What Makes a Coach Legendary?

It’s no secret that legendary coaches such as John Wooden, Bobby Bowden, Pat Summit, and Phil Jackson profess that it takes more than technical and tactical knowledge to be a great coach.

Champion coaches have mastered sport psychology to instill motivation, self-confidence, and a heightened focus in their athletes to gain that extra percent over their competitors.

Although every great coach has his or her unique way of coaching, here are the five common principles they all whole-heartedly believe in.

Coaching Principle #1: Wash, Rinse, and Repeat.

Success and defeat are inevitable in sport. For every win, someone will lose and it’s largely the coach’s responsibility to lead by example and keep winning in perspective.

Of course, after a win, it’s important to take the necessary time to celebrate the success. As well, after a loss, it’s natural to be upset, frustrated and even angry.

However, no matter the outcome, a champion coach teaches his athletes to follow the instructions on the back of the shampoo bottle: wash, rinse, and repeat.

Win or lose, the only way to get better as an athlete is to accept the scoreboard, assess your efforts and improvements, and then take what you’ve learned and apply it to the next competition.

Coaching Principle #2: The “Deal With It” Attitude

Who ever said sport was fair? When faced with bad calls from the official, poor scores from the judge, a sudden change in the weather right when it’s your turn on the course, or a huge hole in the landing area that’s only getting bigger as more opponents in front of you compete, athletes must understand that you can only influence what is within your control.

Coaches can teach athletes to separate adversity from negativity and focus on performing their best under any circumstance.

By simulation training, provided by the coach, athletes can learn to expect and “deal with” difficult situations. They can become solution-oriented athletes where they let their opponents complain about the adverse conditions while they focus on how they can gain a competitive advantage amongst adversity.

Coaching Principle #3: Spread the Love

In an interview John Wooden said, “I’m not going to like you all the same, but I’m going to love you all the same.” This is not about coddling and constantly praising your athletes in training and competition. On the contrary, John Wooden spent 50% of his time providing constructing feedback to his athletes and only 6.9% of the time praising them.

Pat Summit used 48% of her time providing instruction and only 14.5% of her time praising them.

Although these two legendary coaches led fierce practice sessions, each of their athletes felt loved and cared for. They knew that their coach believed in their ability to succeed and were proud of them when they did their best.

Legendary coaches take the time to learn all they can about their athletes. They are not only committed to their development as an athlete, but also as a high achieving person. Consequently, when athletes feel the love from their coaches, they can become even more motivated to perform well in order to make their coach proud.

Coaching Principle #4: The Right Response

Performance feedback serves three purposes:

1) to motivate athletes to continue exerting effort to make improvements,

2) to reinforce technical and tactical skill development, and

3) to identify what the athlete is doing wrong and how he or she can fix it.

The most effective type of performance feedback that satisfies these three purposes conveys specific information about the athlete’s performance.

By clearly and objectively describing the behavior observed, studies continue to show that coaches will see a faster improvement in their athletes’ skill development.

Forget about “good job” comments, unless they are accompanied with specific performance feedback on what the athlete can do to be better.

Also, although it’s okay to identify key mistakes the athlete made, the most important part is to leave the athlete will a clear understanding of how to fix the mistake next time.

Coaching Principle #5: Before You Act, Listen

To help coaches figure out the best way to speak to their athletes and provide performance feedback in a way that actually gets used, coaches should first learn to be effective listeners.

The truth is we remember between 25 and 50 percent of what we hear. With this statistic, it’s very possible that, although coaches may think they are properly hearing their athletes, they’re not.

To become a better listener, coaches need to practice their own concentration skills and develop the ability to tune everything out and only focus on what his or her athlete is saying.

It’s also important to let athletes know they are being heard. By using body language (e.g. nodding uh huh) coaches can inform athletes that they’ve got the message and that they are still engaged. In return, when it’s time for the coach to start speaking, the athletes will feel they were understood and their concentration and motivation will be heightened to listen to what their coach has to say next.