What Makes An Effective Coach?

A quick search on Google of, “What makes an effective Coach,” doesn’t turn up a whole lot. I did find a website that had this definition:

Effective coaching requires an emphasis on both task and relationship. 
Coaching emphasizes generative change, concentrating on defining and achieving specific goals.
Coaching methodologies are outcome-oriented rather than problem-oriented. They tend to be highly solution focused, promoting the development of new strategies for thinking and acting, as opposed to trying to resolve problems and past conflicts. 

by Simon Maryan https://www.gomentor.com/articles/What-is-Effective-Coaching-23539

I think this is a great starting point but I think we can add a bit to this. Yes, a coach helps a person get from point A to point B. But how does he or she do it?

What qualities are important to be an effective coach?

A coach’s knowledge, presence & attitude, and ability to communicate is what makes a coach effective. In my 13 years as a Navy SEAL and as an athlete playing various sports, and as a coach for coaches in CrossFit and Weightlifting, I’ve had the opportunity to hear many coaches speak and to see how many different types of coaches coach.  I’ve been on the receiving end of both good coaching and what I perceived to be bad coaching.

People respond to different types of coaching

I understand that some people react differently to various styles of coaching.  For me, I need a coach that is clearly knowledgeable and in charge.  Someone who isn’t afraid to let you know when you’re wrong, but then lets you know when you are right.  

My high school football coach wasn’t afraid to grab you by the mask and call you a “little chickenshit”  with chew flying out of his mouth if you wimped out on going through a block to “keep contain.”  Once I did it correctly he patted me on the back and gave me a sideways smirk and said that’s how you do it. After that, I was then able to perform the same action and tackle an opponent behind the line of scrimmage for a loss in an important game. I will remember that coaching moment for the rest of my life.  

I can remember getting chewed out as a new guy in the SEAL teams because I was the second guy in the train while we were practicing clearing a target. We entered a room, and I immediately started taking fire. I jumped back to avoid the fire running into the operator behind me and messing up the flow, and most importantly I left the guy in front of me alone in the room.  I’ve never felt so low as I did at that moment. After taking my tongue lashing and required punishment, I never did the same thing again. The point is that in these situations the coaches/instructors that I had at the time were not afraid to tell me that I messed up and how to correct it.

I also have the privilege of knowing and training with what I believe to be one of the best if not the best weightlifting coaches in the U.S.. Mike Burgener has developed National Champions in weightlifting and was responsible for growing CrossFit Weightlifting into what it is today. He will let you know when you are wrong by calling you out and letting you know that you aren’t meeting his standards, and he will make you feel like you are standing on top of the mountain when you do things right. I haven’t ever experienced someone more motivating. I’ve been on the receiving end of both sides many times.

You have to develop your coaching style

Over the years I have developed my own style of coaching and am continually trying to improve it. The number one goal for me as a coach is to help people achieve their goals. If I’m coaching CrossFit athletes, I’m trying to help them be better at CrossFit. When I coach weightlifters, I’m trying to help them become better weightlifters. In general, I’m helping people achieve the goals that they have set for themselves and holding them accountable.

Effective coaching means caring about the person and who they are as a human

I want anybody I work with to be a great person both in and out of our training environment. Meaning I want to help build their character. I’m not the hand holding cheerleading type of coach that gives you false praise.  I will provide you with praise if you deserve it or when you do things right.  When you don’t, I will slap you your hand and let you know that what you did was not correct and how to correct it.  When you’re down, I’m going to pick you up and help you get to where you need to be. You must come with an open mind and be ready to be coached if you want me to coach you. That means committing to giving your best effort and following through on what you say.

Effective coaches can be effective in many areas

In my opinion, the most effective coaches can coach anyone in any sport.   Everybody knows Vince Lombardi was a fantastic football coach.  What some people may not realize is that he also coached basketball, and did it well.  Great coaches can coach people of all ages and all levels.  They are able to change their demeanor or communication style to be able to relate to the athlete at their level.  This skill is something I’m continually trying to work to improve.

The success of a coach in one level doesn’t guarantee success on another level

I do think there is a tendency or a preference for the coach to be more effective at a particular sport or specific level of the game — for instance, one that comes to mind is Jim Harbaugh.  Now coach of the Michigan Wolverines football program.  He is a fantastic coach that can take less than great college teams and turn them into great ones in a matter of a couple of years.  But then you see him as a professional coach, and he just doesn’t get it done as effectively.  Why is that?  I don’t know the answer. What I do know is that when Harbaugh speaks to college kids, they listen. No doubt about it. I’ve heard him talk. His voice commands your attention much like a Navy SEAL I know, Jocko.

The same things the make an effective coach, make an effective leader

I believe these thoughts apply to any type of leadership position as well. As a coach or someone that is in a leadership role, you are only as effective as your presence, attitude and ability to communicate. If you can’t connect with your athletes, clients, or coworkers then you will not be as effective. Being knowledgeable is just one piece to the puzzle. People have to believe in you and trust that you can take them where they want to go.

What are some of your experiences of good coaching and bad coaching?

Author: jpbolwahnn

JP is a Former Navy SEAL coaching professionals to their highest quality of life through health and mental performance.

4 thoughts

  1. Well said, JP. It definitely is a skill to be able to correct people as their coach in a way that doesn’t make them mad but instead adds to their drive and determination to be better. Thanks for giving me some great thoughts and points to think through and help improve my coaching techniques.

    1. One of the best ways to correct someone is to first point out the things they are doing right. Then let them know what they can improve on. And finally, when they do it correctly, make sure to give them praise and let them know.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.