Five Qualities of a Great Coach
This piece was originally published on the ZGiRLS website on September 11, 2014
Over the course of my ten years on the U.S. Ski Team, I worked with more coaches than I can count. Based on my experience, I can say with confidence: no one person has more influence on an athlete’s career than their coach. It is a pivotal role, and one that is particularly important to young athletes. So what separates a good coach from a great coach? Coaches with the following qualities will always stand out in my mind for earning my utmost respect, and for having the greatest impact on my development as an athlete:
This one is a no-brainer. If a coach doesn’t know how to breakdown and teach physical skills or technique, if they don’t have a solid understanding of relevant tactics or strategy, then the coach will simply never be able to provide what their athletes need. A great coach recognizes where their knowledge of the sport is weak, and they constantly work to fill those gaps.
It is obvious that a coach must invest time, thought, and energy in their role in order to be great. But there’s a lot more to it than that… A great coach doesn’t just show up and go through the motions, they are invested in their athlete’s development. EVERY one of their athlete’s development. Regardless of an athlete’s skill level or rate of improvement, a great coach is dedicated––tirelessly––to helping all of their athletes learn and grow.
Yes, it is important for coaches to stay on the forefront of their sport, to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to evolving technology or technique, but innovation should also extend into the way coaches work with their athletes. If one way of explaining something doesn’t resonate with the athlete, a great coach continually tries to explain things in a new and more simple way until they find a verbal queue that does resonate with the athlete.
Some athletes need tough love, some athletes need a lot of positive reinforcement. It is the coaches job to understand what motivates each of their athletes individually, and to communicate with each individual accordingly. Communication should be customized for the individual as much as possible. Regardless of the method, great coaches help their athletes envision excellence, and great coaches instill in their athletes positive belief that they’re capable of excellence.
Win or lose. Flawless performance or crippling mistake. Great coaches are always there for their athletes… unconditionally. They celebrate the successes wholeheartedly, and they forgive the failures immediately. The focus is always on how the athlete can improve moving forward, never dwelling on the past. They find ways to build the athlete up, and if the athlete falls down, a great coach is there to help pick the athlete up.
Truly great coaches are rare but pivotal. So much more goes into being an outstanding coach than simply explaining how something should be done. Great coaches nurture and accelerate development. They inspire belief, cultivate passion, and chase dreams.