9 Tips to Improve Coaching Performance

Coaching is, without doubt, one of the most rewarding yet challenging careers you'll ever come across. Most of the general public believe that having previous playing experience at the highest levels is the only required skill set, but those in the industry know that nothing could be further from the truth when it comes to being an outstanding coach. 

As a coach, you're a tutor, strategist, and counselor, and responsible for taking your players' future into your own hands. 

Self-development or self-improvement is the single most effective and practical strategy coaches can take advantage of to ensure they get the most out of themselves. It can greatly influence your effectiveness as a coach in so many different areas of your game. Communication is an area where many coaches struggle, and self-improvement can help with the clarity of the message, particularly in terms of tone and specificity. 

In this article, we will put forward nine practical, actionable steps and strategies that coaches can use to take their skillset and hopefully their results to the next level.

Learning to Set Goals 

One of the most critical skills any coach can display is having the ability to set clear and achievable goals. Setting goals and learning to manage reasonable and realistic behavioral and performance expectations is also an integral part of the Head Coach role. 

Generally speaking, coaches should set goals based primarily on improving performance rather than on the results themselves. The old adage "focusing on the performance and the results will come" rings true in the sporting arena. Goals must be challenging but achievable and clearly set out so that the entire playing group and staff are all on the same page.

When it comes to long-term or short-term goals, both are just as consequential as each other. However, most coaches seem to have an affinity for long-term goals but forget about setting short-term ones along the way. One aspect of setting goals that many coaches overlook is the importance of explaining precisely the reasoning behind why the goal has been set. If the player understands why the goal has been established, they are much more likely to "buy in to" it and put forth 110%.

Performance and behavioral goals shouldn't be set in stone, and the coach should continually reevaluate whether or not the goal is realistic and achievable. The importance of ensuring your goals are crystal clear cannot be overstated; any ambiguity can lead to disharmony within the playing group and, in some cases, amongst the coaching staff.

Building a Positive Team Culture

Like most people, athletes are no different and work much more effectively when they feel they are working together toward a bigger goal. As a head coach, you are responsible for cultivating a productive, positive, and motivating culture where each member of the team and staff feel valued. 

The best coaches work on building a culture that is task-focused rather than result-orientated. Task-focused teams are much more likely to show intrinsic motivation and stick to the task when the going gets tough. Focusing on results can fracture the team and cause friction between teammates and coaching staff.

Building a culture that focuses on being task-driven also rewards those little wins along the way, especially those not necessarily reflected in the final score or result of the game. A results-oriented culture can also cause unhealthy rivalries between teammates, leading to poor performance and ultimately less desirable results. 

As a Head Coach, you should actively seek ways to educate, motivate and facilitate team building and support teammates in effectively communicating with each other and building camaraderie. 

Learning to Give Consistent Feedback

One of the most critical aspects of coaching is providing effective feedback and positive and constructive criticism. Without feedback, athletes have no idea what they need to work on. As a Head Coach, giving feedback is like walking a fine line; go too hard on the player, and you risk losing their confidence; go too soft, and you're not getting the best out of the player.

Whenever I was in doubt when it came to feedback, I would take the positive route 100% of the time. Players are much more likely to respond to a supportive and positive coach. Yes, some players react well to being pushed hard, but these athletes are in the small minority. 

Maybe it’s best to save your feedback for later. Perhaps the next day at breakfast when you can get a read on the player's attitude and formulate the tone of your feedback. While feedback can be overwhelmingly positive, there are times when you need to deliver a player some hard truths in order to really help them. 

Finally, feedback must be tailored and individualized; feedback is generally not something you can "cookie-cutter." In a team environment, there may be occasions when a "blanket" feedback statement is appropriate, such as "we performed poorly as a team" or "today our overall effort was poor."

Perspective Is Everything 

Keeping things in perspective is important for your personal, family, and professional life. It's very easy for coaches to lose perspective when it comes to genuinely important things. Sure, winning the national championships would be an outstanding achievement and a memory you'll have forever. Still, at the end of the day, the journey is far more meaningful than the destination. 

As a Head Coach, it's your responsibility to constantly remind athletes of what is truly important. Displaying characteristics like honesty, hard work, a never give attitude, and integrity are a few such qualities that should be highlighted. 

Remember, you're a sports coach, but first and foremost, you're a human being; your results do not define you or your players. Every athlete and coach gets something out of sports; as a Head Coach, it's your role to determine exactly what that is. 

While results measure sport, it's also a great equalizer. Sports transcend language and culture and bring people from different backgrounds together to work towards a unified goal. 

Continual Self Improvement and Education

As a professional coach, it's easy to think you've reached the pinnacle of your sport and profession and that there's not much left to do; but the reality is that nothing could be further from the truth. 

Once you've arrived at the peak, the journey has only just begun. Now it's time to continually seek ways to improve every aspect of your coaching methodology because reaching the peak of your sport is easy; staying there is the hard part. 

Examples of ways to continually improve as a coach:

  • Reading books
  • Talking with veteran coaches
  • Finding a mentor
  • Attending coaching conferences
  • Studying coaches from other elite sports 

If you're looking for ways to improve your coaching, we recommend contacting the governing body, as they have access to many invaluable resources. Whether it's gaining a higher level of accreditation or seeking a mentor, most governing bodies are always willing to help in any way they can.

Learning to Communicate Effectively

When it comes to self-improvement and getting the most out of yourself as a coach, it's pretty hard to go past effective communication as being one of the most important links in the chain of success. In my experience, most issues and problems stem from poor communication; the good news, though, is that those same problems can be easily rectified through effective communication. 

Effective communication is paramount if you are to build long-term, meaningful relationships with your players and coaching staff. Coaches who have the ability to connect with their players generally experience much higher levels of player performance and ultimately better results. 

One aspect of communication that often isn't practiced is the skill of intent listening. That's right; effective communication is a two-way street, and without listening to the player's problems and concerns, the coach can simply not design and deliver a training program to help the athlete reach peak performance. 

Sports coaches and athletic directors have a significant influence that runs deeper than on the field. Many players look up to coaches as parental figures, especially those who may have come from a disadvantaged background and had a troubled upbringing. 

Regardless of the role, success is only achieved through:

  • Effective communication
  • The ability to set clear goals
  • Teamwork and cohesiveness
  • Excellent organizational and management skills
  • Trailblazing and 
  • Observing and analyzing

Athletic directors are responsible for hiring suitably qualified coaching staff and setting the overall tone for the program. 

Become an Excellent Organizer

If you want to reach the peak of your sport as a head coach or athletic director, then having the ability to organize and plan effectively is critical to your success. Creating a plan is vital because it keeps the team and coaching staff focused and on the right track. Similar to your goals, your plan should be clear, well laid out, and most importantly, well communicated to the wider team.

Effective systems and routines can help nurture the team and track valuable key performance indicators designed to increase performance. The head coach must be comfortable and competent in organizing, managing, evaluating, and reviewing the plan that has been set. 

An organized team runs smoothly and gives the team the confidence that the coaching staff and sports administrators have things "under control." Having a well-detailed plan and being an excellent manager also takes the pressure off players and coaching staff and allows them to stay calm in the eye of the storm. 

The Eye Of an Eagle 

The best coaches in the world seem to have an uncanny ability to be able to see deep into the abyss; they can spot things that other coaches and staff fail to see. To be a great coach, you must be a great observer; you must study every aspect of the game, from fitness to technique to the latest recovery methods and tracking devices.

Having a deep understanding of all components of sport is paramount if you're to reach peak performance. Coaching is far from easy, and it can be quite taxing physically, mentally, and emotionally. The best coaches have an eagle eye and a remarkable ability to pick up on the spoken and unspoken signs players display.

Observing and analyzing also means that coaches must continually self-evaluate to ensure they are focusing on the right things and not getting ahead of themselves. Head coaches who are self-aware and understand how their behaviors and actions affect players usually have greater levels of success. 

Analyzing and self-evaluating also allows the head coach to design and deliver new and innovative training programs to stay ahead of the curve.

Learn To Be a Trailblazer

The great head coaches and athletic directors are trailblazers; they're not afraid to think outside the box and, more importantly, act on and then implement their ideas. 

One area to trailblaze in is motivation. A head coach who can develop new and exciting ways to keep athletes and playing staff motivated has the best chance to reach peak performance.

You can learn the skill of trailblazing, but it takes a lot of hard work, and you have to be willing to fail, be judged, and even mocked or laughed at. You must have complete confidence in your own ability and be willing to see the strategies through. Getting the athletes and coaching staff to "buy into" the project will also be crucial to its success.

As Wayne Gretzky commented, "you miss 100 percent of the shots you never take."

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