November 6, 2013 • Coaching

This idea determines 80 percent of your success

Imagine coaching and living by a philosophy that determines an overwhelming part of your success. While you probably have already heard of the 80/20 Principle, or Pareto Principle as it’s called, few coaches consciously engineer their programs, practices and training regimen to take full advantage of it. As you’ll soon see — those who do benefit tremendously.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Simply put, the 80/20 Principle states that 80 percent of your results often come from 20 percent of your efforts.

This general guideline has been demonstrated in a variety of contexts including: economics in that 80 percent of the wealth is owned by only 20 percent of the population; clothing choice in that people generally wear only 20 percent of their clothing 80 percent of the time; and friendships in that we spend 80 percent of our time with our the closest 20 percent of our friends.

While the totals may not always exactly equal 80/20, the primary point is that a limited number of key things typically determine a disproportionate amount of our success. The simple, yet profound, 80/20 Principle encourages you to re-examine many of your common coaching practices to ensure you maximize the value of this key principle.

As an enlightening practical example, imagine having 100 high school students in a gym — freshmen through seniors, athletes and non-athletes alike.

What if we randomly assigned 80 of the students to one of your rival coaches and gave you the remaining 20? Is this fair? Odds are, no matter what the competition, your rival coach would be at a distinct advantage because the sheer numbers are in his or her favor.

What if we said your rival coach could still get 80 of the students for his or her team, however, only after you had the opportunity to tryout and hand pick the 20 you most wanted?

By selecting the top 20 percent of people available, you would now be at a distinct advantage over your rival coach — despite the greater numbers on the other side. It’s the basic advantage of selecting quality over quantity.

Similarly with the 80/20 Principle, if we can analyze and consciously select the top 20 percent of activities, actions and people that produce the best results, we are at a huge advantage.

In sports, think about how often roughly 80 percent of the overall results typically come from a smaller 20 percent of your athletes.

Checking the stats of the University of Michigan softball team during one season, for example, four players (23 percent of the team) have hit 14 out of their 18 total home runs — or 78 percent.

With the 2008 national champion University of North Carolina women’s soccer team, 23 percent of players (7) scored 76 percent of the teams goals — 68 out of 89 total.

In sport after sport, a certain segment of your roster typically accounts for the majority of the production in key areas.

As a coach or athletic administrator, let’s consciously apply the 80/20 Principle to seven key areas that have a huge impact on your success.

  • Time Management
  • Player Development
  • Recruiting
  • Leadership Development
  • Staff Selection
  • Game Preparation
  • Fundraising

Time management

From a time-management standpoint, examine the list of 10 or so tasks you need to do today. Now determine which two would yield the biggest and best results if you accomplished them. Be sure to focus on those two items first before even thinking about the other eight.

As Stephen Covey says in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, successful people focus their time on the important rather than getting caught up in the urgent. Too often coaches get caught up in the urgent eight to-do’s, rather than executing the critical two.

Player development

North Carolina women’s soccer coach and 20-time national champion Anson Dorrance says much of his success has to do with making sure his superstars are on track and feeling good. He doesn’t ignore or neglect the reserves, yet he does want to make his superstars’ psyches the priority each week. They are the primary producers — and he must make sure that they are mentally and physically ready to produce.

Similarly, Arizona softball coach Mike Candrea spends a lot of time having one-on-one coaching conversations with his top players. Of course, you want to develop your reserves, but you can’t afford to throw round after round of batting practice to your subs at the expense of your superstars. Deploy your assistants to help you develop your reserves.

Are you investing enough time in your superstars each week?

Typically, many coaches get bogged down with administrative work. Or end up spending an inordinate amount of time policing the troublemakers. Are you devoting enough quality time to the key 20 percent of your roster who determine roughly 80 percent of your success?


From the earlier example of randomly selected high school students in a gym, you can see how valuable the 80/20 Principle is when it comes to recruiting and player selection.

First, if you can upgrade your recruiting to get the top 20 percent of available physical and mental talent, you obviously vastly increase your program’s chances of success. This is exactly what Maryland women’s basketball coach Brenda Frese did when she took over the moribund program and lead them to the national championship.

Second, since effective recruiting and player selection determines 80 percent of your success, be sure you are investing enough time in assessing talent, writing letters, making phone calls, cultivating relationships with coaches, etc.

Leadership development

In our Leadership Development Academies, we typically focus on the top 20 to 25 percent of the student-athlete population (the emerging and existing leaders) because we realize that they determine at least 80 percent of an athletic department’s success — both on- and off-field success. By investing heavily in the development of the top 20 percent, we positively impact them and the other 80 percent.

How much time are you investing in the top 20 percent of the leaders on your team who seem to have 80 percent of the influence on your team’s work ethic, commitment, confidence, chemistry, etc.?

Staff selection

As the late Kay Yow of N.C. State women’s basketball once told me, there is nothing more important in coaching than putting together a great staff.

Out of all the candidates available for a staff position, whether it be an assistant coach, athletic trainer or team manager, are you investing the time to get the top 20 percent of available talent? Investing the time to get the top 20 percent on the front end will save you 80 percent of the frustration, grief, and wasted time on the back end.

Game preparation & scouting

What are the five key smaller battles that your team needs to win to capture the bigger competition? Out of all the stats available, winning the key 20 percent of them gives you an 80 percent chance of success.

For example, many teams in basketball look at five key areas: out-rebounding opponents; limiting turnovers; holding opponents to under 40 percent shooting; shooting over 48 percent as a team; and making more free throws than the opponents attempt. By focusing your staff and team on these five critical areas, you greatly enhance your team’s chances of success.

Similarly, if you can take away the five key areas of your opponents, you also force them away from the strengths that determine 80 percent of their success.


Finally, when it comes to raising money for your program, keep in mind the 80/20 Principle as well. It is likely that 80 percent of your funding comes from a much-smaller 20 percent of your prospects. Identify your best prospects, treat them well, keep them in the loop and appreciate them often — and they are certain to form a lasting and lucrative bond with you and your program.


With a limited amount of time, resources, budget and personnel, coaches must be very judicious and prudent in how they use their time. Invest the time to answer these two critical questions:

  1. How are you prioritizing and executing the vital 20 percent of actions that most determine your program’s success?
  2. How can you best delegate, delay, or sometimes disregard the less important 80 percent?

Consciously engineer your program to live by the 80/20 Principle and you and your team will soon reap the rewards.

For more tips from Jeff Janssen, visit

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