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April 16, 2017 • Athletic AdministrationCoaching

7 things successful coaches do differently

Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Coaches love to talk about success — it’s what we do. I once came across a great article on the Harvard Business Review’s blog called Nine Things Successful People Do Differently written by a motivational psychologist who published a book about achieving goals. You should check out the original article by clicking on the link above after you read my take on how it applies to us coaches.

1. Get specific.

I think all of us coaches know this one already. We can’t just say that we want our team to get better. We must have smart goals — specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. Saying that you want your team hitting percentage out of serve receive to go up 10% by the end of the season is a better goal than just saying you want your team to hit better.

2. Seize the moment to act on your goals.

We’re all doing so much that it’s easy to get overwhelmed. You’ve got to plan practice, a student just popped into the office, you’ve volunteered for one too many committees, and your kid’s got an orchestra concert tonight. Hopefully you have some personal goals that have nothing to do with work. I know it sounds crazy to some folks, but we’re supposed to have a life outside of coaching. Did you really not have time to run this morning? Or eat healthier? Maybe it’s time to put yourself on your to-do list.

3. Know exactly how far you have left to go.

Just like we meet with our players to ask how they’re progressing, we should do the same things with ourselves. With our professional and our personal goals. How would the five-years-ago you feel about where you are in life? Are you getting closer to those goals you had five years ago? Have you moved on to new goals? Do you have a plan in place to accomplish your goals?

4. Be a realistic optimist.

The first team I coached was not super skilled. So when one of their goals was to win conference (in a very tough conference), I had to ask them how they were going to go about accomplishing that task. Because they didn’t have a very good answer, we reworked that goal. As coaches, we’ve got to be just as realistic with our goals. If you’re in the first year of coaching, you might not want to send in your résumé to be the national team head coach.

5. Focus on getting better, rather than being good.

To me, success is defined by getting better each day. “Good” is too hard to define. “Better” is easy to define and hard to accomplish. “Good” has an end point. “Better” is constantly morphing and changing. “Good” looks to the past, while “better” looks to the future. “Good” says that there’s only one conclusion, “better” understands that we need to be flexible in order to accomplish our goals.

6. Have grit.

The author says it best in the article: “Effort, planning, persistence, and good strategies are what it really takes to succeed.” It’s not who you know (though that’s helpful) or some innate skill that you have (that’d also be helpful) … it’s your ability and willingness to work hard.

7. Build your willpower muscle.

I have this idea in my head that everyone wants to hear my opinion, but for whatever reason, that turns out not to be true. So when the desire to give unsolicited advice comes upon me, I’ve learned to zip my lips. It hasn’t been easy and it’s a skill that I’ve had to practice in other areas of my life so that I can maintain positive relationships in my life. What are some of my self-control “practices”: Developing a workout plan and sticking to it, cutting out sweets or training for a half marathon. Just like we ask our teams to sacrifice now for something great that will hopefully happen in the future, we’ve got to do this as well.

With our crazy hours in the coaching field, the line between our personal goals and professional goals sometimes gets fuzzy. I believe as long as we’re pushing forward on each front, we’re putting ourselves in a good place to be successful.


Dawn Redd is the head volleyball and assistant track & field coach at Beloit College, Beloit, Wisconsin.

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From the book “Coaching is Teaching at its Best!”, All successful coaches know Tip #9 – It’s Not About You. This may depend on how you choose to measure success, but all successful coaches I have played for or coached with put their players and the team’s overall performance ahead of their personal goals.