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How To Be A Winning Coach: New Research Reveals Some Of The Secrets To Success On The Athletic Field

Posted by: Dr. Granat on August 2, 2014

Coaches can have a profound impact on how players perform in athletic events. They can also influence how players grow, mature and develop off the athletic field.

But what are some of the skills, qualities and characteristics that coaches need to have in order to have a positive impact on their players?

Recently, Katie Sclafani, my intern and fine research associate from Colgate University, and I conducted some research designed to provide some general insight into what makes for effective leadership in the world of sports.

Katie reached out to eighty-five college coaches and fifteen college athletic directors via an email campaign.
These people worked at a variety of American institutions and were involved in a wide range of sports.
Some were involved in individual sports and some were involved in team sports.

This survey asked the respondents to rank the following characteristics in terms of their importance in coaching: developing good relationships with players, knowledge of the sport, team building skills and ability to deliver motivational talks.

Not surprisingly, the coaches’ ability to develop positive relationships with players was ranked as most important by fifty one percent of the people who participated in this survey.

Similarly, quality relationships are vital to success in other fields like sales, business, law and politics. Why should sports be any different?

Knowledge of the sport was ranked first by twenty six percent of the respondents. And this knowledge was the second most important quality. This makes sense since collegiate athletes are still young and many of them benefit from and still enjoy learning skills, tools and techniques related to their sport.

Team building was ranked first by sixteen percent of the coaches and athletic directors who participated in the survey.

The ability to deliver motivational speeches was not viewed as being very important at all, since only seven percent of the participants ranked this skill as being the most essential one for a coach to have in his or her repertoire.

It is interesting to note that building relationships with players was twice as important as was knowledge of the sport. Moreover, relationship building was four times more important than was motivational speaking.

While some people pay a lot of attention to what coaches say in the locker room prior to a game, the underlying interpersonal relationshipa between the coach and his or her players seems to be much more important.

Having consulted with many coaches, athletes and teams over the years, I have observed that the effective ones know how to communicate with different players with different kinds of skills and personalities. They know when to encourage a player and when to critique and be firm with the athlete.

Conversely, coaches who perform poorly often have poor relationships with their teams.

Recently, a player who was a patient of mine confessed that the kids hate the coaching staff. Not surprisingly, this team was having a losing and rather unfulfilling kind of season.

While this research is an introductory, pilot study with a small sample and with some methodological concerns, it does point out the importance of the connection between the leader of the team and the players. Coaches and athletic directors can probably benefit from continually doing whatever they can to build quality relationships with their athletes at the collegiate level.

Jay P. Granat, Ph.D. is a Psychotherapist, author and Founder of He can be reached at 888 580-ZONE or at

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