Defining and Explaining Great Coaching

We typically base our perceptions of great coaching on the images that we see on television. The media tends to emphasize game-coaching skills like calling timeouts or switching defenses at the appropriate times.

However, another way to measure great coaching is through the eyes of the athletes. Andrea Becker, a professor at Cal State Fullerton, published a paper titled, “It’s Not What They Do, It’s How They Do It: Athlete Experiences of Great Coaching,” in the International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching Vol. 4, No. 1 (2009) that used athlete questionnaires to explain great coaching.

Becker’s paper broke down over 60 different characteristics of great coaching into six general themes: Coach Attributes, The Environment, The System, Relationships, Coaching Actions, and Influences. In most cases, the great coaches were college or professional coaches, so not everything is applicable to youth coaches, but the following characteristics offer many examples of great coaching at any level.

Coach Attributes

  • Coaches were more than just a coach: athletes viewed coaches as teachers, mentors, friends and parental figures.
  • Coaches were described as experts – knowledgeable about up-to-date techniques, strategies and tactics. Coaches were “always learning and bringing information back to the team.”
  • Coaches described as human – unafraid to make mistakes, show faults or admit that they did not know all the answers.
  • Coaches demonstrated passion for the game and the people.
  • Coaches were viewed as inspirational and enthusiastic.
  • Coaches were viewed as emotionally stable.
  • Coaches were genuine, honest and loyal.
  • Coaches were patient and non-judgmental.
  • Coaches were committed and disciplined. “The coach was always the first to arrive and the last to leave.”
  • Coaches described as driven by their competitive attitude.
  • Coaches described as perfectionists and very organized.
  • Coaches were professional – they acted with character, class and respect for others.
  • Coaches were consistent.
  • Coaches had the ability to evaluate player potential.
  • Coaches had the ability to read and analyze – “exceptionally good at evaluating performance techniques, processing tactical strategies and scouting opponents.”
  • Coaches possessed the ability to overcome short-comings.
  • Coaches integrated their staff.
  • Athletes “granted an automatic level of credibility to coaches who were well known or had positive reputations.


  • Coaches created an athlete-centered environment.”Every single day you could tell that they were putting their best out for you.”
  • The general environment was team-centered: always did what’s best for the team.
  • Coaches had a structured environment – no room for breaking the rules.
  • Coaches created a family-like team environment.
  • Coaches made themselves accessible and approachable and were good listeners.
  • Coaches created an atmosphere that was comfortable for the athletes.
  • Practice environment was well-planned, highly structured and game-like: everything has a purpose.
  • Practices were intense and competitive; however, “athletes experienced a sense of security and were unafraid of losing their spot due to a mistake.”

The System

  • Coaches used great systems and believed in the systems.


  • Coaches developed professional and personal relationships with players.
  • Players developed strong and lasting relationships with the coach.
  • Coaches managed boundaries by being objective.
  • Personal relationships predicated on trust, confidence and respect.
  • Coaches were honest, loyal and treated the athletes with kindness.
  • Coaches showed an interest in the athletes as people not just players.
  • Athletes viewed coaches as people they could relate to.
  • Coaches provided care and support.
  • Coaches took responsibility for team’s performance when things went bad.
  • Coaches also encouraged players to take responsibility and hold themselves accountable.
  • Coaches built on players’ strengths.
  • Athletes felt that coaches believed in them.
  • Coaches involved players in the decision-making process – empowered players.

Coaching Actions

  • Great coaches teach the details.
  • Great coaches communicate honestly.
  • Great coaches prepare meticulously.
  • Great coaches develop high expectations and help players reach them.
  • Coaches taught cognitive, physical, mental and life skills.
  • Coaches used a combination of instructional methods: verbal, visual and physical methods.
  • Coaches exhibited a high quality of coaching and focused on details.
  • Coaches simplified the process.
  • Coaches pace their instruction according to each athlete’s learning curve.
  • Coaches used direct and indirect communication methods.
  • Coaches communication was clear, consistent and honest.
  • Communication was appropriate and positive.
  • Communication was well-timed.
  • Coaches motivated their athletes.
  • Coaches emphasized the importance of staying fit.
  • Coaches utilized mental skills training.
  • Coaches preparation was consistent.
  • Coaches remained confident, calm and emotionally stable under pressure.
  • Coaches ignored the irrelevant.


  • Coaches influenced the athletes’ self-perception, development and performance; more importantly, they influenced desire to be the best.

  • What Is A Playmaker?

    Who decided that a point guard has to be small? More importantly, what is a point guard? We expect a point guard to be a leader and have a high basketball I.Q. Why don’t we expect or challenge all players to develop this game awareness? Why rely on only one player? Read more →
  • The PBDL Concept

    English soccer academies wait until players are 11 to play full 11v11 soccer; in Italy, youth basketball players participate in skill-oriented clinics at 6-years-old, but start competitive games at 12. In the United States, kids play 5v5 full court games and compete for national championships when they are 8-years-old.

    Read more →

  • Starting A PBDL

    The PBDL emphasizes learning and development. Presently, players and parents have numerous recreation options - leagues based on fun and equal participation, typically for beginners - and numerous competitive opportunities - teams focused on strategy, game preparation and winning. There are few true development leagues - until now.

    Read more →