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A Coaching Improvement Action List

Editor’s Note: Long-time crew coach and athletic administrator Mike Davenport shares his thoughts and advice on coaching at In this piece, reproduced with his permission, Davenport explains one of the methods he uses to improve as a coach: A Coach in Improvement Action List. You can find more articles from Davenport at

Few of us are exactly the coach we want to be. We constantly work to get better — that comes with the profession.

I’ve yet to visit a coach who isn’t a consumer of “how to get better” books, podcasts, and websites. The coach in the next office was that way.

Every week he was reading a new book about coaching. He stayed away from digital, favoring as he said “real-books.” From those books he built an action-list of improvement-ideas.

A Critical Action List

We each should have a list like my neighbor’s. A handy one we can flip to in times of doubt or struggle. Yes, I’ve got one. It includes actions I do and don’t do to improve.

I use it more as a mantra, to read when things are getting a wee bit wonky. Here are several of the actions on mine:

5 Actions that DON’T help me improve:

Copying: imitating what a successful coach does just because that coach is successful

Demeaning: purposely putting someone down, believing it motivates

Cheating: knowingly breaking the rules to get an unfair advantage

Egoing: believing that this coaching thing is about ME not about THEM

Siloing: reacting mentally to the events of the day without investing time each day processing the big picture

5 Actions that DO help me improve:

Being curious: asking thoughtful questions

Being helpful: helping another coach overcome

Sharing: giving information with no expectation of reward/return

Listening: hearing what is said and what is going on around me

Breathing: focusing on my breathing several times daily

Those are actions that I know from years of coaching (35 and counting) that hurt/help my coaching. I refer to them often.

For example, recently we were preparing for a difficult competition. I was having a tough time getting my head in a good place prior to the race. I was struggling.

I referred to my list, and went right to asking questions, and listening. I asked the athletes three questions:

• “How they felt?” – “We feel good!”

• “What they needed?” – “For the Starter to say ‘Go!'”

• “What they thought?” – “This is going to be fun!”

I listened to those answers — really listened — and gained strength from them.

If I were to bet, I’d wager you have just such a list. Somewhere, somehow, in some form, you have one, right? It may be nothing more than fuzzy-thoughts but it exists. A few thoughts on this critical list:

• The list can and should change over time

• There should be no set number of items

• Hand writing your list helps it to become ingrained in your long-term memory

• Having a digital copy (image, text file, etc) of the hand written version helps me keep it handy (Evernote is my choice).

Creating an action list like this is something you can dismiss. Of course you are busy. And, of course, there are big issues on your to do list. However, this list can be an invaluable tool in your coach’s tool box. I suggest setting aside a few minutes to bring it to life.

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