Six Characteristics of a Great Coach

How to be an effective coach is a question that many coaches need to address when evaluating themselves. Young coaches typically learn their craft from other more experienced coaches. It is a system whereas what is learned has often been passed down from coaches over many, many years. However, how to be an effective coach is not something that is necessarily passed on from coach to coach. There are nuances about coaching that have nothing to do with what is learned from other coaches but rather the personality of an individual coach.

There are great coaches and not so great coaches at every level. It is my opinion that what makes a really great coach is not what he knows or what he has learned from other coaches but how he gets the best out of his athletes. A great coach understands how to get his players to believe in and apply what he knows. Here are five characteristics of a great coach:

What makes a really great coach is not what he knows but rather how he
gets the best out of
his athletes.

1. Create system identity. If you are a coordinator you must create an identity and stick with that as your main recipe for success. Creating a system that is a mix of various different schemes will never have consistent success. Your players must know that you have an identity and that you will never stray far from that identity.

2. Know the individual hot buttons of your players. Not all players respond to the same type of stimulus. Some players may respond more to positive reinforcement, some may not. You are dealing with human beings who are all ‘wired uniquely.’ A great coach MUST understand how to motivate players individually. Thinking that players will all respond to the same motivational techniques is a mistake! Great coaches understand human psychology very well!

3. Praise, praise, praise! A great coach will create a positive culture for his team and staff.  A healthy culture and positive learning environment will promote incremental team improvement because your players will want to get better. Great coaches will always let a player know, in a very enthusiastic way, when that player has done something correctly. This praise must be done in front of his teammates because this validates the player in front of his peers.

4. Never, never, never single out and demean a player for a mistake in front of his teammates. If a player makes a mistake you need to simply explain what he did wrong and make sure you do it in a way such that it becomes a teaching moment for that player as well as his teammates. You can use the player’s mistake as an example to all the players as to what was wrong and how to correct it. This enforces the team concept and does not isolate the individual player who made the mistake.

5. NEVER yank a player from the game as punishment if he drops a pass, misses a tackle, throws an interception, fumbles a ball, misses a block, and so on. You can pull that player out of the game momentarily in order to explain to him why he made the mistake but once the correction is made, put him back in the game! You will instill confidence in that player because he will know you have his best interests in mind by helping him to correct the mistake versus punishing him for the mistake. If you punish a player in this way you will exacerbate his fear of repeating that mistake and this will simply increase his chances of making the mistake again. If a player understands that it’s o.k. to make mistakes and that he will be corrected when he makes a mistake I can guarantee you that player will want to win for you and the mistakes will be less frequent. The only time it is justifiable to pull a player from a game for a substantial period of time is if he commits a flagrant personal foul or unsportsmanlike conduct penalty such as taunting an opponent or show-boating because these are acts that are selfish and hurt the team. An ineffective coach is one who expects his players to be perfect and punishes them when they are not!

6. Make practices FUN! Utilize drills that create competition such as best of ten one on one scenarios. An example of this would be a blocking drill with WR’s versus DB’s. The first team to execute 10 successful stalk blocks or ten successful shedded blocks is the winner. Don’t punish the losing team but instead reward the winning team. The team that loses will then see the rewards that come from winning versus a punishment for losing. You never want to punish your players for losing but instead learn from it as to how to win next time.

Football is a game. A game is defined as “an activity providing entertainment or amusement”. In other words, games were created to be fun. Individuals excel in activities that are fun and rewarding. This should certainly be reinforced at the high school and youth levels because we are introducing our kids to a sport that should not only be fun but also challenging, rewarding, and educational.


The Seattle Seahawks are noted for having fun practices and I can assure you that this is one of the reasons why they are 11-1 and considered the best team in the NFL currently. As quoted in a recent article at, defensive lineman Cliff Avril states “I like the way things are going here. The guys are definitely into it. They love what they do. Everybody plays for each other more so than just for money or whatever and that’s very unique, very unique, no doubt. This is a lot of fun. I’m having a blast.” He goes on to state “One thing is, you have to have fun,” said Avril, who like many Seahawks played high school basketball. “But having fun for me means getting better than everyone else on your team and everyone else in your area,” he said. “Have fun playing the game, but have fun getting better. When you see the results of your hard work, that’s what’s going to make you happy.”

Published by

Comment (1)

  • Jodi Murphy

    “A great coach MUST understand how to motivate players individually. ”

    Couldn’t agree more! A great coach knows that a is team is greater than the sum of its parts. Each player has their own talent and skills to contribute, but each player needs a different kind of motivation in order to push them to be their very best.

    December 17, 2013 at 8:37 am

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.