Coaching Advice: What Makes a Great Coach?

Guest Article by Nick Ruddock



Here is one question that troubles me greatly, and it’s one that arises in nearly ALL coaching courses and workshops I have attended:

‘What makes a great coach?’

Just writing it is making my blood pressure rise

Some years ago, I would have put together a long list of qualities that great coaches have… but not today.

The thing is, I’ve travelled the world and worked alongside a tremendous number of coaches, many of whom are at the height of their respective fields. And it is during this time that I’ve come to recognise that many high performing coaches are totally flawed in the characteristics we often associate with high performance.

High technical knowledge? Not always important.

Organised? Quite the opposite.

Positive? Nope.

‘People person?’…. Definitely not!

Growth mindset? … I wish.

You get the gist.

Jigsaw Pieces or Cogs?

I used to see the coaching world as a jigsaw puzzle, with coaches who are lacking in important qualities as being ‘incomplete’.

I’ve now moved to a ‘cogs’ model.

The more cogs that are moving, the more efficiently a system runs. But even with fewer cogs (or in our case, desirable qualities) the system still runs, albeit not quite as efficiently. The coach can still produce results, but it might require more work, or have a few more bumpy roads to ride down first.

What Makes a Great Coach Anyway?

Yes, there are some characteristics that many great coaches will have in common, and it’s wonderful to dream about what qualities a ‘complete’ coach would have, but we shouldn’t delude ourselves that ‘great’ coaches hold all of these.

Besides, what does it mean to be a ‘great’ coach anyway?

The status of being a great coach often gets attributed to those who produce athletes that can (and do) win medals at an international level. But I’m often a little more curious (don’t mistake this for being pessimistic or cynical) as to how those results happened.

A coach whose athletes win international medals but are left emotionally broken wouldn’t earn my badge of being a ‘great coach.’ That would be mistaking being a great ‘technician’ for being a great coach. A BIG difference.

Neither would I consider a coach ‘great’ who manages to squeeze one athlete into the top spot, but in the process manages to physically or technically ‘wreck’ another 40.

You could say a wealthy drug dealer knows how to make money, but you’d question their ethics and are unlikely to hold them in high esteem. In much the same way, this is how I view unethical coaches who leave a path of destruction in their wake. They don’t get my vote, regardless of the size of their medals haul.

Some of the best coaches I know have never actually coached at a high-performance level. They are, however, in the elite at running a recreational class or a class full of pre-school children. That’s an art in itself and requires a mass of experience and skill.

Article by Nick Ruddock: Pay Subs Online’s resident Coaching Expert and Consultant.


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