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What the Best Coaches Do

Wayne Goldsmith, also known as the “Sports Coaching Brain,” has 25 years of experience coaching and providing advice to others. With a nod toward Stephen Covey, he offers “The Ten Habits of Highly Effective Coaches.”

Train beyond the target: Goldsmith urges coaches to train athletes for challenges greater than the competition they face. Strengths and weaknesses need be assessed, and the next step is to raise the bar “physically, mentally, technically and emotionally” so players enter competition with an invaluable edge over opponents.

Evolve faster than your players: Age may rob an older coach of a few steps on the field, but experience (coupled with resources on the Internet), give him savvy and wisdom. Life-long learning is a good idea for anyone. For coaches it is vital. In addition, Goldsmith advises coaches to be rigorously honest about their abilities and if necessary request professional evaluation of their own skills from a trusted adviser.

Know your opponents better than they know you: Coaches who can get inside the heads of an opponent’s leader have a distinct advantage come game time.  Here again, the Internet can be a coach’s best friend.

Get out of your sport and think creatively: Great coaches understand that they can only know so much and do so much in their programs before stagnation and copycatting threaten. Creative thinking is the ability to approach any situation from a number of angles. The off-season should be a time to boost creative thinking capacity. Some coaches enroll in classes that have little to do with sport but everything to do with thinking outside their field, such as music or art or philosophy. Great coaches are innovators and you can’t innovate without thinking creatively.

Coach the individual: “There are no true team sports left,” writes Goldsmith. The science of performance analysis offers highly detailed information on every athlete’s strengths and weaknesses. No matter the sport, all competition comes down to a series of one-on-one moments. Every player on a team needs direct engagement to inspire them to excel beyond any pregame analysis of their limits.

Make every individual workout a rehearsal for game day: Winning coaches create an environment where a culture of excellence underpins everything and everybody,” writes Goldsmith. It’s not just brains and muscle--it’s heart and soul.  A great coach trains the one to teach the others and in doing so catalyzes a group of individuals into a cohesive unit that is both mentally tough and flexible. Add hardcore training to that mix and the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

No two training sessions should be exactly the same: “Adapt your training plans to optimize their impact on each individual athlete at every training session,” Goldsmith writes. The best laid plans of the smartest coaches can go astray at the training level. Each training session must be about preparing an individual athlete for every performance possibility at the moment of contact with the opponent.

It’s not practice that makes perfect--its performance practice that does so: Goldsmith puts a new twist on the old adage of “practice makes perfect.” He says the great coaches take it further. Skills can be mastered by practice. “(But) to master a skill so that it can be executed the right way at the right time in competition? … Follow the performance practice philosophy.”

Follow an integrated, multi-disciplinary approach to developing talent and performance enhancement: Most athletes at the high school level will spend about one or two hours a day at their athletic tasks; that number moves up in college. So most of their time is not spent training. Great coaches encourage their players to use some of that “free time” to concentrate on the performance ahead.

Great coaches are great leaders. “They dare to be different; they do things others are not ready for; they (are) drivers of change,” writes Goldsmith. They are risk-takers within reason and thrive in conflict without losing their heads. They are not shy about pushing for the win; nor do they complain when they lose. Accepting responsibility is part of their credo. 

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