Ever feel a bit uncertain when coaching your players? Do you question whether you’re helping them in the most effective way possible? Are you uncertain as to whether they like your style or not?
Whether you’re coaching a gaggle of kids for your son’s soccer team or an office full of staff, it can be challenging to effectively transfer your skill set to your audience. Coaching is a tough job – that’s why the best in the business are paid millions to do what they do!
Having tried my hand at training a sports team, I realized it can be hard for coaches to teach people effectively, especially when they’ve been given no real “coach coaching” as I like to call it. That’s why I’ve put together these 19 tips to show you how to be a good coach, no matter who you’re teaching.
BTW – we’ve used “players,” “students,” “pupils,” “employees,” and “trainees” interchangeably in this article. These tips are suitable for sports coaching, employee management and school teaching!
1. Keep your eyes and ears peeled
Unfortunately, most of your trainees won’t provide explicit feedback on how you’re going, so you’re going to have to go hunting for it yourself. Body language, speech tone, eye contact and receptivity to instructions will give you hints as to what’s working for your group or the individual you’re teaching.
If a person doesn’t seem enthusiastic, talk to them privately and inquire into the issue, using an empathic tone. If you’re able to help, this will develop trust with the player. As a result, they will be more likely to discuss issues with you in the future that can help you to adjust your techniques to best suit their individual needs.
Watching out for subtle signals can also show you what’s working. Obviously people will respond well to activities and tasks they find engaging, enjoyable and enlightening.
2. Consistent communication
Depending on your exact role, you’ll need to develop a consistent style of communication. Why be consistent? Using multiple attitudes can confuse who you’re coaching. You need to be approachable, not unpredictable.
2a. Different styles of communication
Notice what’s the same throughout all these methods.
You need to be encouraging your students to improve and do their best, no matter what. Being a good coach is ultimately about motivating people to improve and showing them how it’s done.
Avoid the following at all costs:
- Acting defensive.
- Demeaning your players.
No matter who you’re coaching, act professionally if you want to maintain your players’ respect.
3. Know what you’re talking about
Obviously you’ve got to have some sort of knowledge when communicating with students. What’s better than that? Being about to demonstrate it. Being up-to-date with the latest trends. If the people wanted an information kiosk they would have wheeled one in. They’re using you because you can show, not just tell.
If you’re a baseball coach for example, practice the drills you run through before turning up. Look up what the Yankees do in practice. Develop your image as an expert to promote yourself as an authority figure, which will in turn make coaching easier as your players will listen to your every word.
4. Show commitment, but don’t overdo it
Continuing on with the theme of developing the players’/students’/colleagues’ perspectives of you as a coach, you’ve got to appear dedicated. Don’t be late, appear presentable, and know your stuff.
However if you overdo it you’ll stray into dangerous territory. This applies to sport in particular.
Raving on the sidelines and abusing the referee will not only force the players to question your position as an authority figure, but it will alienate parents, who you need on your side. Without them the kids’ commitment will wilt, especially at younger ages.
If you’re trying too hard in a business environment, people will think you’re a bit strange. Remember: you’ve got to be approachable as well as authentic.
5. Demand 100% effort
You don’t have to be explicit in doing this. If you’re trying to motivate employees for example, show that you genuinely care about their performance. Having trainees that aim to please to is one of the most powerful contributors towards making a good coach.
Even if using the tough guy approach, act approachable and let your students know that you’re a human too. This way, they’ll be more receptive towards instructions as they can picture themselves following in your footsteps.
6. Develop individual relationships
Having read tip #5 you might be asking “how do I come across as approachable?” The answer is to get to know each person you’re instructing on a fairly personal basis.
By knowing each student’s strengths and weaknesses you’ll be able to provide better-targeted advice, reinforcing their perception that you’re a knowledgeable leader. Then, as your pupils begin to look up to you, they’ll begin approaching you to address specific concerns. As you work through these issues, team performance will improve.
7. Use goals to achieve results
Part of being a good coach is setting realistic but challenging goals that can be worked towards. After all, psychologists have established the importance of goals as a motivator of students.
To complement a student’s desire to improve their performance to satisfy your demands for 100% effort, you can develop objectives which function as motivators. For example:
- Winning a championship.
- Learning a skill.
- Performing a difficult task.
- Achieving a certain $ value of sales.
Remember to make goals specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timed (SMART). Acronyms are dumb, but this one’s pretty smart 😛
8. Remember who you’re working for
Ultimately you’re working for the benefit of your students. Even if you’re employed as a coach, it’s your job to improve the pupils’ performance, not to just check some boxes in the HR department. If training is your career, you progress by making real advances with your students, improving performance on a consistent basis.
What does this mean?
If the people you’re training aren’t responding to your methods, something has to change. Be flexible in your processes, but consistent in your communication as we discussed in tip #2. Find out what’s wrong, and what you can improve.
You’ve also got to be aware of their wants and needs. For example, winning isn’t everything for an under 9 football team.
9. The importance of being interesting
As a direct follow-on to tip #8, don’t be afraid to try new things.
Remember being bored out of your mind in school? You do? Try to remember specifically what was boring. Struggling? That’s because we’re not switched on when what’s in front of us isn’t interesting. Go the extra mile to develop unique training methods that your students will love, to keep them on board, rather than bored.
10. Seek out solutions from students
Another method for fostering engagement – get students involved by asking for suggestions and solutions directly. Let your soccer team develop their own set pieces, or do peer learning when teaching new skills.
Remember, you’re a coach, not a boss. Don’t be afraid to embrace great suggestions – it’s incredibly important in fostering a sense of teamwork.
11. Look inward to improve
Why is the manager the first to go after a string of heavy losses at a pro sports club? Because their performance is ultimately what guides the team. It’s a heck of a responsibility, but you must acknowledge that your work will make or break your players’/students’ performance.
What does this mean? As well as looking at what your pupils can do better and guiding them in the right direction, you’ve got to monitor your own success. How’s your relationship with your students? Are your sessions working? What aren’t the students doing? Do they need specific training to remedy the problem?
12. Create a journal
Coaching is all about organization. This is why it makes sense to jot down stuff, to ensure that your training methods are consistent and that you remember specific details that your employer has shared with you. Even a few notes on your phone or a Word Document could be used to store:
- Specific drills.
- Student names – test yourself to remember them!
- Business goals and focus outcomes.
- Schedules – make sure you’re on time
13. Get yourself a coach-coach
Why are coaches used? To improve performance. Therefore, to become a good coach, it’s a good idea to seek training in specific communication and leadership skills you’ll need to succeed. Sport associations typically run accreditation courses, while businesses will be keen to send you for training to maximize their return on investment.
You could even liaise with other coaches in real life or online to pick up training strategies and learn what works in your specific industry. Social media and niche forums are a great place to start.
14. Focus on team building
Get this: you can improve a team’s performance and enjoyment of their activities by focusing on developing team chemistry. When I played soccer, we played our best when we traveled interstate and played in tougher competitions. Why? Because we ate, slept and trained together for a week and the team chemistry was sky-high. At the time, we thought we could do anything.
But it doesn’t have to be as complicated as organizing a trip to another state. Get your team together to play paintball or have a tug-o-war challenge. As long as it requires teamwork, it’ll have a massive impact on the success of your coaching. What’s more, you can have fun while doing it!
15. Be attentive and proactive
A big part of being a good coach is knowing what your team needs and when. Are we lacking in motivation, team chemistry, or a specific skill? Next step: improvement.
This concept also extends to studying the opposition in team sports. What are the best teams doing? You don’t need to copy their game plan, instead you should develop your own in conjunction with the players. However, it can be useful to notice if they for example arrive to warm up 10 minutes earlier than you.
Also be proactive in noticing and responding to the concerns of individual players or parents. This shows you’re on top of the ball, promoting your image as a leader and hence increasing others’ respect for your capabilities.
16. Avoid direct incentives
Unless you’re coaching a dog, telling someone they’re a “good boy!” and throwing them a figurative treat is going to seem patronising.
It’s a difficult balance to achieve sometimes, but while projecting the image that you’re an expert, you’ve also got to remain approachable as I’ve said in this article a million times before. You’ve got to get to the point where the reward for good performance is a sense of personal satisfaction in doing well for the team and for you as a coach. The best motivator is a sense of self-worth and accomplishment – don’t mess with this by introducing physical rewards.
17. Dealing with discipline
Another tough aspect of being a coach is dishing out disciplinary action. Again, there’s an important balance to strike. The punishment (if necessary) must be fair in the eyes of the team, while also acting as a deterrent against poor behavior in the future.
Fortunately in sports the association should deal with red card suspensions and suchlike by itself most of the time. However, when the conduct is in fact improper (like a dangerous tackle in football) you’ve got to avoid placing yourself on the side of the referee rather than the side of the team.
Explain why the rules exist and why the official’s decision was right (if it was) to keep the players’ support. Impose additional measures if you feel it’s really necessary to hammer the point home. However, don’t make an example of someone just for the sake of it, especially if they regret their actions.
18. Project confidence
Once you’ve positioned yourself as the leader of the pack so to speak, the people you’re coaching will look to you for guidance. This means you must be confident in the abilities of individuals and the team as a whole at every turn.
Case study: Sir Alex Ferguson is probably one of the greatest soccer coaches of all time, winning 13 PL titles, 5 FA cups, 2 CL trophies and the list goes on.
He is famous for throwing on attacking players in the final few minutes of big games, having complete confidence that his players could equalize or win any match even with little time remaining. This contributed to many of his most memorable wins, including the 1999 Champions League final.
19. Have fun!
There’s plenty of easier jobs than being a coach. For many, it’s a volunteer gig. This is why you’ve got to enjoy yourself to a certain extent. Grumpy coaches aren’t great motivators. If you’re cranky the team may begin to feel uncomfortable, resulting in them second-guessing decisions they would normally make automatically.
On the other hand, if you’re calm, friendly and approachable, your students will feel relaxed when talking to you. They will feel that you have their back 100%, giving them the confidence necessary to perform to the best of their ability.
Hopefully this guide was helpful! Let us know if you’ve got any other top tips in the comments below.
About the author
Tom is an accomplished writer, with years of experience producing buyer’s guides and tutorials for athletes online.
And it goes without saying – he’s sports-mad.