What Makes a Coach Great?

When I'm talking about 'Great Coaches' in this context, I'm not only talking about great coaches of champion teams, but also, what makes a great coach of beginners, and developing players?

The traditional coaching pathway is linear in nature. Beginner coaches coach beginners, developing coaches coach developing athletes, and elite coaches coach elite athletes.1 This is understandable and generally due to two things: ambition and money. Developing coaches are always wanting to coach 'better' athletes, and we financially reward coaches who coach higher profile athletes.

Most of what has been written on 'great coaching' is simply looking at a coach who won, and then working out what he/she did. It makes sense to do this, we want to learn from success. One of the risks of only doing this, it that it often involves historical revisionism. (Hint, when you hear someone say: 'the results speak for themselves', that's code for 'please don't investigate the methods of this coach because I'm very uncomfortable with them'.)

What I'd like to discuss is: what exactly is it that distinguishes 'great' coaches all the way along the development pathway. What makes a GREAT coach of beginners? What makes a GREAT coach of developing athletes? What makes a GREAT coach of elite athletes? What particular skillsets do each of these three coaches have? Here are my thoughts:

  • Technical Competence
    • A great coach must have the knowledge and skills to develop technical competence in their athletes. This means, athletes are not limited by technical deficiencies in the future.
  • Physical Competence
    • A great coach must develop fundamental movement skills and body control. This means, athletes are not limited by physical deficiencies in the future.
  • Child Pedagogy
    • A great Beginner Coach has understanding of brain development and motor skill development for children.
  • Social Science
    • A great Development Coach has understanding of the social needs, family needs and life balance in developing athletes.
  • Scientific process
    • A great High Performance Coach has understanding of the process of critical evaluation and adjustments.

1 The exception to this process is the former elite athlete who starts coaching elite athletes.


  1. I feel that the way some sports set up there coaching Accreditation levels supports the understanding of support services and level of detail or complexity of the coaching as the distinction of the differing levels. A Beginner coach is not expected to understanding S&C or PA or have a high level of technical competence they are only expected to know the game basics. And the HP coach is expected to deliver a higher level of detail in training and coaching environment.
    However all great Coaches should have the ability to deliver the right information at the right time to the specific athlete regardless of level.
    I agree with your Specifics but only in the circumstance that the Beginner coach starts by coaching children and progresses along the same pathway as the athlete.
    To add to your specifics:
    A great Beginner coach has to be adaptable to the ability level of each of there athletes
    Process over outcome
    A great Development coach has understanding of the process toward technical excellence vs immediate outcomes
    Known limitations
    A great HP Coach understand there own limitations and where other voices will benefit players

  2. Thanks for your thoughts Nic. My no means was I trying to make an exclusive list!

    In my experience a 'beginner coach' in some sports doesn't even have to know the game basics.


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