiny. Everyone will always be watching you, even when you think not. As a consequence you must always be sure that whatever comes out of your mouth is closely matched by how you act. What I’m really saying here is that YOUR MO ST POWERFUL TEACHING TOOL IS MODELING. You should operate upon the principle that your actions and how you conduct yourself will always speak much louder than your words. Actively model the behaviors and attitude that you want your players to adopt.

#12) Good coaches KEEP THE LEARNING ENVIRONMENT EMOTIONALLY SAFE – There are a lot of social things that go on in sports between teammates that make the learning environment emotionally unsafe. Scapegoating, ostracism, cruelty, emotional and physical abuse, acted out petty jealousies and the list goes on and on. Many coaches refuse to deal with these “locker room” or “soap opera” issues because they don’t necessarily happen on the field and therefore, these coaches claim, they have nothing to do with the athlete’s or team’s performance. Nothing could be further from the truth. Good coaches understand this basic fact, that the emotional climate on the team is everything and dramatically affects how players practice and perform. Ignoring these “irrelevant and distracting” social issues and letting them continue is like turning your bac k on an infection and allowing it to fester. In both cases the problem with its’ resultant pain will only spread and increase in intensity. Good coaches make it their job to directly and immediately deal with the social garbage that sometimes arises between players. They make it very clear to their athletes which behaviors are appropriate and acceptable when interacting with teammates and which are not and therefore will not be tolerated. These coaches give a very clear message to all members of the team that cruelty, petty jealousies and mistreatment of others will not be tolerated and is counter to the mission of the team. As a consequence this kind of coach creates an atmosphere of safety on the team that is absolutely crucial for optimal learning and peak performance.

#13) Great coaches CONTINUALLY CHALLENGE THEIR ATHLETES TO DO BETTER AND PUSH THEIR LIMITS – One way that great coaches inspire their athletes to believe in themselves is by continually putting them in situations which challenge their limiting beliefs. That is, these coaches are always pushing their athletes outside of their comfort zone, physically, mentally and emotionally, and then helping them discover that, in fact, they can do better than they first believed they could. These coaches teach the “GET COMFORTABLE BEING UNCOMFORTABLE principle.” That is, the only way to grow physically and emotionally is to constantly challenge yourself to do things that aren’t easy, to attempt things that truly stretch you. The best coaches do not allow their players to just get by with the status quo. They refuse to tolerate mediocrity in effort, attitude, technique, training or pe rformance. Because they continually challenge their athletes, they are able to keep them highly motivated. There is nothing more motivating to an athlete than being challenged, experiencing themselves successfully rising to meet that test and as a result, improving. When coaches fail to adequately challenge their athletes, when they instead allow them to remain stagnating within their comfort zone, they will ultimately end up losing those athletes to boredom and apathy.

#14) The best coaches CONTINUALLY CHALLENGE THEMSELVES – Good coaches practice what they preach. They continually model the attitudes and behaviors that they want their players to adopt. Along these lines, these coaches always maintain a “beginner’s mind” when it comes to their professional development within the sport. Good coaches understand that regardless of how much success they may have had in the past doing things their own way, they can always learn new and better ways of teaching the sport. These coaches are always open to learning the very latest that may be available within their field be it regarding strategy, technique, conditioning, mental training or motivation. In this way these coaches continually step out of their comfort zone as “experts” and put themselves in the more uncomfortable position as “beginner and learner.” They are always looking for fresh ideas to spice up and enhance what they are already doing. They attend coaching conferences, read new books, watch and listen to what’s current on DVD and CD programs, and actively explore ways of getting the job done better. These coaches are not rigidly closed-minded nor do they fight what is usually a fast changing technology within their sport. Because these coaches “walk the talk” around being open to new ideas and demand from their athletes exactly what they demand from themselves, their athletes are far more motivated to meet the coach’s higher expectations.

#15) The very best coaches are PASSIONATE ABOUT WHAT THEY DO – Success in and out of sports very often comes out of a love for what you are doing. The more you love your sport, the better chance that you have of reaching your goals. Passion (love) is a high test fuel that will power you over obstacles, beyond setbacks and through frustration until you achieve success. As a coach, your passion for the sport and for coaching as a profession is what will ultimately make you a great coach. Passion is infectious and if you approach your practices and competitions with it, soon after your athletes will “catch” it. Passion in a teacher is motivational. Passion inspires others. It gets them excited and gives them a reason to stretch themselves. Coaches who lack this love for what they do, and who just seem to be going through the motions, directly communicate their lack of enthusias m to their athletes. Very soon you’ll find that their athletes are doing much the same. As they say, “nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” To be great in your field you must discover your passion for it. If you’re bored coaching then you will bore your athletes. If you can’t seem to find the passion in coaching then perhaps it’s time that you seriously considered doing something else.

#16) Good coaches are EMPATHIC AND TUNED INTO THE FEELINGS OF THEIR PLAYERS -  Empathy is the ability to tap into another’s feeling, experience what they are feeling and to then communicate your understanding to that other person. When you are empathic you demonstrate the skill of being able to step into another’s shoes and walk in them long enough so that you truly can feel what he/she is feeling from his/her model of the world, NOT yours! Good communicators have this ability. When you are empathic you leave your athlete feeling that you as his/her coach deeply understands. This goes a long way in building athlete loyalty, self-esteem and motivation. While an insensitive, unfeeling coach can easily sabotage his/her players’ confidence and contribute to performance problems, a tuned in coach can do the exact opposite. He/she contributes to the athlete’s sense of well being, personal safety, self-confidence and, ultimately, peak performance. Keep in mind that being empathic doesn’t necessarily mean that you are an emotional pushover. You can have the ability to understand where your players are coming from and still make the coaching decisions that you feel are necessary. Coaches who lack the ability or don’t take the time to tune into the emotions of their athletes because they mistakenly believe that “all this emotional crap” is a total waste, end up inadvertently undermining their best coaching efforts. When you are an emotional “bull in the China shop” with your athletes, routinely tromping all over their feelings you will gradually alienate your players, create team dissension and produce a group of underachieving athletes.

#17) Good coaches are HONEST AND CONDUCT THEMSELVES WITH INTEGRITY - What else needs to be said about this one? Your most powerful teaching tool as a coach is modeling. How you conduct yourself in relation to your athletes, their parents, your opponents, the referees, the fans and the media is never lost on your players. They see and hear virtually everything that you say and do. One of the fastest ways of turning your players and everyone else around you off is to model dishonesty and a lack of integrity in some or all of your interactions. A dishonest coach is one who lacks self-respect and therefore will never earn the respect of others. Be aware of how you conduct yourself in every aspect of your coaching. Be an honest role model. Demonstrate character and class. These qualities are ultimately far more important in the long run than how many games or championships your teams have won.

#18) The best coaches MAKE THE SPORT FUN FOR THEIR ATHLETES – It doesn’t really matter what level that you coach at from the pros all the way down to Little League. It doesn’t really matter whether a national title is at stake in this particular game or just simply bragging rights around the neighborhood. Sports are just games and games are meant to be fun! One of your most important jobs as a coach is to find creative ways to integrate this fun into what you do over the course of the season, on a daily basis in practice and during those important competitions. Even if you’re coaching at a high level D-I school, one of your tasks is to try to keep your players enjoying that tedious, painful grind. Fun is the glue that bonds peak and performance together. If your players aren’t having fun, they will get much less out of practice. If they get caught up in being too serious in competitions, then they’re much more likely to play tightly and tentatively. When an athlete is enjoying him/herself, that athlete is loose and relaxed. Since loose and relaxed are two of the most crucial ingredients to peak performance, it is in your best interests as a coach to find innovative ways to keep your athletes smiling. Keep in mind that it’s perfectly fine for you to make the fun “goal directed.” That is, figure out ways within your normal grueling practices to pique your players’ funny bone. Periodically and unexpectedly interject the absurd or hilarious. Just don’t get too caught up in how important a particular game or tournament may be. Nothing is that important that you’d want to totally botch it up with an excess of seriousness. And remember, the younger the athletes are that you work with, the more fun you have to weave into your practices.

#19) Good coaches are NOT DEFENSIVE IN THEIR INTERACTIONS WITH THEIR PLAYERS OR PARENTS – Part of being a good communicator is that you have to be open to negative feedback and criticism. This is not something that is very easy to do and most of us respond to this kind of negative feedback by getting defensive, closing off and going on the counter attack. If you want to be successful as a coach you have to learn to be open to all kinds of feedback. You have to train yourself to carefully listen to what others have to say to you and consider their comments and points of view. You may not necessarily agree with their assessment of you or their feedback, but it’s in your best interests as a professional to at least listen. This is especially important if the comments and negative feedback are coming from your players. Far too many coaches refuse to listen to any complaints or critici sms from their athletes, categorically dismissing them as whining. Unfortunately this is like throwing out the baby with the bath water. Sometimes the negative feedback and complaints that come from your athletes hold the seeds to you becoming a better, more successful coach. Put the defensive stance away. It’s unbecoming and ultimately counterproductive.

#20) Great coaches USE THEIR ATHLETES’ MISTAKES AND FAILURES AS VALUABLE TEACHING OPPORTUNITIES -  One of the bigger teaching mistakes that coaches make is to get angry and impatient with their athletes when they mess-up or fail. This response to your athletes’ mistakes will insure that they will make plenty more of them. Coaches who consistently yell at their players for screwing up end up making them too nervous to play to their potential. Furthermore, knowing that your coach gets impatient and angry when you make mistakes will cause a player to worry about this while he’s performing. An athlete who’s afraid of messing up during performance is an athlete who will always play tight and tentatively. Good coaches know that mistakes and failures are the necessary perquisites to learning, improvement and, therefore success. Therefore when an athlete makes a mistake they do not go ballistic on the sidelines. They do NOT want to teach their athletes to be afraid of making mistakes. They do not want their athletes distracted by fear. Good coaches know that an athlete needs to be relaxed and loose in order to play well and that a fear of making mistakes always undermines this relaxed state. To this end, the good coaches give their athletes permission to fail and make mistakes. They instill in their players the understanding that mistakes and failures are nothing more than feedback, feedback about what you did wrong and specifically what you need to do differently next time. The best coaches teach that failure is feedback and feedback is the BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS!


Dr. Goldberg is a noted sports psychology expert Read more about Dr. G