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July 15, 2016 • Coaching

Embracing your inner salesperson

Coaching is a complicated gig — much more complicated than it seems on the surface. We get to wear lots of different hats. We manage budgets, we motivate, we fundraise, we’re PR people, we’re administrators. In my mind, though, our biggest job is that of a salesperson.

Portrait of a salesperson

When we think of salespeople, we think of the slick used car salesman who tells you just enough to get you into a car and let you find out it’s worthless on your own. Or the pushy lady in the store who follows you around, telling you how awesome you’d look in absolutely everything your eyes come across.

What those two examples have in common is that those folks aren’t being totally honest. But when you get down to it, coaching really is about sales. We’re selling our institution and program to recruits and students, selling playing time discrepancies to our teams, we’re selling our program’s needs to our bosses. So we must make sure that we’re being authentic with everyone we encounter so that we don’t come across as disingenuous.

10 characteristics of successful coaches

I saw a nice listing of qualities that a successful salesperson should have, and I thought about ways they could apply to coaches. Notice there’s nothing about lying.

1. Successful coaches are persistent. Just as we don’t expect our players to give up after a setback, neither does the successful coach. Whether it’s on the court with the team or off the court with our athletic directors, we press on.

2. They’re avid goal setters. This one is a no-brainer. Goal setting is what we do — with our teams, staffs and ourselves. We’re always looking ahead to accomplish the next goal.

3. They ask good questions. If we do this early on in the recruiting process, hopefully our institution will be a good fit for our players. If we do this early in the playing process, hopefully each person on our team understands where they fit in on the team skill wise.

4. They listen. The answers to those questions we asked above show us a lot about the recruit if we listen. If we’re on the phone with them and they say they want to attend a small college where they’ll get a lot of attention, while we coach at a gigantic school, it’s probably not a good fit. The same goes with playing time in high schools. Don’t let your athletes carry unrealistic expectations.

5. Successful coaches are passionate. We love what we do. We must believe in our teams and what we’re building with our programs. If we have all three of those, then we have passion.

6. They are enthusiastic. It always comes back to John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success. One of the cornerstones of Wooden’s Pyramid is enthusiasm. We must be fired up — it’s contagious.

7. They take responsibility for their results. We can’t blame the athletic director or another coach. Not just because no one wants to hear our whining, but also because we stay in control. Excuses put someone else in control of our coaching lives, and none of us wants to do that.

8. Successful coaches work hard. Interestingly enough, the other cornerstone of Wooden’s Pyramid of Success is hard work. We tell it to our teams all of the time: Everything good comes from hard work.

9. They stay in touch with their teams. Even after we know that a student has committed to playing on our team, we’re still calling and emailing to let them know that we care. With our current teams, we care about them as people rather than just athletes.

10. They show value. What do you value most about your program? Is it your winning history? The academic strength of your institution? The ability to participate in many extracurriculars? Whatever it is, that’s what we should be selling, plain and simple.

As much as we may not want to admit it, we’re salespeople. I’m hoping this list showed you that it’s not such a bad thing. If we do it the right way, being a salesperson for our program and our institution can be a very good thing.


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


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