Characteristics of a Relationship Driven Coach

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I am a HUGE fan of Pete Carroll and have reprinted this article off the website:   It is well worth reading and I highly suggest you buying & reading his book “Win Forever”


One of the biggest paradigm shifts in the coaching profession is the shift from the hard nosed, stand off-ish, closed door styles of Bear Bryant, Vince Lombardi, and Tom Landry. The successful programs at the professional and collegiate levels have coaches who build relationships and demand accountability from every player on their teams.

While Pete Carroll was at USC, I was blessed to attend several USC clinics and I was amazed at how well he built personal relationships with his players, and not just on a surface level. Carroll is truly committed to making his players feel cared about and loved. We also got a new head coach at Fresno State, Tim DeRuyter, and he led them to a WAC championship preaching “Trust and Love”.

These qualities are just as important—if not more important—for developing student-athletes at the high school level.

Regardless of where you are at in your coaching career, the most important questions that you should ask yourself are: “Are you a relationship-driven coach, or a win-at-all-costs coach?”

Here are some characteristics of coaches who are relationship-driven leaders:

1. Be a Mentor, Not a Tactician or a Coordinatory

Knowledge of your sport is very important and necessary to gain the confidence of your staff and players.  The ability to draw up plays, however, does not define a coach because a coach has to have the ability to take people where they never thought was possible.  The coaches and players in your program are not going to follow you to unchartered places if they do not trust you and more importantly, they are not going to things that they don’t want to do or have never done unless they trust you and believe that you love them.

Make your primary focus on developing the whole person and seek lifelong relationships.  Don’t confuse Mentorship with Friendship.  You have to hold your athletes accountable.

2. Be a Teachers, Not a Screamers

“Scoreboards Don’t Make Winners and Losers” is a John Wooden saying that has really stuck with me.  Enjoy the process of teaching the game and don’t focus on the end result.  It is OK to be passionate, to get excited, and to be be loud, but don’t be mean-spirited and yell AT your players.  Remember, PRAISE IN PUBLIC, CRITICIZE IN PRIVATE.

“Easy to please and hard to satisfy.”

3. Develop Trust, Not Fear

Trust can be cultivated through consistency.  Don’t do anything that will dissipate trust, such as using shame and intimidation to motivate their athletes.

4. It’s OK To Get Personal With Players

You have to develop a healthy and appropriate personal relationships with your players. Smile and make eye contact in the locker room.  Greet them by their first name and even give them positive nicknames.  Show them that you care.  Don’t cross the line with Social Media (I recommend not “friending” them until after they graduate).  Also, don’t lower yourself to inappropriate jokes and conversations in the areas of sex and racism.

5. Fear Is The Worst Motivator

Players should feel comfortable with coaches in the locker room and Coaches should have an open door policy about players entering coaches offices. There are times when a coach has to give players space to allow leadership development.   While playing time is earned through effort and attendance, don’t constantly use it as a threat.  You want your players to be accountable because they feel a sense of commitment to their teammates and due to a passion to be great at everything they do.

6. Make Every Player Feel Important

Humans are social creatures and everyone wants to “hitch their wagon” to something special.  Crazy sports fans, politics, charitable causes are all examples of people dedicating alot of energy towards a greater cause.  This search for belonging is so strong that unfortunately, young people will join negative influences such as gangs and succumbing to peer pressure.

When a coach understands how powerful this sense of belonging is he will base every decision on how it will affect his players and how that decision will make the player feel.

“Players Want to Be Part of Something Bigger Than Themselves.”

In my WORST TO FIRST: Program Building Manual I show how to incorporate many strategies into every facet of your program to make EVERY player feel important.

7. Develop Players From Inside Out

Any leader of a family, business, or team knows they must develop the entire person and not just teach technical skills in order for the entire organization to be successful.  Your program must develop the physical, mental, social, emotional and spiritual qualities of every player.  John Wooden, whom many feel is the greatest COACH of all time, developed his famous pyramid based on this belief that if you build every player from the inside-out, then Winning (as defined by outside sources) will be the by-product.  Of course, Wooden’s definition of WINNING had nothing to do with final scores or championships.

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About Me

Coach Stewart has coached football for 27 years, winning championships with 6th graders, 8th graders, high school freshman, and high school varsity. He coached 9 years at the youth and freshman level, always serving as head coach. After completing his college at age of 28 he has coached 21 years at the varsity level, 13 as the varsity head coach.

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