Being a leader as a coach means finding and developing a variety of skills. Each coach has their own personality and will deal with a variety of personalities while managing their team. That being said, there are some strategies and lessons to be learned which are universal in creating a quality team atmosphere, and a situation that allows both the athletes and coach to grow their skills together as a cohesive unit. The following list is part of the Hartman Academy’s ongoing program to help create and better educate sports coaches as leaders.
Find Your Voice As A Leader: In order to effectively lead, there has to be a consistent message and the way it is delivered has to remain consistent as well. A leader will have a way to deliver their message in a way heard by all.
Creating A Pace: When leading and coaching, your team members need to be able to keep up. You also need to move things quickly enough so that some of your team doesn’t get stuck waiting around. Create practices and plans that allow for everyone to work and learn at an even pace.
Remaining Steady: A coach and leader may face conflict amongst their team members or obstacles during their time. Keeping players and other coaches on a distinct path forward despite these obstacles is critical to success.
Interacting: There are a large variety of personalities that coaches and leaders will have to deal with over the course of their seasons and being able to have interactions as a group and as individuals will be crucial. A coach must be able to pivot with the different personalities in order to keep lines of communication open.
Being Able To Multitask: A lot happens during the course of a game, practice, or season. A coach and team leader will be in charge of managing several things at once. Some players may be injured, a strategy in-game may be failing, the offense and defense of your team may both being falling short of their goals. A coach will have to handle all of these situations likely simultaneously. If a coach is overwhelmed they will need strong assistant coaches to fill specific needs.
Time Management: A coach has to manage their energy not their time. Time is limited in which teams can practice and play. It can be difficult to make every second count, but a coach has to keep their team and players active. A high energy practice helps better simulate game action and keeps the players engaged in the game plan you are implementing and the skills you are trying to teach.
Preparation: Being prepared for everything is impossible. What a good coach can be prepared for are the average issues that occur. A practice without a goalie for a soccer, ice hockey, or field hockey coach. Always having enough footballs to go around, or having a few extra bats and gloves for baseball or softball practice. Having a plan for practice and games helps them go smoothly, but a coach’s prep goes beyond just preparing to play.
Establish Guiding Principles: A team defers to a coach as the defacto leader. As that first leader, it is up to them to establish sets of rules and principles for behavior. From pre-game procedures such as arrival time, pre-game warm-ups, and dress code to establishing practice rhythms, travel plans for team trips, and establishing relationships with parents. A coach also has the obligation to create the moral standards for their players to uphold, and what punishments they face if they do not.
Continuing Knowledge and Discovery: A good coach can not rest on the laurels of success. What works in one season may not work the next. This could be due to player turnover or opponents catching up with a particular strategy but the onus is on the coach to be able to adjust on a long-term basis. A coach must seek to continually improve themselves not just their players. Whether it is implementing new data or analytics or researching new training tactics for the players to implement into offseason workouts, a coach has fresh information and ideas in case they need it.
Self Management: It is easy to get lost in managing players and expectations for a season, especially in a bigger team sport. All of this may become overwhelming and a coach might lose sight of managing themselves. A coach has to be able to take stock after a tough loss or difficult practice. Whatever a particular coach has going on outside of their sport, whether it is another job or limited time, can’t bring that to with them to practice and games. A coach who can not manage themselves can not hope to manage their team.
Having Vision and Creating Purpose: Sports today are often going on with a lot more happening than just the play on the field or ice. There are larger organizations around the teams. A coach needs to know where their team stands in the development cycle of the athletes. They also need to understand the structure of their team. Do they have experienced players coming from a similar system? Is this year’s roster made up of more transplants from different organizations? A good coach has the vision to see what type of team is assembled before them and to find the best purpose for how to use the collected talent.
Understanding Your Limitations: All sports have specialized positions, and as young athletes progress that specialization becomes more and more important. A good coach understands that they may not have all of the answers for certain roles. A good coach has a backup, whether it is a pitching coach, goalie coach, or a skill-specific coach in another area that can come in and contribute to the team and the player. A good coach can pass off instruction to another coach without ego or meddling for the good of the player and the team.