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The Skills That Make a Great Sports Coach

The Skills That Make a Great Sports Coach

What skills of a sports coach are most important? Learn about the techniques used by successful coaches on and off the field in this handy guide.

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Touchdowns, baskets, home runs — these are all the products of a good sports coach. But a great coach? They take their players to new heights of confidence, skill, and discipline regardless of the scoreboard. 

If you’re interested in coaching sports, there are abilities you should master before hitting the turf. Read on to learn about the necessary skills of a sports coach and how you can become one that motivates and inspires.

What is a coach in sports?

Although some people are naturally gifted, most of us require focused and constant effort to become skilled at our chosen sport. And even the most talented players have room to improve. 

Behind every successful athlete is a strong coach that guides them through consistent improvement. A sports coach also helps athletes reach their full potential by motivating and inspiring them, whether through praise or constructive criticism. Most athletes are familiar with the tough love approach of a coach telling you a drill was done poorly, and to do it again. Athletes aren’t just out on the field to practice — a great coach helps their players build on their mental game.

The role of a sports coach

In the movies, coaches show up to the game and deliver an inspiring speech to take their team to victory. In real life, coaching is a lot more complicated than that. The role of a sports coach includes:

  • Giving technical and lifestyle advice. The best coaches provide support on and off the field. At practice or during a game, the coach’s role is to advise their players on technical skills and performance and offer motivation. After practice is over, players should take their coach’s advice off the field or court. The lessons of resilience, patience, and dedication learned through sport are applicable in relationships, school, the workplace, and more. 
  • Analyzing each athlete’s performance. While general pointers improve the whole team, every athlete has a unique playing style, set of skills, and physical advantages. Coaches must give relevant and constructive feedback to individual athletes by devoting one-on-one time to their development during training.
  • Bringing new strategies to improve an individual or team’s performance. When athletes encounter roadblocks, a coach needs to be able to think creatively and solve the problem. Since two minds are better than one, it’s always more practical for a coach and athlete to work on overcoming a roadblock together. A coach’s experience can offer new perspectives or approaches that athletes haven’t considered. If an injured player needs a return-to-play plan or a new defenseman just isn’t confident enough, the coach needs to get creative. 
  • Encouraging teamwork. All team sports require great communication skills between players. Not every player joins the team an expert in collaboration, so practice time must be devoted to improving their teamwork. Coaches may also act as mediators when teams get into disagreements and navigate conflict as a neutral third party. 
  • Managing equipment and uniforms. Coaching and sports management often overlap, especially in community sports. This can include taking care of uniforms, organizing equipment, and booking facilities. Even if they have a team of staff to help them, effective coaches don’t just delegate without checking in — they need to be personally involved in the program’s day-to-day operations. 
  • Modeling sportsmanship. In the heat of the game, emotions run high. It’s common for athletes to get into spats, so coaches must have great interpersonal skills and excel at diffusing tension. Coaches are also important role models — especially for young people — and must be committed to creating a safe environment on and off the field.
  • Preventing injuries. Sports can be dangerous. Coaches should have some knowledge of sports science and first aid to support athletes as they navigate injuries and health issues, but also to ensure athletes are playing safely so these instances don’t happen in the first place. If they lack first aid, it’s up to them to ensure someone qualified is on the sidelines. 

7 crucial coaching skills to strive for

What characteristics of a coach are necessary to excel? These seven skills exist in any great coach, whether they’re overseeing athletes or senior managers:

  1. Patience: Win or lose, you need to remain positive and productive with your players. You may not see results right away, but with time and determination, your team will improve.
  2. Teachable: You may be the coach, but you can always improve on your own knowledge. Sign up for classes, attend seminars, and crack open a book on coaching.
  3. Communication: Be clear, concise, and listen effectively to your players. Communication goes both ways, so strive for transparency and check in with your team on a regular basis. 
  4. Knowledgeable: Understanding the ins and outs of your field is crucial to being a good coach. If you’re a sports coach, knowing how to train the right muscle groups and prevent injury proves you know your stuff.
  5. Discipline: You can’t skip out on practices or lose your cool. Practicing discipline will model the behavior for your team.
  6. Passion: Your players will sense your desire to see them improve and it will motivate them. Don’t be shy — show them how much you care.
  7. Leadership: You shouldn’t turn away from taking charge and empowering your team. They need to feel trusted, supported, and inspired. 

Being a coach is a process of constant self-improvement. Fortunately, the more we practice these skills, the better at coaching and the more confident we’ll become.

How to become a sports coach

Aside from the soft skills listed above, becoming a qualified sports coach requires expertise. There are multiple ways to achieve this:

  • Pursue education. Without proper coaching education, we deprive athletes of access to first aid, knowledge of how to effectively train the body, and expert leadership. Depending on what level you want to coach at, you may wish to attain a Bachelor’s or even a Master’s degree in a field like sports management, kinesiology, physical education, and more.
  • Seek out certifications. Not every coach needs a degree, especially if the goal is to coach in the community. But most community sports organizations prefer or require coaches certified in their field. Having certifications can boost players’ confidence in your abilities and provides a benchmark they can use to assess your knowledge and coaching skills.

Many local bodies and organizations offer these services. Ask your local organization or club what qualifications they require, depending on the league, and where they recommend obtaining them. USA Track & Field, for example, is the governing body for track and field and offers various levels of accredited certification. 

  • Build experience. No amount of education replaces hands-on experience, and this is no different for sports coaches. Working with different teams and at different levels will diversify your skills and empower you to act in unexpected situations. Plus, it’ll establish you as a coaching presence in your community.

Grab a whistle and hit the court

There are many qualities of a good coach in sport — far more than we can list in an article. What’s important is we remember that coaches are responsible for the safety, well-being, and growth of our athletes. That’s no small task, so we must be prepared. With the right preparation and skills, a great coach can push an athlete or an entire team to new heights and help them perform at their best.

Looking to convert your coaching into a business? Find coaching tools at Practice to help you take that next step.

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We worked with our lawyers to create coaching contract templates, free for any coach to use. Plus, a couple of sample agreements.

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