Coaching Musts

By January 11, 2013 10 Comments

In every profession, every walk of life, there are things that one must do and must avoid. This week I have taken my top five practices from a 20-point list I have compiled on philosophies of coaching. I firmly believe that if a coach practices these five habits they will build a successful program.

The first trait is to praise loudly and criticize softly. No one likes to be screamed and yelled at. Screaming and yelling at mistakes will only cause more mistakes. It also causes embarrassment for the athlete and makes the coach look childish. If mistakes are made, they need to be corrected and should be done so in an appropriate manner. It is always best to use the sandwich method. When criticizing mistakes first point out something positive the athlete does, follow it with the critique, and conclude with another positive remark.  People are much more likely to respond to praise. I have found that athletes will give you more when you are praising their efforts.

In order to run a successful program or business, all people involved must feel valued. The second trait is to try to make everyone in your program feel important. This is not easy and it takes a lot of effort. One way to do this as a coach is to take the time to get to know your athletes. It’s important that you know about their lives outside of sports and it’s also important that they know about yours. The girls on my basketball team are around my family a lot. My almost two-year-old son loves to watch our games and be around the team. A successful program is a family, and that atmosphere is created through trust. Trust comes when people feel that they are valued as individuals from those who have authority. In order to create this environment, I suggest making it a point to talk to every player every day. You’d be surprised at how often that does not occur in sports. I also encourage some form of contact during practice. Make it a point to give your players high fives or fist bumps and acknowledge the effort they are giving you. Lastly, tell them you love them. If you coach, you spend a lot of time with your athletes. If you don’t love them you shouldn’t coach.

All great coaches run great practices. A trap many coaches fall into is that they think they need to stop practice and talk a lot in order to get their team to do things correctly. However, the third trait says, coaches should not talk a lot at practice and keep the athletes moving. Repetition is the mother of all learning. In sports I am a huge believer in the fundamentals. As my coaching idol John Wooden stated, “Little things make big things happen.” Kids do not want to stand around and listen to their coach talk all practice. Obviously there needs to be verbal instruction, but it needs to come in between drills or while the drill is still moving. When I create my practice schedules we do not have drills lasting longer than eight minutes except for scrimmages. By doing this, things are kept fresh and moving at a face past. It helps us get through a lot in two hours and I am constantly providing feedback and instruction while we are moving.

In coaching there are a lot of tough decisions to be made. Last week, we looked at playing time. Another difficult issue is discipline. The fourth trait is for coaches to always be willing to suspend or remove disruptive players regardless of their ability. All players need to be held accountable at all times, regardless of their talent level. In order to establish continuity within the program coaches must coach all players. I say this because sometimes coaches will only criticize the marginal players and will hesitate to correct their best players in front of the team. The truth is that the best want to get better, so don’t be afraid to coach them up as well. If the best player gets a detention or is late to a team function, they should have the same discipline as the last player off the bench would receive. When this occurs it will solidify the coach’s authority and players will buy in and have more respect. If it does not occur, a team can quickly tune out or turn against a coach.

Anyone who has been in the coaching business and has had success knows that change is inevitable. The fifth trait is to always be open to new ideas and techniques. There is nothing that frustrates and irritates me more than someone who goes by the philosophy of, “It’s always been done this way, so I’ll continue it.” It just doesn’t make sense. All things come to an end. A great coach is one who is evolving with the times. Today’s athlete is not the same as the ones 15-20 years ago. Coaches must stay young at heart, know what is popular with today’s teens, and be able to relate to them. Successful coaches are also in tune with new trends within their sport and with how the newest resources out there can benefit. The great ones in sports, business, and life are life-long learners. Don’t be someone who thinks they know it all after a few years and is too good to learn something new.

If you are fellow coach, feel free to post some of your favorite traits or practices that you think make a successful coach or program.

The response has been great during the past month, thank you all for reading. Have a great week and be an RGP today!



Join the discussion 10 Comments

  • Silvia says:

    Great read! I just learned a little bit more on the traits to become a better coach. Thanks

  • kelmendorf says:

    Thank you Silvia, I appreciate it! Glad you enjoyed it.

  • Tommy says:


    I coach hockey at the under ten level. One thing I have learned when coaching kids is to get on their level. Get on a kneee when speaking TO them not AT them. I got into coaching to spend more time with my son and it has made our relationship even closer. Kyle keep up your good work.


  • kelmendorf says:

    Tommy, thanks for reading and posting your comment. You make a great point about speaking on their level. It’s great to hear that you have such a great relationship with your son and get to coach him.


  • Dan St.Andre says:

    May I have premission to use your “Coaching Musts” article as part of our new coach’s orientation at Town & Country Lacrosse in Austin, Texas? We are strictly non-profit, recreational and developmental organization. All of our coaches are volunteers. Many are very new to our sport of lacrosse.
    We have all had experience of bad coaches and seen examples of bad coaching on video and film. My orientation program tries to start each season with “how to be a coach” long before we speak about X’s and O’s.

    ~~~ 0;-Dan

  • kelmendorf says:


    Thank you for reading and commenting. I would be glad to let you use the article in your new coach orientation. All I ask is that you give me credit for the article. Would you be willing to send me a copy of your program? I would love to read it.


  • Tim Feagles says:

    Nice post, we share similar philosophies! I always use the “correction sandwich” as I call it with the positive-negative-positive format. It’s the first thing I teach my young coaches when they start working for me. Also, I have had to remove the most “talented” member of a squad. The girls were skeptical because of her ability and also her being a senior and a ‘leader’ but of the wrong sort. Going with my gut resulted in the team coming together and winning our first state title.

  • kelmendorf says:

    Great stuff Tim! You are absolutely right about the “correction sandwich.” It’s always tough to remove a player but you’re success defintitely shows that talent is not always the #1 factor in achieving it. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment, I appreciate it! Where and what level do you coach now?

  • Tim Feagles says:

    I am in Georgia, North of Atlanta. Most of the time I am coaching all ages and levels of All Star Cheerleading and some Gymnastics too. In the summer during our slow months I am lucky enough to travel around coaching clinics and camps, primarily in Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York.

  • kelmendorf says:

    Thanks Tim. That’s great you get to get to the camps and clinics. I always love attending those and learning from the best.