The Success Secret for Athletic Coaches

action coaches coaching sports Jan 28, 2022

Athletes aren't the only ones who feel pressure under the bright lights. They're not the only ones whose performance is watched and assessed throughout a season. College football and the NFL regular season just ended. It's time for the coaches' performance to be evaluated and plans for next season to be made based on those results.

It's called Black Monday in the NFL. It happens instantaneously. Week 18 ends and announcements start flying. It's been 3 weeks. They're still flying. Hell, some coaches choose to leave before the season is over. (Talking to you Brian Kelly. It's happened twice now. It's a pattern. It's you. But I digress).

You're an athletic coach and your performance isn’t living up to the expectations set by the school or the organization. 


This is where defining ... and creating ... your own success plan comes into play. You as an athletic coach cannot pour from an empty cup. If you are feeling frustrated, under the microscope and that everything you do is being scrutinized by everyone around you, that can translate to your athletes.

This is the time to turn inward. This is the time to dial into yourself and figure out where you're doing everything in your power to perform and where you're standing in your own way. This is the opportunity to outline for yourself what it is that you want:

  • Who you want to be
  • How you want to show up
  • The culture you want to create
  • The way you want to interact with your athletes
  • What it means for you to be successful

You can't pour from an empty cup, but you also can't pour from a cup runneth over with head trash. The most effective pour comes from a cup that's filled with peace, calm, joy, passion, and energy from working on yourself before working on and with each athlete.

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You coach thinking, feeling, vulnerable, and powerful humans, not a sport.

Want to know the number one thing athletes look for in a coach?

Spoiler alert! It's not your knowledge of the game.

Multiple studies have shown the world's greatest coaches are renowned as such for their interpersonal skills over their technical ones. The head coach of my club swim team didn't even know how to swim! He learned the mechanics to hold the job. What made him what he was was rooted in his ability to connect with each swimmer as an individual.

So what can you do?

  • Make a list of your athletes
  • Jot down strengths, weaknesses, and improvement areas of each (Why the distinction between weaknesses and improvement areas? They're not always synonymous. Some weaknesses aren't worth trying to improve, but they're really powerful to be aware of. You can design the team to address known [provided they are] gaps among players).
  • What do you want to know more about him/her?

That's your conversation starter. Ask them what they think are their strengths, weaknesses, and improvement areas. How do they compare to yours? Then ask the questions that get you the answers to what you want to know about them.

If you really want to connect with your athletes, consider:

  • What goes through your mind before a big play/race/meet/game?
  • What do you feel after a great play/race/meet/game?
  • What do you feel after a really bad play/race/meet/game?
  • What are you most afraid of?
  • What is it you really want from being an athlete?
  • What do you want to do after sports? How do you think what you learn here could be translated to that?

Be genuinely curious about the answers and eventually act on them, and you'll start to see performance you didn't know possible - from you and them.


The value of this work can't be understated. It takes attention and intention, but so does everything else that brings peace, calm, joy, passion, and energy; aka: peak performance.

The more attention and intention you give to this work, the more it will serve you throughout the entire season; particularly during the times things don't go the way you or your athletes want. The moments that put you under the microscope.

When your team is down, what does it look like for you to keep your calm? 

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Because that's when everyone is watching.  They're looking to you for leadership, for composure, for accountability, and for the immediate game plan so it doesn't happen again. Working continuously to balance your cup and consciously creating a mental plan allows you the opportunity to not have to think about it in the tough moment, so that you can optimize your mental performance for you and for your athletes.


Like anything worth accomplishing, it takes time, effort, and energy along with a shift in mindset. It's not a natural state for most coaches because the expectation has been that winning is built on your proficiency with X's and O's. Though as all sports evolve, it's becoming evident that is not what athletes actually want.

You have everything you could possibly ever want or need to be successful in this space. 



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